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Guilt Tipping: 56% of People Tip Even If They Receive Terrible Service

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By Marcy Bonebright, dealnews Senior Staff Writer

In a recent poll, dealnews asked its readers whether they felt obligated to tip even if they received terrible service. A surprising majority of readers answered in the affirmative — about 56% of respondents said they definitely would or sometimes would leave a tip in such a situation. Obviously, there are some guilty consciences out there!

But why do we feel guilty when we stiff someone that's provided bad service? We delved deeper into the messy politics of tipping etiquette and discovered that, like everything else, it comes down to a question of nature versus nurture.

Social Anxiety Makes Us Feel Guilty

"The major reason people tip is to avoid social disapproval," Cornell professor and tipping expert Michael Lynn said in an interview with CNN Money. In fact, according to Lynn's research, a customer who leaves a good tip might be trying to dodge the server's envy. "Our willingness to tip regardless of service reflects a sense that the customer is in a better position financially," the article reads.

Of course, leaving a tip regardless of whether it's earned could also be a way of alleviating the stress of being served by another person. As the article points out, Lynn's research has shown "that tips tend to be higher in countries where there is greater neuroticism about and intolerance of ambiguous situations."

We Tip Regardless of Service Because We've Evolved That Way

But perhaps there's something more fundamental behind our collective tipping impulse. According to a theory posed by Pleiotropy, a science blog, we may have evolved to tip our servers no matter what. "Evolutionarily speaking, what's the advantage of leaving a tip, and why do we have a sense of guilt when we don't tip? One explanation is that we evolved under conditions where breaking the moral codes were always punished, even if just in a minor way, when the cheater was found out." So, the theory goes, we evolved to feel guilty when we didn't tip.

Therefore, when you stiff a waitress in Guymon, Oklahoma, the blog explains, "we can think rationally that there is no reason we should feel bad for ourselves when not leaving a tip, but we do so anyway, because guilt is a feeling we don't arrive at rationally, and our emotions don't know that we will never come back to Guymon and propose to that waitress."

Whether it's out of a desire to combat social inequity or an innate drive to maintain status within the herd, one thing is certain: dealnews readers aren't the only ones leaving a tip when the service is terrible. Odds are, the server providing that shoddy service would leave a tip in the exact same situation.

What do you think, readers? Is compulsory tipping the result of nature or nurture? Or is there some other force at work? Tell us your theories below!


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11 comments
gusgus
tipping is a result of low wages. we are being made to feel guilty if we don't help with servers wages. that's pretty poor reasoning for tipping. owners say they can't afford higher wages etc so we should pay for food or services and tip. only in AMERICA could such reasoning be sold as truth! tipping is a way of expressing pleasure with the servers job.
shookaste
McDonalds provides excellent efficient service(most of the time) and I've never tipped there. In order for a waitress or waiter to expect a tip they had better earn it. If the place is busy I have no qualms tipping less, if tips are only 2/3rds of the usual but the waiter is running around seeing twice as many tables he still up up ahead. Also, at least in Wisconsin, if the tips mean the waiter isnt making minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. Terrible or even mediocre service must lead to a loss of wages or service standards will sink even lower.
Alligator
When you receive poor service it is important to understand why. Some servers have never been on the receiving end of good service, so couldn't provide it in any circumstance. These servers should not be providing service and should be let go by the owner of the establishment. If the owner of the establishment chooses to keep these people on the payroll then the owner deserves to lose my business. It is the owner's responsibility to insure that wait staff have been properly trained. When I encounter poor service it is probably not the first time the server has performed poorly and is a sign that the establishment owner doesn't want my business. I will leave a token tip and not return to the establishment.
karlbaba
You're missing the point. Most servers get minimum wage and in some states there is a sub-minimum wage for employees in tipping positions. This means the restaurant and server are counting on you to pay some of the wages of the server and, in fact, the state takes taxes from the server based on the expectation of a certain amount in tips.

