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An Open Letter to Bad Tippers

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COUPLE RESTAURANT BILL
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A reader, "MJ," sent me this:

Dear Matt,

Can you write something about people who don't tip??? I see you've posted about people who are rude to customer service and people who leave their carts in the parking lot... what about people who don't leave tips. I'd like to tell you about what happened to me. I'm a waitress at a steakhouse in a different state from you. Myself and my coworkers get stiffed all the time by people. Especially older people who drive expensive cars to get here then order expensive drinks and expensive entrees and leave a 5 percent tip. It's so infuriating!!! This is how I feed my kids ... I'm a mom... recently divorced.. and I take care of my family through tips! Yesterday a couple came in, stayed at a table for two hours, ordered appetizers, entrees and desserts... I took good care of them... they even complimented me on my great service.... and then they left a note on the reciept saying they "unfortunately" couldn't "afford" to leave a tip. They just spent 80 DOLLARS ON THEIR MEAL!! You can afford to spend 80 dollars on one dinner but you can't afford to tip??? Sorry Matt this just makes me so angry and its a really common problem. I thought maybe you could talk about it to bring to people's attention.

If you use this just call me MJ.

This woman has challenged me to speak out against non-tipping tyrants, and I could not live with myself if I failed to answer her call. I will address my response not to her, but to the tightwads who torment her and her fellow toilers in the grueling, thankless "service industry."

This is the least that I can do. I love to eat -- it's my favorite pastime -- and eating out is always a treat. Yet I know that this experience requires the labor of many people; labor that I could not do. I lack the patience and temperament required to deal with the daily onslaught of pompous cheapskates and verbally abusive egomaniacs.

And now to speak directly to a certain terrifying subset of this species. These are the lowest, most shameless sorts of customers. Their existence is a constant, chilling reminder that evil exists in the world. They are the non-tippers:

Dear Non-Tippers,

Are you thinking about going out tonight? Considering a nice little jaunt to that cozy steakhouse down on main street? Looking forward to a pleasant evening of being fed and waited upon by strangers? Maybe catching a flick after dinner? Good. Good for you. Sounds like a splendid evening. I'm happy that you've got the money to treat yourselves.

Oh, but you don't have it in your budget to tip your server?

Then it would seem that you, in fact, don't have the money to treat yourselves after all.

My friends, if you have 35 bucks to drop on a meal, but you don't have the 7 dollars to leave a 20 percent tip, then what are you doing in a restaurant in the first place? You need to hire a financial adviser (well, maybe see if you can get a free consult) because it's just plain unwise to blow your entire net worth on a couple of entrees at Applebee's. Save your 35 dollar nest egg, run to Walmart, buy a box of spaghetti for a dollar, and enjoy a home cooked meal.

For a while in my early twenties, after I paid my bills for the month, I usually had about 30 or 40 dollars left over. I often drove by sit-down restaurants and thought, "Hmmm, I wish I could pull in and have a bite to eat." But then I remembered, "Oh, I'm broke; I have no money, I'm poor," and so I went back to my apartment and ate peanut butter and jelly or ramen noodles. These are the traditional cultural dishes of Broke People -- not big, juicy hamburgers at high class joints like Chili's.

Oh, but you aren't broke? You're going tipless this evening out of some diluted "principle"?

Why should you have to tip, you ask?

Well, you don't. You aren't required. Just like you aren't required to hold the door open for an elderly woman or offer a beverage to a thirsty house guest. You don't HAVE to do these things. Most of us partake in these conventions because we're civilized and decent. You don't HAVE to be civilized and decent. But maybe you can at least do me this favor: if you aren't going to tip, and you know that from the outset, have the courage of your convictions and inform your waiter upfront. When your server comes to welcome you and give you the daily specials, kindly inform him of the situation. "Good evening, Brad. I'm happy to be here. I won't be tipping you tonight. Anyway, do we get free refills on the house salad?"

To withhold this information is a lie by omission. You know that Brad will be working under the assumption that a tip is forthcoming. You, therefore, benefit from the illusion of a potential tip, even though there isn't any potential for a tip at all. This is a lie. You're lying. You're being manipulative. Stop it.

And what is this principle on which you stand?

I often hear that the owners of the restaurants should pay a decent wage and then nobody would have to tip. Why should YOU have to pay the server's wage, you insist.

Good point. Let's require all restaurant owners to pay their wait staff, what, like 12-15 dollars an hour? Yes, now we don't have to tip and everyone is ha-

Oh. Wait. What's this? All of prices on the menu just doubled? No more 2 for 20 deals? No more free refills? No more 9 dollar burgers and 12 dollar steaks? No more obscenely humungous portion sizes?

What's going on here? You're telling me that the financial resources of the restaurant's owners are finite, and a massive increase in operating costs must be logically offset by a hike in prices and a reduction in services?

Oh no! Now my favorite joints are closing earlier! Hold on -- no more happy hour?!

This has gone too far.

I want good food, low prices, huge portions, unlimited refills, happy hour special, fast service AND I don't want to be expected to tip! Kindly point me to the wormhole that will transport me to the dimension where such a thing is possible.

See, non-tippers benefit from the tip structure, and would not be willing to forfeit those benefits, yet they don't want to pony up the tips themselves. They reap the rewards of the tip system while simultaneously pretending to protest it. They're hypocrites.

Of course, the main justification offered by non-tippers is not so much based on principle as it is on punishment. They say they will not tip when the service is "bad." But you'll notice that these people somehow encounter "bad" service almost every time they go out to eat. What an odd thing. They must be cursed.

Personally, I tip. I almost always tip well. Twenty percent is the baseline minimum. But, where some customers complain about how they "can't find good service," I am usually quite pleased with the wait staff I encounter at most establishments. Where non-tippers constantly find excuses to punitively withhold tips, I generally find reasons to add an additional 5 or 10 percent to the pot. This isn't because I'm lucky or generous, it's because I'm not a pompous, picky, spoiled brat; constantly looking for the smallest reason to feel slighted by customer service workers.

I'd like to hear the thought process when the bill comes and you non-tippers go through your cheapskate mental checklist.

Hmmm. Well, my glass remained empty for 97 seconds while my waitress handled a party of 27 two tables down. Sorry, I don't care what else she's doing. I need prompt refills. That'll cost her 3 percent. Oh, and I didn't think she was smiley enough. There goes another 3 percent. I asked for ketchup but it didn't come. And then I had to ask again! The horror! That shaves another 5 percent. The fries were warm but a little soggy. There goes 2 percent. My meal was late by like a thousand hours! Well, almost. It took 26 minutes or so to come out. I have absolutely no reason to believe that this inconvenience was the fault of my server, but she's going to have to pay for it. Minus 10 percent. OK, so according to my calculations, she now owes me about 12 dollars.

From what I've seen, the server is usually punished for things that have nothing to do with her. But you non-tippers know this. You're not out for justice; you're out to save a few bucks. You tell yourselves stories about how you were victimized by the wait staff just so you can leave no tip and still sleep like a baby at night.

But we all know the truth about you. You can't hide your motivations.

Stop the madness, non-tippers.

Tip your server. Just tip.

Trust me, you'll feel better.

Check out more writing by Matt Walsh at themattwalshblog.com.