What Would You Say to a Habitually Low Tipper?

by Travis Pizel · 40 comments

While sitting at the kitchen table, I was reconciling the checking account by entering transactions into the register. My wife walked up beside me and dropped off a receipt from a cut and color she’d received earlier that afternoon. I saw the amount charged, as well as the amount she’d written in for a tip. It was something I’d seen countless times before.

As a tip, she’d left about 5%.

The Problem with Tipping

I should probably mention here that I’m not a huge fan of tipping. I’d much prefer merchants to raise their prices enough to pay their staff and get rid of the awkwardness of trying to figure out who to tip and how much. But, given that’s not happening anytime soon, I’m doing the best I can to live within the system.

The salon that my wife visits happens to be owned by a friend of ours. Because of this, we have a very clear view of how the shop is run — and know that the employees rely heavily on the tips they receive for their income. My wife’s hair is very long and thick, so a full cut and color can take quite a long time.

Given the amount of time and labor it takes to color my wife’s hair, and knowing how reliant the employee is on tips, I feel like my wife should be writing a bigger number on the tip line at the salon.

What Should I Do?

I know she has the ability to quickly calculate 10% and 20% tips. While paying the bill once at a restaurant, I showed her the trick where you just move the decimal place over one place for a 10% tip, then double that for a 20% tip. I know she retained the information, because I’ve even witnessed her teach someone else the trick.

So, I’m not sure why she leaves such a small tip — even when she’s out-of-this-world happy with the job performed.

I’m also not sure how to suggest she leave a bigger one.

It should be as easy as comparing her tipping practice at the salon to what we do at a restaurant and asking why it’s different. Maybe she has a good reason for the amount she tips, or maybe she’s simply unaware of the difference. But I don’t want to make her feel bad either.

Do you think I should have that conversation with my wife? What wold you say to a habitually low tipper?

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

John @ Wise Dollar June 5, 2014 at 6:21 am

That’s a tough one. Maybe it could just be a general conversation about what she feels is fair or something like that. That said, I feel the same general way about tipping, though like you I don’t see it changing anytime soon so you’ve got to work within the system we have.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 3:58 pm

It’s not necessarily that it’s going to be a hard to tell her…I’m just worried about making her feel bad. The good news is, she went and had a facial today and she left a very appropriate tip. Yeah!

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Lisa June 5, 2014 at 8:03 am

Yes, it may be wise to gently approach this conversation. As a person who worked in salons and relied on tips to supplement my income, I know if she tipped even 10% the stylist would be very appreciative. She will get a bad reputation among the stylists that her hair is high maintenance, and she won’t tip, thus a good stylist won’t be willing to provide the best service. It will let the stylist know that they are doing great work as well if they get more of a tip and they will be excited to work on her. I get my hair done by a friend, and I tip her 20% because she is a friend.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:01 pm

That’s part of my fear, Lisa…I don’t want her to get that kind of reputation – I like your use of the word “gently” – that’s exactly right!

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Aldo R @ MDN June 5, 2014 at 8:22 am

Like you, I would prefer if restaurants just pay their employees more – I mean, $2-$3 an hour is crazy! But since that’s probably never going to change and since I have friends that have or are still relying on tips, I try to tip 10-20% regardless of service. 10% for bad service (I shouldn’t tip at all for bad service, but I’m too soft), 15% for normal service and 20% for excellent service.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:02 pm

That’s exactly my tipping scale, Aldo R! Although there has been a time or two where the tip has been less than 10%, and I think ONCE where I left nothing because the experience was just flat out horrible.

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David Ning June 5, 2014 at 10:10 am

Oh it’s your wife you’re trying to talk to? Does she ever see you tip a higher amount? Maybe that will open her up to speak to you about it first, which can lead to the discussion on tipping you want to have with her.

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Ruth Cooke June 9, 2014 at 7:35 am

That was my thought too, David. Lead by example. It’s quite likely that she’s had stingy examples in her life (adults generally do what their parents did, even though they don’t know the reasons their parents acted that way).

Also, the scenario Rick talks about below (part cash, part credit) is a distinct possibility if she’s not generally stingy. There are a number of reasons she might have done it that way. If being stingy is out of character for her and it’s just that one bill, you might just ask, “Why such a low tip, dear?”

