The Fine Art of Dining with Friends and Family Who Don't Tip Enough

A veteran server shares his best advice for dealing with misers at your own dining table.

A cash tip left on a plate on a restaurant table
Photo: Oleg Chumakov / Getty Images

It's happened to all of us. We're out to dinner with someone who insists on taking care of the check and when you sneak a peek at the tip they leave for the server, you are absolutely horrified by how inappropriate it is. Or maybe you have separate checks and you leave the customary 15-20%, but someone else only leaves 5%. After you pick your jaw up off the floor and insert your tongue back into your mouth, what do you do? Different circumstances require different reactions. The only certainty is that something must be done.

The Discreet Correction

This is probably the most common fix for a lousy tip and it's best used when the bad tipper is a family member whose feelings you don't want to hurt. As you're leaving the restaurant, you announce you "left something at the table" or you "need to go to the restroom." Once you are certain the offending tipper is no longer within eyesight, you hunt down your server to make amends. Do whatever it takes to find them and when you do, you hand that server more money. If you don't have cash, you get the server's Venmo or CashApp handle and send that money digitally. Get their address and mail them a check if you have to. Do whatever is necessary to rectify the situation. Sure, you could leave the extra money on the table, but don't you want the server to know it wasn't you who left the bad tip and that you're the one making up for it?

Heading It Off at the Pass

This is the method you use when it's not your first time at the rodeo with a known bad tipper. Maybe the last time you went out to dinner with them, you had to perform the Discreet Correction method, but now you know better. This is your opportunity to say, "You are always so generous, why don't I take care of the tip this time?" Or, if they insist on leaving the tip, you will have to meet up with your server and apologize in advance for the certain disappointment to come. Slip the server a few extra bills along with an explanation that your Great Aunt Sally still tips like she did in the 1970s.

The Gentle Explanation

This is for those times you are out with someone who you think can handle some tough love. When the bill is $49.65 and they add $5 for the tip, you look them firmly in the eye. Place your right hand on top of their hand. Now put your left hand on top of your right hand. Tilt your head slightly to the left and then say the following: "Servers depend on tips to make their living and I want to make sure you fully understand that. For good service you should be leaving 20%. I could have left some extra money to make up for it, but I know you would want to know how to be a better customer and a better person all around." Hopefully, this direct plea for extra cents and sensibility will be heard and understood. If not, you have no other option at hand.

Servers depend on tips to make their living and I want to make sure you fully understand that.

Full Scorched Earth

This technique for dealing with poor tippers can be the most risky and yet the most rewarding method of them all. It's for when you have tried everything else and nothing seems to have worked. The Gentle Explanation didn't stick, sliding off their person like avocado slides off a BLT. You are sick and tired of sneaking $20 bills behind their cheap backs so The Discreet Correction and Heading It Off at the Pass are no longer options. If you use the Full Scorched Earth method, be prepared to either lose this person as a friend or never go out to eat with them again.

When they reach into their very deep pocket with their very short arm to leave a tip, take a deep breath because you're about to go nuclear and there's no turning back. "No!" you shout. "This is not okay. Donna Summer worked hard for her money and so did our server. I can longer condone your behavior and I will not enable you any longer!"

At this point, pick up the check and raise it high over your head. "Tipping your server is part of our social contract. It's as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie." This is when you cue the fans and smoke machines that will help emphasize your point and you climb on top of the table. "I will be leaving a tip for our server and I will be leaving you, (insert bad tipper's name) to face the wrath of being a bad tipper. You will no longer be considered my (insert relationship) until your wrongs have been righted."

Donna Summer worked hard for her money and so did our server!

As the fan blows the smoke and your hair in the most dramatic of ways, retrieve your form of payment for your portion of the check. "I gladly pay this bill and I tip well, for I know the importance of rewarding good service in a restaurant." With tears streaming down your face and hopefully at least one other restaurant-goer recording the scene with their cell phone so you'll go viral, clinch your hand and raise that fist toward the ceiling. "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again with this person!"

In breathtaking form, point at the accused and then quickly hop off the table, say thank you to your server, and skedaddle your way out of there. You now know you will no longer have to deal with that friend or family member who is a bad tipper. They will wallow in their shame.

Clearly, some methods are not for all people. Use at your own discretion.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles