Tipping Etiquette When Your Restaurant Bill Is Reduced


For a very long time I viewed tipping as an over and above payment for a job well done. While I still believe that is the purist’s definition, I realize that it has taken on a very different meaning in everyday life in the United States. Because of the way wage laws have been written, many people in the service industry rely on tips for the majority of their income. Whether you agree or disagree with it, it’s just how it works. Knowing who to tip and how much is complicated. I previously explored the subject of tipping for take out here on CleverDude, and even tried to at least introduce my son to the concept of being a good tipper. Over the weekend I experienced an scenario that added another page to the universal guide to tipping.

What is the correct tipping etiquette when the bill is reduced due to a mistake or a coupon?

My wife and I visited a nearby steakhouse for dinner on Saturday night. She never seems to remember what kind of steak she likes best, so as usual she asked me what kind of steak she usually orders. Knowing that she likes a tender steak with not a lot of fat, I reminded her she should order the 6oz filet. Also knowing that she likes it juicy, but does not like the texture of medium rare I told her to order it to be done medium. Unfortunately, when the steak came, it was well done. When our server returned to find out how our meal was, my wife showed her the overdone steak. The server went back to the kitchen to have a new steak made.

A few minutes later, the manager returned with a new steak. She asked my wife to cut into it to make sure it was to her satisfaction. This time the steak was cooked perfectly.

“Take your time, and enjoy your steak,” said the manager.

“Well, my husband’s already done eating, so I’m going to hurry,” my wife replied.

I reassured my wife that even though I was indeed done eating, I didn’t mind enjoying her company while she ate her steak. When the bill came, I noted that it was much lower than I had expected.  The imperfectly cooked steak, my wife’s statement, or both resulted in her meal being taken off her bill.

Which left me with a dilemma. Do I tip the server on the original amount of the bill, or the adjusted bill? I went through the facts of our visit in my head:

  • The server had given us excellent service.
  • It wasn’t her fault that the steak was cooked incorrectly.
  • She had ensured the issue was rectified as quickly as possible.

I filled in the tip line with a 20% tip based on the bill amount before it was adjusted. My wife had voiced her displeasure with the manager, who likely passed that along to the cook. That, and the fact that the restaurant lost a little revenue was our only recourse for the mistake. I reasoned that the server had done her job, and should not be penalized for the cook’s mistake.

How about you, Clever Friends? If you have your bill adjusted due to a coupon or mistake do you tip on the full amount, or the adjusted amount?

Brought to you courtesy of Brock

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • Our local haircut place offers haircuts for as low as $6.99 sometimes. The regular price is $14.00. I always tip at least $2 to $3 no matter what the price for the cut.

  • I always “add back in” any discounts before deciding on a tip amount. It’s certainly not the server’s problem that I have a coupon, or in your case, that the kitchen made an error. I know some chain restaurants print different tip amounts at the bottom of the receipt, i.e. 20% =$x.xx, 15%=$y.yy, to help guide along the mathematically challenged, but these never take into account the discounts, which is unfortunate.

  • I agree with tipping on the total amount (before discount/coupon).

    I have a question about tipping on the pre-tax or after-tax amount. (note where I am the tax is 13%). Back in the “olden” days when you would calculate your own tip, I would tip between 15-20% based on the service. But I would always calculate that on the pre-tax amount. Now that everything is done on credit card machines where you just punch in the tip, I tend to use one of the default buttons (15%, 18%, 20%). It recently occurred to me that this calculation is on the after-tax amount, so when I tip 18% on the after-tax amount I’m actually tipping 20% on the pre-tax amount. So I have shifted my tipping down to 10% (for bad service) to 15% for average service to 18% for exceptional service. Does that make me look cheap though? What’s the etiquette?

  • @MoneyBeagle – Agree… you implied, we should all keep that in mind when using coupons and groupons. AND if the restaurant is having a sale (like $5 burgers for lunch) I always “wing it” and tip a monetary amount I think is appropriate since the percentage would come in as a super low tip.

  • @Gary – I find those little guidelines helpful (even if I’m more than capable of figuring it out on my own). I’m surprised they don’t take into account the coupons, etc……they’re there to help you tip appropriately – and not accounting for any kind of discounts certainly isn’t going to help me!

  • @Valerie – I did some internet searching, and essentially found that the answer is “it doesn’t matter because the end result isn’t that much different.” But the reasoning between the two viewpoints was completely opposite. Example:

    You have a bill of $100, and tax is (just for ease of math) 10%. A 20% tip before tax is $20, while a 20% tip after tax will be $22.

    The people who work in the industry will say “well, obviously the after tax amount because that’s the total bill AND well….is it really that much different?”

    Purists will say, “Well, obviously the pre-tax amount because what does the tax part of the bill have to do with the service you received….and well…is it really that much different?”

    After searching for quite a while (ok, maybe 10 minutes max) there didn’t seem to be a proper etiquette established. Personally, although my head tells me that the pre-tax number is the right one, I’ve always used the post-tax number for the simple reason that I’d rather overtip someone than undertip them. Unless the service was horrid….then the percentage will be so low that it truly doesn’t matter.

  • I always tip on the pre-discount total of the bill. Like mentioned previously, the server should be compensated regardless of any coupons or other factors that may lower the total.

    Also, having spent some time in a restaurant during college, if it’s the first time I’ve had a server and get bad service I won’t hold it against them. You never know when someone is having a bad day. If it becomes a recurring problem at a place we frequent, then I’ll speak to the manager about it instead of docking the tip.

  • @Chuck – You’re a generous guy……I typically take the perspective that whether the server is having a bad day or not isn’t my problem. 🙂 The world needs more people like you, sir!

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