Eat & Drink

Is It Ever Okay To Leave a Bad Tip?

The Bay's best newsletter for underground events & news


What you are about to read may be seen as controversial seeing that I always stand up for the restaurant server. I preach that’s it’s important to think about things from the perspective of the person who is serving your food and to have patience, empathy and understanding and to always tip your server generously. But what if your waiter gives you bad service and doesn’t seem to care about anything he’s doing. Is it ever okay to leave a bad tip?

First off, let’s define “bad tip.” The law expects employees to report tips of at least 8% of their gross food and drink sales. That means if they sold $500 worth of burgers and beers, then the IRS is going to tax that server on $40 (Hopefully, a server is making more than 8% tips…). Most restaurants are going to expect that server to also tip out a portion of their tips to the support staff like bussers, food runners, and bartenders. Based on that logic, a “bad tip” would be anything that requires the server to pay taxes or tip out on more than they actually earned from the customer. Therefore anything less than an 8% tip would actually cost that server money. That’s a bad tip.

In these days of chronically understaffed restaurants, the dining experience may not be to the pre-pandemic level that some customers were used to. The demand for service is outweighing the supply of servers so it’s not uncommon for waiters and waitresses to find themselves “in the weeds” and giving sub-par service. If you’re on the receiving end of some bad service, what do you tip, then? Take these things into consideration:

  • Is your server trying to do a good job? If your food or drinks take a long time, but can see the staff hustling and bustling their ass off, cut them a break. Maybe this is one of those restaurants that can’t find people to work because servers are “too lazy” to go back to work. Tip them anyway and give them the benefit of the doubt. If you see your frozen margarita sitting at the bar melting faster than the polar ice caps and your waiter is standing next to it looking at his phone and laughing with his coworkers, maybe, just maybe they don’t deserve a 20% tip. If you ask for silverware three times and your waiter straight up doesn’t ever bring it to you and he’s sitting at the bar talking with a friend, perhaps 20% isn’t deserved.
  • Your food came out wrong. If it was an honest mistake like they brought you fries with your burger instead of the salad you asked for and it was rectified to your satisfaction, why wouldn’t you tip? If your food was wrong, and even after you told your server what the problem was they still didn’t fix it and they didn’t even care about it, that is not okay. Less than 20% might be appropriate.
  • Your waitress didn’t smile enough. Who the fuck cares? Let’s base the tip on the level of service given and not how many pearly whites are flashed at the table. This is an Applebee’s, it ain’t the Miss America Pageant. Now, if the waitress was outwardly rude to you, rolling her eyes and sighing at every request and sneering at you every time you ask for something, maybe 20% isn’t warranted.
  • The music was too loud, the parking lot was too crowded, the bathroom wasn’t clean enough, the baby at the next table was crying, or you ordered well-done steak and it came out dry? Get over yourself. None of these things has anything to do with the person who served your food. Quit looking for excuses to be cheap and tip 20%.

Bottom line: ALWAYS GIVE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT AND TIP SOMETHING EVEN IF THE SERVICE WAS A SHIT SHOW. Unless the server actively assaulted you, verbally abused you, or ate off your plate, they don’t deserve to pay taxes on money they didn’t receive. If the service was really that horrible, tell a manager and then never go back (By the way, you can talk to a manger when the service is really great too).

So, is it ever okay to not leave a tip? For the most part, no. On the very rare occasion, a 20% tip might seem unjustifiable and if you’ve really considered all the reasons why you’re leaving less than that, you certainly have your right. But, please, always leave something. This will ensure that you are covering what the government is going to tax them on because no matter how “bad” the service is, a waiter shouldn’t pay taxes on money they didn’t earn.

Like this article? Make sure to sign up for our mailing list so you never miss a goddamn thing!
Previous post

CDC Screwed Up: Don't Throw Away the Masks

Next post

Club Deluxe Reopens Thursday With Live Music Every Night

Bitchy Waiter

Bitchy Waiter

Darron Cardosa is a writer, actor, singer, and waiter. He lives and and works in New York City and enjoys "The Brady Bunch," "The Facts of Life" and cocktails almost as much as he hates your baby.


  1. Cadence
    July 1, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    If you can’t afford to tip, then go make your own food and drinks. So that you’re a nuisance to others. Plain and simple.

    Another thing… If you’re a techie making at least 100k, but can’t throw in a dollar, when you buy coffee. You are stingy.

  2. Tom Foolery
    July 1, 2021 at 1:52 pm

    This argument, that a server less than 8 percent results in them having to pay taxes on money they didn’t earn, is simply incorrect.

    For it to be true, is presupposes what is likely true in a vast number of cases, but not all of them, and more importantly, is also a crime – that the servers are not reporting their actual tip earnings, as they are required to by law, but instead are engaging in near universal tax evasion, reporting 8 percent while earning far more than that.

    In fact, any tax-evading server earning in excess of that 8 percent, or any server honestly reporting earnings will not suffer this outcome.

    I don’t think you want to base your argument on an assumption, however well founded, of widespread lawbreaking for your entire profession.

    It is tantamount to claiming the right to break that law.

    The valid reason to tip decently is because that is how these people make a living, and when you stiff them, other people who do tip decently are paying your way.