As for me, although I have experienced many bad meals, I have never not tipped.
That's not to say I'm a holy beacon of gratuity and every server is blessed by my presence. I don't think I'm much different from anyone else who has worked in the industry (and doesn't harbor an "I got out, why can't you?" complex). For me, 20% is always -- always -- the standard. Do a mediocre job and you're still getting that. Do a stellar job and you'll get more. Do an absolutely crappy job and, well, let's just say that once your standard goes down, so does mine.
It's very rare that I'm driven to tip below 20%, but it has happened, but there are things I cannot excuse, namely, total trainwrecks of attitude or execution that should never be displayed to a paying public.
Example 1 - Blackthorn Pub
(I'm hesitant to write this up for a couple of reasons. One, Blackthorn is a St. Louis institution with truly awesome pizza. Two, the guy involved isn't alive anymore. Perhaps I'm only trying to explain my own actions, but here goes...)
On a Tuesday night, my boyfriend and I go to Blackthorn and sit at the bar. We order a pizza and a pitcher of Schlafly. 35 minutes later, the pitcher is empty and the pizza is nowhere to be seen. Although the bartender wasn't assisting any of the other dozen people in the bar, he was too busy talking on the phone to notice us. Hmmm.
After 10 more minutes pass, he glances over, sighs audibly, and tells the person he's on the phone with to hold on. He walks over, grabs our pitcher, and gives us a look that could be translated to "What the fuck?"
"Another one, please," my boyfriend says.
The pitcher is refilled and the bartender walks away. It's now 45 minutes after we placed our order and still no pizza. At least we've got some begrudgingly served booze, but at this point, we're hungry and he's rude and beer isn't comforting enough.
Once we've been sitting there for a full hour after ordering, we're starting to wonder what the eff is going on. A pizza gets placed on the bar every 20 minutes or so, but the bartender shows no sign of caring and no one is picking them up. We've given up on trying to flag him down, because he seems completely absorbed in his phone conversation.
After an hour and fifteen minutes pass, I think I might explode.
"Excuse me" I say, probably with what my parents would call "a tone" but I don't care. The bartender rolls his eyes and walks over.
"Yeah, so, where's our pizza? It's been nearly an hour and a half."
The bartender rolls his eyes, walks down to the kitchen, and comes out with a pizza. He puts it down in front of us and starts to walk away.
"Pitcher's empty," I add.
I am beyond manners at this point. It's not that our food took forever. It's not that we had to wait for beer. It's that the bartender was so odiously rude and never at any time said, "Hey, guys, pizza's going to take awhile. Sorry." NOT ONCE. This has nothing to do with the general atmosphere of Blackthorn or a crowded house; it was all about a total jackass who barely deserved the $1.00 I tipped.
Example 2 - Shangri-La Diner
My boyfriend and I decided on Shangri-La for lunch because it was on the way to his work and neither of us wanted anything very complicated. Plus there was an artsy pink-painted cow in front, so I assumed the burgers would be decent.
I should have known.
Perhaps the burgers were decent, but I never found out because I don't eat burgers unless they're made of meat. Nothing at Shangri-La is made of meat, not even the "pulled pork sandwich" (calling imitation meat anything resembling the word "pork" is a sin, okay, a sin). We didn't know the place was vegetarian at first, but we're adaptable. We can handle it. They still used cheese made from real milk.
In addition to the Pepto-Bismol acid trip theme and the completely unintelligle server, it took more than 30 minutes to receive our grilled cheese sandwich and cheese quesadilla. We were two of only four people in the entire place.
Look, Shangri-La employees, it's perfectly acceptable to do whatever you want on your own time, but please refrain from smoking massive amounts of marijuana at work. At least, of course, unless you're okay with being tipped a dollar. Dirty hippies.
Now that I've attempted to redeem my non-tip episodes, I hope that Chow and myself have brought some clarity to the issue. Also, at least I've never been driven to this....