15 Times It’s Totally OK To Leave a Bad Tip

Scenarios where a bad tip is not just acceptable but encouraged.

couple in restaurant having lunch
Updated June 6, 2024
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Knowing how much to tip can be stressful, especially if you feel service wasn't up to par. 

If your server is helping you enjoy a meal, is friendly, and is accommodating to your needs, giving them a tip is expected. Whether you like to tip 20% or more, sometimes that’s hard to do.

Considering many servers rely on tips to make their paycheck stretch further, is it ever really OK not to tip them? The truth is that there are some big reasons you’ll want to skip the tip to make a point.

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Your server keeps ignoring you

Seventyfour/Adobe waitress in black apron

It’s not a lot to ask for things like silverware, a refill on your drink, or a to-go box, but some servers just don’t pay attention to your specific needs, no matter how big or small they are.

It’s OK not to tip (or provide as much of a tip) when you’ve been ignored multiple times. If it’s not about being short-staffed but just plain disorganization or, even worse, a rude server, tipping becomes one way to show your disapproval.

Your server verbally disrespects you

PR Image Factory/Adobe customer arguing with staff girl

It’s never OK to treat anyone with disrespect, no matter which side of the transaction you’re on, but when a person insults you, a tip isn’t necessary.

Perhaps the waitress made a statement about your appearance, where they assumed you lived, or even about your children. These are all good reasons not to tip at all.

You had a very long wait

AS Photo Family/Adobe people waiting in line in city

Staff shortages can impact wait times and lead to bad service. For many people, this is an accepted part of the job. But what if your wait was due to people standing around and chatting or if your order arrived at your table long after the tables around you?

There are times when an excessive wait means you can tip less. However, don’t do this if your order is long and complex or requires special preparations.

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Your server won’t address your issues

estradaanton/Adobe complaining about a bowl of salad

You have a problem with your order. No matter what it is, you have the right to make a statement to the person serving you and expect them to provide a solution. That solution could be simply explaining the situation or replacing your item.

However, when the server fails to offer a solution or address your concerns, it’s time to reconsider coming back. Not leaving a tip could be a necessary step in situations where the problem is serious or occurs multiple times.

You’re just picking up an order

Gorodenkoff/Adobe food delivery courier picking up

Tipping on takeout orders isn’t always necessary. If the meal is prepared and packaged by the kitchen staff rather than a waitress at the restaurant, tipping isn’t necessary because the staff member’s earnings aren’t based on it.

However, in many situations, it can be just as time-consuming for a specific packer handling car side orders to ready your order as it is serving you at the table. In situations where this person is being compensated through tips or you have a reasonably large order, you should tip.

You’re purchasing a pre-packaged product

auremar/Adobe lady holding bag of biscuits

Sometimes, tipping doesn’t make sense, such as when picking up a prepackaged order, like a box of cookies, at a counter.

In this situation, the server isn’t likely putting together your order or doing anything but putting it in a bag. In these situations, tipping isn’t necessary.

The staff doesn’t want you there

2ragon/Adobe upset cafe manager

In some situations, you can tell your presence isn’t desired. It could be that the server just wants to leave for the day, or they’re having a bad day. They toss the menu at you, perhaps even roll their eyes at your order.

A part of the server’s job is to make you feel at home and welcome, and while they cannot fully control what happens in the kitchen, they do control this aspect of their work. This could be a time when, in very bad situations, you just don’t tip.

Your allergy concerns were ignored

JackF/Adobe male waiter apologizing to female customer

This is a big deal. We’re not talking about asking for a new batch of french fries, claiming you need them to be without salt just because you want them hot. 

Imagine having an allergy to a specific ingredient, telling the waitress about it, and even confirming with the person who brought your food to the table and still experiencing illness.

In a situation like this, multiple people have dropped the ball and put your health on the line. It’s OK not to tip — and to tell the manager about the incident.

When you’ve hired a professional to provide a service to you

Kurhan/Adobe male plumber repairing kitchen sink

It’s not necessary to provide a tip to anyone that’s not truly serving you. If you’re hiring an attorney, a plumber, or even a doctor for your needs, you don’t need to tip.

These professionals charge you a fee for the service they provide. They don’t expect nor need a tip on top of that.

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You’re receiving counter service

Donson/peopleimages.com/Adobe payment and ecommerce transaction

Going to a fast food location for a meal (whether through the drive-thru or inside) doesn’t warrant a tip. Those working at these locations are paid hourly or on a salary and don't require a tip.

Even when you’re in the drive-thru lane at Starbucks and you’re handed a digital tablet with a tip line to sign, you don’t have to tip. Perhaps save that for someone who goes over and above for you.

The hairstylist destroyed your hair

estradaanton/Adobe client blaming hairdresser

Tipping at the barber or hair salon is a common practice and often a big part of the earning capacity of those individuals. Yet, when that perm goes wrong, or the color is wrong, consider tipping less.

In this situation, you may have received rushed service, or the person mixing the chemicals wasn’t paying attention. No matter what, bring this one up to the salon manager so they can fix it.

Gratuity is already added to the bill

Monkey Business/Adobe waiter serving group of female friends

You’re bringing a group of 10 to lunch, and you notice the bill already factors in a 20% tip for parties over eight. In this situation, you’re already paying a tip. You don’t need to pay more.

Now, there are some situations where the tip may be a low percentage, and you want to tip at a higher rate. In that case, go for it when the server has proven to deserve it. Otherwise, the standard rule is that you don’t have to go further if it's already included.

It’s an open-bar event

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe groom in suit with boutonniere

Do you tip the bar staff at an open bar? Not necessarily, since the host or hostess of the event is likely to provide that person a tip at the end of the night. Even when there’s a tip jar present, don’t feel like you have to do so.

That’s especially true when this is supposed to be a free event for you. A tip isn't out of the question if the person goes well above the call of duty.

Your server takes multiple smoke breaks while serving you

tirachard/Adobe female and male barista

It’s common for servers to get breaks while they have customers — otherwise, they may never get a chance to sit down. 

However, if you notice that your server continues to step outside while waiting on you (perhaps even propping open the back door and keeping their cigarette lit), that’s going to make it tough for you to want to tip.

The same applies to a server who’s repeatedly on the phone or otherwise engaged in non-related duties.

The server was discriminatory in any way

WavebreakMediaMicro/Adobe disagreement between a waiter and a customer

Another important time to make a statement occurs when the server is discriminatory toward your race, gender, lifestyle, culture, or any other factor. Simply, they don’t get to treat you poorly or make side comments to you.

If you know this is happening, bring it up to the manager. That’s especially true when you feel threatened by what they are saying.

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Bottom line

cherryandbees/Adobe man paying bill with cash

Tipping is an important part of a person’s earnings for the hard work they put into meeting your needs. 

If you’re thinking about not leaving a tip, your first step should be to bring the problem to the manager’s attention and then decide if you should skip it. Saying something can make a significant improvement on the location, staff, and even your experience.

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Author Details

Sandy Baker

Sandy Baker is a has over 17 years of experience in the financial sector. Her experience includes website content, blogs, and social media. She’s worked with companies such as Realtor.com, Bankrate, TransUnion, Equifax, and Consumer Affairs.