Financial Feud: Tipping vs. Stiffing for bad service

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The Argument:


Once, while my husband and I were eating out, we had horrible service and got into an argument over whether to leave a tip. The bill came to $75. Ordinarily, we would have left $11.25. My husband pulled the "Good Christian" card on me and said our waiter probably needed the money more than we did. I said tips pay for service -- if a waiter doesn’t perform his job well, he shouldn’t get paid well. AM I RIGHT?

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The Argument:

My husband and I rarely disagree about money. I manage the daily stuff, anything over $300 we discuss and agree on together, and we have compromised goals about investing, spending, saving and big purchases.

This tip, however, was a rare example of something we did not see eye-to-eye on.

In my point of view, tips are earned (and I’ve worked as a waitress myself). When you go to a restaurant, you pay for the food. Tips are additional, and they pay for service. We had eaten at this particular restaurant before, and the food was unchanged. But in the past, we’d had much better service.

My husband says tips are payment for service, regardless of whether you like the service. He thinks a tip reflects more on the person being served than the person doing service.

I agree that you and your husband should not leave a tip that’s greater than the value of service provided by the waiter. 

If people didn’t signal quality with the relative sizes of their tips, wait staffs would have no incentive to do a good job.  I think it’s probably less common to not tip with bad service than to tip generously with especially good service, even though the signal is probably more important at the low end. 

It’s hard to imagine that “bad” (sub-optimal) wait service literally means no service of value to the customer (you didn’t have to go back to the kitchen to fetch your own order, did you?), so I would have found a compromise position and left a low, but not no, tip.

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About the author

Diane Lim is a DC-area economist dedicated to wise, fiscally-responsible and socially-valuable public policies, and a mom dedicated to four great kids.
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Or you could tip the waiter - because due to the weirdness of tips, he's going to have to pay taxes on it and complain to management.

Can I ask if the couple thought about complaining about the service during the meal?

Underpaying people who handle your food is as silly as taunting the man shaving your neck with a straight-razor, or planting several states' worth of nearly-identical corn just _waiting_ for a new rust---and the sub-minimum wages we as a society permit them to be paid (and less, when the boss is violating labour laws, as is S.O.P. in restaurants) is severe underpayment. More to the point, you have no idea whether the waiter were really responsible for your bad service---if the boss has 'cut corners' by under-staffing (as is also common) even the best waiter will screw-up sometimes...one might as well complain about the check-out person's not moving your line quickly enough when the problem is that there are three checkers when there should be five.

I am not Christian, but my guess is that a Christian attitude would be to be concerned more about erring on the side of not helping a poor person who needed it rather than (God forbid!) someone getting something they didn't 'deserve'; I think this based both on what I understand of Jesus' attitude toward the lowly and what he supposedly said your attitude should be (to see him in them), and knowing what a Christian might well believe we all 'deserve' for the sin of being descended from a malophage. Or, as Shakespeare has Hamlet put it,

If you pay everyone what they deserve, would anyone ever escape a whipping? Treat them with honor and dignity.
The less they deserve, the more your generosity is worth.

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