Last night I left a $1.65 tip on a $35 check and I felt great doing it! And why not? The service was the worst I had ever experienced in all of my dining experiences, so why the heck would I even leave a tip of any sort? Isn't the idea behind tipping in a restaurant to regard servers for great service? Yes, I understand that often times 100% of a server's income comes from the tips they receive, but then shouldn't they, too, follow the etiquette behind tipping by providing great service in the way that I follow the same etiquette in leaving a 15-20% tip? I believe yes!
I feel that I have always been a generous tipper, mostly because I feel bad for anyone that has to serve me my food. And for the most part, like many of us, I probably tip more than I should despite the level of service. Call it habit, call it charity, call it laziness because I'd rather do the math on 15% than 20%, but I feel I usually give more than is necessary. As such, I feel that I have generously tipped at restaurants despite terrible service mostly because I feel bad or embarrassed for being a bad tipper, or I fear appearing a jerk for being stingy. But why? When I am rewarding someone for crap well done? So, last night, for the first time, I mustered up the gumption and "I stiffed the waiter" and I felt totally justified. And yes, the service was that bad.
So, to everyone who feels they have truly received terrible service and after assessing the situation appropriately, I see it fitting to send a message to your server in the form of an appropriate tip amount and maybe a note to explain why. Whether it be nothing or less than 15-20%, remember that tipping is not mandatory, but rather, customary and appropriate, in American culture and should reflect the true level of service received.
On the other hand, if you are a crappy tipper and tip poorly regularly, stop it. Don't be a tool.