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Is it rude to tip less than 10%?

Tipping is a common practice in the service industry, especially at restaurants, bars, salons, and for taxi/rideshares. The customary tip amount in the United States is typically 15-20% of the total bill. However, some people choose to tip less for various reasons. This brings up the question – is tipping less than 10% considered rude?

What is the average tip amount?

According to a 2019 survey, the average tip amount at U.S. restaurants is:

  • 18% for excellent service
  • 20% or more for outstanding service
  • 15-20% for good service
  • 10-15% for adequate service
  • Less than 10% for poor service

So while 15-20% is considered the standard tip range, 10% tips are still given for service that is just adequate or mediocre. However, tipping under 10% is typically reserved only for very poor service.

Why do people tip under 10%?

There are a few common reasons why someone may leave a tip under 10%:

  • Poor service – Slow service, inaccurate orders, rude staff, etc. However, some argue you should still tip 10-15% and speak to a manager about poor service instead of leaving a small tip.
  • They cannot afford a higher tip – Some patrons may not have the budget for a 15-20% tip, so they leave what they can afford even if it’s under 10%.
  • They disagree with tipping culture – Some people think tips should be reserved only for outstanding service, not expected for adequate service.
  • They are from another country – Tipping customs vary widely globally. Many countries do not have a tipping culture. Tourists may be unfamiliar with U.S. tipping norms.
  • The service charge was already included – Sometimes a service charge of 15-20% is automatically added to the bill, so patrons may tip less since a gratuity was already added.
  • They tipped based on the pre-tax amount – Tips are supposed to be based on the total check amount after tax. Some incorrectly base it on the pre-tax subtotal.

Is it ever acceptable to tip under 10%?

Tipping under 10% is generally only considered acceptable in a few scenarios:

  • You received exceptionally poor service – slow, wrong orders, rude waiter, etc.
  • The server has done something that is fireable – harmful, illegal, etc. You may tip less and speak to a manager.
  • A service charge or auto-gratuity was already added to your bill.
  • You cannot financially afford a higher tip without hardship.
  • You are a tourist who is used to lower tipping amounts customary in your own country.

However, many servers in the U.S. rely on tips as the majority of their income. Tipping under 10% can significantly impact their wages for the night. Some argue you should still tip 10-15% for poor service and take up issues with the manager rather than affect the server’s pay.

When is it rude to tip under 10%?

Tipping under 10% is generally considered rude in the following circumstances:

  • You received decent or good service but tip under 10% anyway.
  • You are financially able to tip 15-20% but choose to tip less regardless of the service.
  • You tip under 10% without a valid reason like poor service or inability to pay more.
  • You are a local patron who is familiar with U.S. tipping customs but still tips under 10%.

Essentially, if you received adequate service, are financially able, and still tip under 10%, it can be seen as rude because you are not showing appreciation for good service.

What message does a small tip send?

Tips under 10% generally send the message that you were unsatisfied with the service and that something went wrong. Reasons someone may perceive your small tip as dissatisfaction include:

  • The server was slow or inattentive.
  • The order was inaccurate or wrong.
  • The food/drinks were not good.
  • The atmosphere or ambiance was not good.
  • The server had a bad attitude or was rude.
  • The prices were too high for the quality.

Unless you tell the manager the explicit reason for the small tip, the server is left to assume why they received a less than 10% gratuity. It can damage server morale and make them think they did something wrong.

Should you ever tip 0%?

Tipping nothing or 0% is more controversial. Many argue you should tip at least something, even for bad service. However, some say it is justified if the server:

  • Was extremely rude, offensive, or harassing.
  • Intentionally damaged your property.
  • Served you spoiled food that made you sick.
  • Brought you completely wrong dishes that you did not order.
  • Was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Even in these cases, some advise leaving a small tip like 5% and speaking to a manager. Leaving no tip at all risks retaliatory action, like your card info being misused. Only tip 0% as a last resort for safety or legality reasons.

Should you tell the manager if you tip less than 10%?

If you felt compelled to tip less than 10%, it is a good idea to politely inform the manager why. This provides feedback the server can learn from. Some tips on effectively communicating with the manager if you left a small tip:

  • Be polite – Do not yell, insult, or have an entitled attitude.
  • Stick to facts – Avoid vague subjective claims like “the service was terrible.” Give specific objective examples of what went wrong.
  • Consider both sides – What went wrong may have been out of the server’s control. Have empathy.
  • Thank the manager – Show you appreciate them hearing your feedback. Say you hope your experience will improve next time.