Not only that, if you get "bad" service it can be the fault of a backed up kitchen or a host that sat too many tables at once. So "stiffing" a waiter is depriving them of their living wage based on the assumption that a tip is extra. Practically speaking, it's not and stiffing should be reserved for circumstances when you are compassionately sparing the server from a complaint to management. Otherwise, sure, tip less, but anything less than 10% is stealing wages from the server.

Believing the price on the menu should be enough doesn't make it so and blaming the restaurant owner for not paying a living wage is just an excuse, that's the industry
married2lori
First of all, it is important to understand that, in the long run, it is always the customer that pays the salaries of the employees of businesses they patronize. So, if wages were raised in order to make tipping unnecessary, menu prices would need to be adjusted so that the end cost to the consumer would be the same. Of course, the worst servers would definitely be in favor of such an arrangement. The good servers? Not so much.

When you get your car repaired, you pay for parts AND labor. I would like to see you try to tell your repair shop that you didn't like the mechanics attitude, so your only paying for the parts. See if they give you back your keys. I suspect you'll be taking the bus to work.
emmayche
I frankly don't see why the restaurant owner should get involved with the tips at all. If the restaurant owner is not paying their staff properly, they should. I have no objection per se to tipping - I simply don't see why the misbehavior of a restaurant owner imposes an obligation on me to pay his employees more than what I believe is fair for the level of personal service rendered to me.

Cooperation with a broken system is generally NOT the best way to fix it.
Janonymouse
A fair number of people that work in restaurants DO NOT report their tips to the IRS. While this may seem petty, this also makes them eligible for unemployment. Collecting unemployment requires people to have no income or reduced income.
People that work restaurants in Florida hate the Canadiens because they do not tip well or at all.
This is because in Canada restaurants pay their employees a living wage. (I live in Chgo.) Restaurants in Canada do NOT depend on customers making up the difference in the waiters/waitresses income.
I would like to recommend the USA to do the same thing - require ALL employers (Including Restaurants) to pay employees at least the minimum wage, then issue the W-2 with all reported income. This will cause many restaurant workers to report income and NOT collect unemployment!
Slaz5
I usually tip even if the service is shotty. But I will tip less. I may leave only $2 on a $30 bill if the service was that bad. But sometimes good food makes up for bad service so I tend to ignore that part and hope the cook gets some of that. If everything was satisfactory I usually double the tax. Which where I live ends up being a bit over 17%. Fair.
frizell
That shows how much you know your rights. Server needs to add the total tips he/she received plus the hourly wage, if that total is less than minimum wage you can demand the employer to pay you up to the minimum wage. Tipping is totaly unnecessary ask your boss for the pay difference not the customer.
thomsweeney
I am always bothered by articles such as these, as well as the responses. First and foremost, I would like to point out that if you are going out to eat, KNOW how things work where you are. Some places do include gratuity automatically, but in America, this is usually NOT the case. Most states (like North Carolina) pay servers only $2.13/hr which can often not even cover income tax. In addition, many restaurants mandate that the SERVERS pay other areas (regardless of the tip received) that have helped you out (hosts, bus boys, bartenders) which means when you stiff a server, you are making them pay to wait on you. In places like NC, the food is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper because the labor for service people are not included in the bill. Please, if you make the choice not to tip, do it because the service truly was poor and not because you are trying to save money or are just ignorant. Otherwise you are stealing from an honest worker by accepting their labor and refusing to pay them.
emmayche
I wish I knew. I've always believed that a certain level of service was included with the price shown on the menu. I really believe that tips are to reward good-to-exceptional service; therefore, even if the kitchen takes a long time with my meal, I still tip my server -- provided the server keeps me up to date on what's happening (like "I'm so sorry, but someone in the kitchen just dumped a whole tub of tapioca on your steak, and they're doing it over again. Is there anything I can get you while you're waiting?"). But if the server just keeps me in the dark, that's NOT good service.

I also believe that service below the minimum level should be taken into account, and I have in the past "left" negative tips; that is, I have (very rarely) subtracted up to 5% from the check for horrid or hostile service. This has been challenged only once, and accepted when I told the manager that the alternative was to be paid NOTHING for inflicting the terrible experience on me and my family.
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