By timestaff
December 27, 2007

by JEANNE FLEMING, PH.D. and LEONARD SCHWARZ

Question: When a friend and I had dinner at a nice restaurant recently, the food was good but the service was terrible. The waiter got both of our orders wrong, was openly contemptuous of the wine we selected, ignored us for long stretches of time, and was horribly rude every time he did appear. I wanted to leave the guy next to nothing, but my friend insisted on tipping him close to 15 percent. Was she right, or was I?

Our answer: That’ll teach you not to decline the $75 wine your waiter recommends.

Seriously, we’re with you. There’s no excuse for the behavior you describe, and in your shoes we would have left the guy a buck – just enough to let him know we hadn’t forgotten him.

We assume your friend would argue that tipping is an obligation, not an option, and that stiffing a waiter is akin to an employer failing to pay an employee. But she’s wrong. Being in a job where tips are the norm doesn’t protect you from the economic consequences of failing to provide what customers have every right to expect. Taxi drivers who ignore their passengers’ directions and drive like maniacs don’t deserve tips. Neither do waiters who can’t bother to deliver competent and courteous service.

Given that your meal was so unpleasant, you should have spoken to the manager and insisted that your bill be reduced. But we can understand why you might not have wanted to end dinner with a confrontation. Either way, though, your friend was wrong to insist on that tip. Her well-intentioned but misguided sense of duty only encourages waiters like yours to continue to be contemptuous of their customers.

Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of the upcoming book “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at [email protected].

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