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Yeah, she sees how much I tip…as mentioned, I’ve showed her the “move the decimal place over” to get 10%, then double it for 20%. Maybe the right approach would be to involve her in paying the bill when we go to a restaurant more often (I usually pay the bill). Good thoughts….thanks!

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Rick June 5, 2014 at 10:33 am

Regarding your wife’s tipping, it may be that she is leaving part of the tip as a cash tip and only putting a small amount on the card she is using. I often do this for the person that cuts my hair. So first, I would consider that maybe that is what she is doing.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Hmmm, I never thought of that……I’ll certainly keep that in mind when I approach her. Thanks for the thought, Rick!

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Gary Kerr June 5, 2014 at 10:58 am

Servers depend on tips for their salary even though tipping isn’t mandatory. Read Steve’s past yet recent blog about tipped employees once again being left out of the minimum wage hike. That’s why people who grew up in countries that tip 10 percent have a hard time changing their ways.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:06 pm

And I think that sucks, Gary. A person should be able to have a job and have some ability to figure out how much they’re going to earn. Service jobs working for tips are essentially just the employer finding a way to not have to pay for their employees.

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Brenda @SuperMoney June 5, 2014 at 11:48 am

I agree with Rick, maybe she’s paying cash separately? At a SuperCuts I went to recently, I was actually told NOT to leave a tip with my card. But I had to leave her something because my hair takes a lot of work and she did a great job for only $15. I left her an extra $20 when she wasn’t looking, on her station (it really was a great job).

A stylist friend of mine just explained to me why stylists prefer clients not leave tips via card–because then they have to claim them on their taxes. I think there’s a good chance that your wife is leaving a tip, just in cash. ~Brenda from Supermoney.com

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Unfortunately, not reporting tip income is illegal, Brenda. If you make money via tips, you have to pay taxes on it. Many small business owners do the same thing though…they forgo the sales tax if you pay in cash because they don’t report the income. Not that I’m a huge supporter of our current tax rates….. lol. Thanks for sharing your story, Brenda!

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David Ning June 10, 2014 at 9:46 am

Thanks for bringing this up Travis. Every time I go into a restaurant that says “cash only”, tax avoidance is the first thing that comes to mind whether it’s true or not!

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Iris June 5, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I would have the conversation. Why not just be open and tell her you’re curious as to why she tips the amount that she does. She may think that what she gives is approriate or that tipping for a meal is one thing but the hair salon is another. Good luck

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Thanks for the well wishes, Iris – maybe I’ll write a followup post on how it goes!

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Steve June 5, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Say “the tips too small. You need to leave more.” There. Was that hard?

By the way, most waiters don’t earn 20%, but they expect it.

I think 15% is for very good service. 20% is for superior service. We shouldn’t have to pay their salaries

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Property Marbella June 7, 2014 at 4:40 am

For a superior service can I give 10%, and for a bad service nothing. And I agree with you that we shouldn’t have to pay their salaries, it is the business owner that most give them a good salary.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:13 pm

I agree as well – the definition of a “tip” is something extra for a job well done – not paying someone’s base salary. But things are not likely to change in the US at this point, unfortunately.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Wow, Steve, you have such a way with words, such finesse! LOL. No, saying those words wouldn’t be hard…but the collateral damage may be. I’d like to avoid her feeling bad and trying to make up for past bad tips. I do agree with your tipping scale though…..when someone does a GREAT job, they deserve a great tip!

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M Meagher June 5, 2014 at 4:03 pm

does your wife really want a bad reputation with the salon? I agree with Lisa, just be open and honest about tipping for a great cut and color. do you want your wife to look like Bozo’s hair color? It could happen….oops, the timer didn’t go off like it should have and the tinting color was a bit too bright….

People in service jobs want to be appreciated, and tipping is one way to show that. Being a cheap tipper is another blog post. I’m in favor of giving fairly for the service provided.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:16 pm

I’m sure that’s not my wife’s intention, M Meagher. I’m sure this is a matter of not being aware that sometimes her tipping is not appropriate. I would like to address your comment about end up looking like Bozo…..if a person is a professional, they would never, ever do that – bad tip or not. Not only would my wife refuse to leave the salon until it’s fixed (rightfully so), but other clients would see that “mistake”……word of mouth is a powerful thing.

