Most people have some fairly steadfast rules regarding the amount of tip they're willing to leave.  It's customary to tip for good customer service here in Canada, although it seems like we need some clarity around what level of service we expect versus the amount we're willing to tip.
I've heard that some people have a tipping policy to tip according to the level of service they receive; 15-20% for excellent service, 10-15% for good service and 0-10% for terrible service.  What kills me is that people will actually stiff the server and leave nothing for what they consider to be bad service.  What do they hope to accomplish by doing this?

Tipping Etiquette

If you're going out for lunch or dinner you should be prepared to tack on an extra 15-20% to the final bill.  In fact, you should be paying this much for any number of services, from a haircut or visit to the spa, to taxi or concierge service.  Anything less is just being cheap, no matter how you justify it to yourself based on the level of service.
In the restaurant industry, servers are required to pay income tax on their tips.  But since it's difficult to audit tips, Revenue Canada wants you to claim 10% of your total sales for the year.  When you consider that the average tip is probably close to 10%, and then you factor in the host, cooks, dishwasher and busboy getting a portion of each tip, the server is probably not making as much as he's required to claim.
That's no excuse for poor service, but it's one of the reasons why I always tip 15-20% regardless of the service I receive.  Maybe my expectations are low to begin with, but the service at most restaurants these days is fairly mediocre.  Sometimes the level of service is so bad, it's actually quite comical.  But when you go out to the Olive Garden, are you really expecting Cirque du Soleil?

A Matter Of Principle?

I accept that I need to add a tip to my restaurant bill, regardless of the service.  I just wish it was built into the overall price.  Maybe that would take away from the subjective nature of having to decide on the tip amount based on how many times my coffee was re-filled.
Some people I've talked to seem to take pride in the fact that they didn't leave a tip after a bad experience at a restaurant.  They must think they are teaching the server a valuable lesson and that somehow they'll get the message and change their behaviour.
Unfortunately, based on my experience in the restaurant industry, nearly every server will just think you're a cheap jerk for stiffing them on the tip.  The server's not taking anything away from your not-so-subtle message other than being pissed off that he wasted an hour of his time looking after you.
I know that for most people, their tipping etiquette is a matter of principle.  How dare we be forced to tip 15-20% for poor service?  But instead of leaving a small tip or no tip at all, just pay the going rate and then consider these options:

  • Ask to speak to the manager before paying the bill.  Often times just voicing your concerns about the quality of service will get you a discount off your bill.
  • Pay your bill (including tip) and then speak to the manager afterwards, either while you're still in the restaurant or maybe through an online survey.  You'll likely receive some type of incentive to return, saving you money on your next meal.
  • Vote with your feet and don't come back to that restaurant again, while telling everyone you know about the lousy service you received.

The bottom line is that if you receive bad service it likely has more to do with the business and lack of training than it is about the individual.  Instead of punishing the individual with your lack of a tip, engage the business owner or manager and help them fix the problem, or if you're really upset than help spread the word about their poor customer service.
What is your tipping policy?  Do you try and send a message with your tip after receiving good or bad service? How about holiday tipping, should it be higher?