Providing reasonable feedback gives the restaurant or company a chance to address any problems. The server may then improve on those issues, rather than just being left confused by a small tip.

How can you avoid leaving a small tip?

Here are some tips to avoid feeling compelled to leave a tip under 10%:

  • Politely speak up about any issues during your meal – gives them a chance to correct mistakes.
  • Pick a restaurant that fits your budget – avoid expensive places if you cannot afford a 15-20% tip.
  • If the service charge is already added, ask for it to be removed if you want to tip above that based on service.
  • Clarify any confusing parts of the bill – ask about automatic gratuity, service charges, etc. to avoid double tipping.
  • Base tips on the total bill after tax, not the pre-tax amount.
  • If needed, nicely ask to change servers if you are uncomfortable with the assigned one.

Being proactive can prevent many tip-related issues from arising in the first place. Always be kind and understanding – servers have difficult jobs as well.

What if you cannot afford to tip 15-20%?

If money is tight, here are some options besides tipping under 10%:

  • Be upfront and politely tell the server you can only afford to tip 10% this time.
  • Opt for less expensive restaurants and tip 15-20% of a smaller check.
  • Only get items you can comfortably tip 15-20% on – appetizer or single entree rather than multiple courses.
  • Explain your financial situation and ask if they would accept a 10% tip this time.
  • Order takeout instead and pick up the food yourself to avoid dine-in tip expectations.

Any reasonable server would understand not being able to tip more due to budget constraints, especially if communicated politely and upfront.

What if you get bad service at an expensive restaurant?

Getting poor service at a higher-end establishment presents a difficult tipping dilemma. On one hand, you likely got bad service. But on the other, even a 10% tip of a large check is a decent tip amount. Some options in this situation are:

  • Speak to a manager first about the issues or getting items comped.
  • Tip 10-15% anyway if the check amount means that is still a fair tip.
  • Tip 15% on only the items that were good.
  • Tip 10%, but let the manager know why so the issues are addressed.
  • Tip 20% of the lower check amount after getting deductions for problems.

There are ways to both reflect poor service through a smaller tip and account for the larger check size. Communication with management is key.

What are other ways to handle bad service besides small tips?

While you can tip less for bad service, there are other effective options that should be considered first:

  • Speak to the manager – Don’t only leave a reduced tip. Communicate the problems to management.
  • Send feedback to corporate – For chain restaurants, lodge a polite complaint with the corporate office.
  • Write an online review – Respectfully detail your poor experience to alert others.
  • Give a second chance – Everyone has off days. Consider giving the place a second try later on.
  • Advise others – Privately tell family and friends about your bad experience so they can avoid it.
  • Focus comments on the issues – Do not insult or personally attack the server themselves.

There are many ways to provide feedback on poor service without the message only coming across through a reduced tip amount.

Should tipping culture change?

The entire concept of tipping is controversial itself. Some people think tipping culture should change completely for reasons like:

  • Servers should earn a regular minimum wage like other professions.
  • Quality service should be the restaurant’s responsibility, not the customer’s.
  • Tipping is an unfair burden that leads to stress and harassment from servers dependent on them.
  • Bad tippers subsidize good tippers rather than bearing the full brunt of paying less.
  • The amount customers tip is not always correlated with service quality anyway.

However, others argue that tips incentivize great service and give customers recourse for bad service. There are good-faith arguments on both sides of whether tipping norms should be overhauled or abolished.

Are demographics a factor in tipping under 10%?

Many claim certain demographic groups are more likely to tip under the standard 15-20% amount. Stereotypes exist around younger patrons, foreigners, minorities, and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds tipping less. However, studies on the topic have mixed results.

According to a 2019 tipping survey:

  • Baby boomers (ages 55-75) tip a median of 20% which is higher than Generation X, millennials, or Generation Z.
  • Those with annual incomes under $50k tip a median of 15% compared to 20% for those making over 50k.
  • College grads tip a median of 20% versus high school grads at 15-16%.
  • Men tip a median of 16-17% while women tip around 20%.

So while there are some demographic trends, income appears to be more of a factor than age, education, or gender when it comes to tipping under 10%. Individual personality plays a big role too.


To conclude, tipping under 10% is generally considered rude unless service was particularly poor or you cannot afford more. Speak to management, choose an appropriate restaurant for your budget, tip on pre-tax amounts, and proactively prevent issues to avoid feeling compelled to leave a small tip. While tipping culture itself is controversial and demographics may play a role, focus on tipping fairly for the service and situation at hand.