Is There a Legal Consequence for Not Tipping?

Tip Jar

Tip Jar at Open Bar” by Dave Dugdale is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

In the United States, it is often expected to give a service provider a monetary tip over and above the cost of the service once the service has been completed. Over the years, tipping has become customary for a wide range of service providers, from waiters to hairdressers to bellhops at hotels. The expectation that a tip will be given is so high for some types of service providers that many people wonder if there is a legal consequence for not tipping. The answer may surprise you.

Standard Tipping

Tipping service providers is considered a voluntary action in the United States so there is no legal consequence for not tipping. There are no laws that state a person is required to give another person money above the cost of the service provided. While tipping may be expected and some service providers earn less in wages because tips are supposed to make up the difference, if you choose not to provide a tip for whatever reason, it is within your legal rights to do so.

Today, tipping has expanded into many areas of commerce where you didn’t really see tipping in the past. For example, some bakeries and coffee shops have a tip option for their baristas and decorators when previously, they just earned an hourly salary for doing the job. Some point of sale systems now automatically ask if you would like to provide a gratuity when a sale is rung up, regardless of the type of service provided. This has led to many more opportunities for someone to approve or deny adding a gratuity to their bill.

The general rule of thumb for most people is that if a service provider is providing a specific service for you and the quality of your experience depends on that service, then good service deserves a good tip. For good service, a tip of 15% to 20% is customary and the amount is often raised for better service and lowered for subpar service.

Automatic Tipping

There are some cases where a tip is automatically added to a bill with the expectation that the person receiving the service will pay the tip without issue. This is most often seen when large parties of ten or more people choose to eat in a restaurant together. These automatic tipping policies are typically spelled out on the menu and on the receipt that is given at the end of the meal. It is legal for restaurants to place an automatic gratuity on bills for large dining groups under federal law.

Whether or not there is a legal consequence for not tipping when the tip is automatically added by the service provider largely depends on what state the service was provided in. In some cases, restaurants and other service providers have classified this charge as a “service charge” instead of a tip so they can argue that paying it is not voluntary.


While paying a tip is not required by law, social etiquette in the United States is that a tip is provided to a service provider when they have given you a good experience. The amount of the tip is up to your discretion and should be based on how well the experience met or exceeded your expectations. While there is not a legal consequence for not tipping, it is important to remember that many service providers depend on tips as a large part of their take-home pay.

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