I knew there would be a storm of criticism when I dared to challenge people to take the focus off themselves and consider tipping even when the service is not gold star.

Nonetheless, I was stunned by people’s lack of empathy for folks who wait on them. And the name-calling and swearing was over the top.

To recap, I asked Washington Post food columnist Tim Carman to explain to me why I shouldn’t tip on a sliding scale, reducing the tip amount if service was subpar.

Tipping is always a hot topic, but I was overwhelmed by the onslaught of sometimes thoughtful but mostly insulting condemnation for Carman’s argument that diners should be mindful of why they tip — not primarily for the quality of service anymore. We tip, he said, “because restaurateurs have shifted the burden of paying for some of their labor costs to diners. So when you don’t tip, it affects the wages of servers.”


Carman did not say that restaurant customers should continue to patronize a restaurant that repeatedly fails to provide good service. He merely wanted people to understand why tips matter, no matter what.

Many folks vehemently disagreed. Here’s just a sample of diners who advocate a sliding scale for tipping:

— “The waiters do not deserve any special treatment for bringing you a couple of plates and a glass of water. We have been conned and brainwashed into handing over an increasing amount of tip. I don’t feel sorry for those waiters, many of whom earn more than my son the scientist with [an] advanced degree who makes poverty wage — and getting no tip for saving mankind.”


— “Tipping is based on scale of service. Great service without question, 20 percent or plus. Average service, anywhere from 15 percent to 20 percent, and really poor service, 10 percent to 15 percent, with a note on the receipt why. It’s no different than a company bonus. You do well, you get rewarded … don’t ask how the food is, don’t refill my water or ask if you can refill my diet coke, or just be rude or inconsiderate, you are not getting 20 percent. We are all expected to be the best we can be, but if you are not, no, you are not going to get my sign [of] approval.”


— “I am a retired CEO and have managed many people over the years. Tipping 20 percent when my order is wrong, I am missing silverware and I had to hunt down my waiter to pay the bill is not sending the right message. In fact, I would suggest you are enabling the waiter to not self-improve and thus possibly lose their job. When I receive bad service, I give 5 percent to 10 percent. I leave a note why they didn’t get 20 percent in the hopes that they understand that our actions have consequences. The sooner one learns this lesson, the sooner life will be more successful.”

— “Based on my performance review, my pay [is] adjusted. How is that different than tipping? Wait staff — and I’ve worked as wait staff when I was in college — receive performance reviews with each customer. I suppose next you’ll be writing that all writers at The Post should receive a raise whether their articles are thoughtful or not?”


And then there were these comments:


— “If wait staff doesn’t make enough money, it’s not my job to compensate them beyond the cost of the meal. If nurses don’t make enough, should I buy them a car when I need care in a hospital? Should I go to a school to tip teachers for educating our kids because the schools don’t pay enough? If waiters don’t like what they’re making, they have a choice — find a better job.”

— “I refuse to put money in the pockets of people who don’t care. If people care, you can tell; and if they’re having a bad day, I can forgive that. Maybe if they don’t make enough in tips, they’ll get the hell out of customer service work and move on to a factory job.”


— “Tipping is all about service quality. The server doesn’t have the ‘right’ to a tip. Poor service equals poor tip. If a server isn’t able to deliver quality service, then their incomes will drop and maybe they will find another job.”


— “The tip is low at cheap restaurants and high at expensive restaurants. That does not make sense. The restaurants should pay a living wage and the customers tip whatever they want depending on how happy they are with the quality of ambiance, food and service as well as the depth of their pocket.”

— “I do empathize with people who are generally underpaid and under appreciated in the service industry. But, it’s not my job to ‘throw money at the problem’ in order to superfluously subsidize their living expenses.”


— “Bad food or service equals bad tip. End of discussion. That is the economic power of the customer.”