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Phil June 5, 2014 at 6:58 pm

I want a tip for being an excellent teacher. But I am yet to receive one. And I know I could use the extra money.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:17 pm

That’s another issue I have with the whole “tip” being required thing…..who gets a tip, and who doesn’t? Why do teachers not get tips? How about the guy working the cash register at Target? Too confusing.

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jen June 5, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Phil … you also have benefits, paid vacations, and make a salary. I am a stylist. I pay 200 dollars a week for booth rent. Whether or not I work, I pay in rent. I buy all of my chemicals and supplies(200 -300 dollars or more a week). I have to have a cell phone to make my appointments. Then I am at the mercy of my clients. If you cancel at the last minute or stand me up, I lose money. If I don’t have notice to try and fit someone else in it is like losing twice. Then I go home and put tiger balm on my shoulder pain take my ibuprofen and do it again.

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Phil June 5, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Sounds like you should join my profession.

FYI, I quit for two years to make more money when my son was born. My job was getting quarters out of video games and getting the money to the bank. I immediately got a $15,000 per year raise.

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Fred June 7, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Jen, I understand your situation and your work, but you picked your career, we didn’t. So, don’t complain about low pay when it was your career choice. That being said, I also know tips are important to the hair styling industry and I personally tip 30% every time I go there. But don’t be putting the blame for low wages on the customers. It’s not their problem. It’s your industry and employers and your problem.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:19 pm

We are getting a little off topic here…..whether people deserve tips or not isn’t the topic of the post. Whether you agree with tipping or not, in this instance the stylists expect and depend upon tips. The issue at hand is how to tell someone who may be unaware that they are not tipping appropriately that we may need to revisit the calculation.

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Property Marbella June 6, 2014 at 2:45 am

That the tips shall be a part of the salary of employees is completely mad. It is the employer who must give salary to their employees, not the customers.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:20 pm

As mentioned, Property Marbella, I agree….but given that’s not about to change here, we have to live within the socially applied rules. :)

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caroline June 6, 2014 at 6:26 am

How about – since she’s your wife – ”honey, that seems low, did you make it up in cash?” would seem direct and open. If she says yes, which I agree is likely, great, end of chat, if she says no, then ask her why. She might have a good reason or she may actually need to feel a little bit bad about being miserly. Either way, everything will be completely clarified.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:21 pm

I like the approach, caroline…..it seems gentle, yet direct enough to clarify the situation. Thanks!

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Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life June 6, 2014 at 8:38 am

After years of watching my dad tip 10% and then working in the service industry myself I confronted him. I rarely leave anything less than 20%

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:26 pm

How did you approach your father, and how did that go, Stefanie?? I wouldn’t leave 20% if the service was bad…I recognize that tipping is expected and required in our social structure, but I’m not paying 20% more for crappy service!

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Fred June 7, 2014 at 2:43 pm

What should you “do”? lol. How hard is it to tell the wife she is a cheapskate. I tip my barber 30%. Now, I don’t like tipping either, or rather I don’t like giving away that cash, but it’s standard practice and expected so I do it. And if your wife doesn’t have the money to tip then YOU should be giving it to her. If money in general is the issue, then a cheaper hair dresser should be found.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Are you married, Fred? I don’t know about your wife, but if I used the word “cheapskate” I’d likely end up very familiar with my living room couch. Maybe that’s OK with you, but I really like my bed. ;) We certainly have the funds to tip appropriately, it’s just a matter of gently addressing the situation without making her fell really bad and try to make up for past tips. Thanks for reading!

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Janet June 7, 2014 at 11:12 pm

I live in a country where tipping is not the custom. The problem is when traveling overseas it is hard to know how must to tip and for what. I agree that a business should be paying the employees a working wage.

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Travis @debtchronicles June 9, 2014 at 4:24 pm

I went to India a few years ago, and tipping vs not tipping was one of the things I was really worried about not doing right. Luckily my co-workers were wonderful hosts and helped me along. :)

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