6 Scenarios Where You Can Tip Less Than 20%, Etiquette Experts Say

There are a few factors that might justify leaving lower than normal gratuity.

For most of us, 20 percent is considered the baseline for a good tip. Of course, some people are willing to give more in gratuity for exceptional service—maybe you have a waiter who went above and beyond, or a new hairdresser who was finally able to give you the perfect shade of blonde. But is it ever acceptable to leave less than the baseline? If you're thinking about tipping service providers based on things they don't have any control over—like food being unavailable at a restaurant or overpriced drinks at a bar—then etiquette experts advise against it. But there are a few factors that can justify leaving a smaller amount. Read on to discover the six times it's OK to tip less than 20 percent.

RELATED: 6 Places You Should Never Tip, According to Etiquette Experts.

There are consistent issues with timeliness.

Shot of an unrecognizable businessperson checking the time at work

When you're paying for a service that is supposed to be completed at a specific time, Jodi Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, says you should not be afraid to factor timeliness into your tip.

For instance, if you have a dog walker who is supposed to take your dog on a walk from 2 to 2:30 p.m., don't feel like you need to give them 20 percent gratuity if they're perpetually showing up late.

"This throws off your day and carpool schedule," Smith explains. "And your dog may not end up actually receiving a full 30-minute walk every day."

RELATED: New Law Wants to Introduce Tipping at Walmart and Other Major Retailers.

Your assistance from an actual worker is limited.

Customer using touch screen to make payment at a coffee shop
monkeybusinessimages / iStock

From takeout coffee spots to grab-and-go airport concessions, gratuity prompts are popping up everywhere these days. This can certainly feel overwhelming, but Jake Hill, finance expert and CEO of DebtHammer, tells Best Life that consumers should never feel obligated to leave the standard baseline in these situations.

"One instance in which leaving a tip of less than 20 percent is acceptable is when an employee provides no direct assistance other than taking your order," Hill says. "For example, if a tip request appears at checkout for a limited-service restaurant, you may leave a smaller tip."

RELATED: Shoppers Slam Self-Checkout Tipping Requests: "Stop This Madness."

The service is unreasonably bad.

Cheerful smiling waiter with a beard leaning on the bar counter and typing text message on his smartphone while working at the coffee shop.

Everyone is susceptible to a bad day, even service workers. So don't be quick to give a bad tip if someone makes a minor mistake. But there is a big difference between a few hiccups and repeated unreasonable mistakes at the hands of a bad server.

"If a worker's service is substandard, your tip can reflect that," Smith confirms.

For example, she says you can give less than 20 percent if your server takes nearly 25 minutes just to bring out your drink because they were wasting time chatting with their coworkers. Or if you order a dish without olives but your server forgot to tell the kitchen—and then they don't offer to take it back or apologize—it's also acceptable to leave less, according to Smith.

"But when you are not going to tip the standard 20 percent amount, you should speak with a manager to explain why," she notes. "Management cannot coach an employee when they do not know there is an issue. Not leaving a good tip for poor service is fine, but you must let someone know why."

RELATED: Bartender Sparks Heated Debate by Admitting "Big Tippers Get Priority."

Gratuity has already been added for the group.


If you're dining with other people, it's a good idea to look at your check before just jotting down a 20 percent tip. That's because "some restaurants automatically add a gratuity for large groups," according to Onike Ruselo, service expert and specialist for the London-based catering company Pearl Lemon.

"In such cases, it's acceptable not to tip an additional 20 percent on top of the included gratuity," Ruselo shares.

RELATED: Server Pleads With Customers to Always Tip in Cash: "We Don't Get Instant Money."

Or you're otherwise being asked to tip twice for the same service.

Female hands with manicure holding 100 dollars and showing new pattern manicure, on a white background.

It's not just already-added gratuity at restaurants you need to watch out for. Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert and founder of the Swann School of Protocol, told CNBC that some women have recently reported being asked to tip twice for the same services at places like nail salons.

According to Swann, people are being prompted to tip at the counter after already tipping the technician who worked on their nails. In that case, don't feel like you need to tip 20 percent the second time around.

"That is just the establishment trying to get more money out of you," Swann told CNBC.

You're tipping certain attendants.

tip jar with cash
Billion Photos / Shutterstock

Most people are accustomed to tipping service workers like waiters, hairdressers, or nail technicians the baseline of 20 percent or higher. But Lisa Mirza Grotts, a 23-year certified etiquette expert, says you don't have to use this same standard when tipping certain attendants.

"It's OK to tip less than 20 percent for coat check attendants, restroom attendants, and parking attendants," Grotts says.

In fact, a lot of the time you're not paying these workers at all, as these services may be provided for free—so you might not have anything to base your tip off of in the first place. But if you do want to leave optional gratuity to these workers, anywhere from $1 to $5 is a respectable amount to give.

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Kali Coleman
Kali Coleman is a Senior Editor at Best Life. Her primary focus is covering news, where she often keeps readers informed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and up-to-date on the latest retail closures. Read more
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