I was relieved to read the following comments:

— “A friend and I were having lunch and a ‘new’ waitress was assigned to our table. It was unusually busy that day and the service was terrible … long time for food and beverage to arrive. Food was cold. Coffee was stale. I asked the waitress for another cup of coffee because the one that she just brought was ‘stale.’ At the end of the meal, we tipped 25 percent. We went back to the restaurant a few days later and the same waitress recognized us, put on a fresh pot of coffee and asked us to wait just a few minutes for the fresh [pot].”


— “I agree with many of the commenters that restaurants should pay a fair wage to its workers. … But until that happens, I agree with the article’s premise: Just tip your server 20 percent. Carman’s advice to tell a server what you want or don’t want is important. Servers can’t read minds and serve diners who have different ideas of what is good service and what is a pleasant dining experience. They have to straddle a line between being attentive, but not intrusive. Being polite, but not too friendly or chatty. Not to mention the numerous things that affect your experience that they cannot control, such as how quickly your food is prepared and whether it is prepared correctly. To penalize them when they do not meet an expectation you did not share with them is unfair.”

I’ve written about a lot of personal finance topics — the cost of retirement or health insurance, economic inequity — but which topic has received the most comments?



I was floored by the profanity people used. The outrage factor about tipping is titanic, with hundreds of readers arguing passionately that it’s their right to withhold or greatly reduce a tip if they think the service was unsatisfactory. Keep me waiting too long for my dessert? No tip for you!

I get it. You want good service. I’d like an attentive, pleasant server, too. But I’ve had many meals where the service was bad, and I tipped well anyway. The difference wasn’t going to break my bank or delay my retirement, so I erred on the side of generosity — and this coming from a lifelong penny-pincher.

What are we talking about here, really?

Absolutely, you should be discerning so that you don’t enable someone to continually be irresponsible — whether waiting tables or managing his or her money. All I’m proposing is that you take the focus off yourself and consider that a generous gratuity — perhaps even one that is undeserved — can be motivating, too.


Of course, you are free to do what you want with your money. I just provide a forum for us to respectfully discuss such issues. So, stop swearing at me!

Read more:

Color of Money Question of the Week

What social practice drives you nuts financially? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. Put “Socializing” in the subject line.

Live Chat Today

Join me today at noon (Eastern time) for a live discussion about your money. To participate in this week’s discussion live or read the transcript after it’s over, click this link.

I’m live every Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. (Eastern time).

Credit Score Myths

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is: How can I improve my credit score?


Last week, I discussed how much of your available credit should be used before it impacts your credit score.

Here are a few questions from readers.

Q: I have a credit score around 820. I charge everything on my credit cards and pay them in full every month and have for years. Why should I be penalized if I am using a lot of my credit each month?

A: Well, actually you aren’t being penalized. With a score above 800, you are being rewarded for a good credit history. You may not be a perfect 850 for a number of reasons, including not having a mix of credit such as a mortgage or a car loan. But that’s just fine. After a certain threshold, it doesn’t matter if you have a super high score.

Q: Why do people continually tell me not to close an account that I’m not using because it will lower my credit score? I voluntarily closed an Ethan Allen account with a $10,000 credit line that I am positive I will not use. My score runs around 825 every month. Will it be lowered once this voluntary closure is posted to my account?

A: If you’ve established a history of responsible credit management by paying your bills on time and keeping credit card balances low, you are likely to see minimal impact to your score by closing an account.

You may have heard that you should not close an account that you’ve had for a long time. Positive credit history can stay on your credit report for 10 years from the date the account was closed. It’s important to realize that after your credit score reaches a high enough level, minor changes won’t have a significant or long-term effect on your credit history.

But here are a few things to keep in mind.

— Don’t close an account if you are about to apply for credit. You don’t want even a minor drop to affect the loan process.

— Closing an account could negatively impact your credit score if you have balances on one card or others.

For more on closing a credit account read: Some guideposts for those lost in Crazy Credit Town

Color of Money Columns This Week

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Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers.

You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested.

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