You’re a Bad Tipper? That’s a Red Flag!

A black and white draw image of an open mouth is on the right. On the left, there is a twinkling gif of the words, "...that's a red flag!"
That’s a Red Flag! is a miniseries about the warning signs we look for in queer dating & relationships.


I’m not someone who spends a lot of time thinking about “red flags” because typically, I ignore them (which in itself is definitely a red flag, but I’m just being honest). Almost everyone I’ve dated has talked excessively about their ex on a first date, and many of them still lived with said ex. It might not be normal or healthy, but it is gay, and therefore a cross I’m not only happy, but nearly required to bear. I relish the particular messiness gay people find themselves in, and often I mirror it.

Tipping well is an imperative so obvious it almost doesn’t warrant musing. We should all be generous. We should all splash out. If someone has to serve you while you flirt relentlessly or converse stiffly, then they should be paid extra for that labor. For those of you who have never worked in a restaurant, I can assure you that it is painfully obvious who is on a first date, who is going to fuck later and who will stop by the bodega alone to buy a consolation burrito with at least one strange ingredient (banana peppers).

I’m a dyke, and part of what that means to me is that I’m obsessed with buying things for beautiful women. When I get the check for our meal, I’m going to tip no less than 20% and usually 25%, because to do otherwise not only seems cheap — it also goes against my self-narrative and against my definition of queerness entirely, which requires me to give just a little more than I’m comfortable with, to abandon ideas of transaction and interpersonal debt and to have as much fun and frivolity as I can fit into a life. I value generosity and excess above most things — emotional, social, sexual, fiscal — and I absolutely hate withholding. Whether I’m fucking them or marrying them, I need a partner to share these qualities.

I went on a date a few years ago with a girl I met on an app. I was recently single and spending all of my money taking girls out. We had many drinks at a dive bar. The banter was great. We touched knees under the filthy table. I liked the way she tucked her hair behind her ear when she was excited to tell a story and the edge in her voice that made everything she said feel like a challenge. She told me about her exes, her family drama, her wealthy upbringing and her job at a local housing justice nonprofit. She tried to teach me to tie a cherry stem with my tongue, but I couldn’t.

“Well, I guess you should take me home,” I said, at the first sign of conversation lulling. When the check came, we both struggled for it, almost erotically so, until I gave in and let her pay. We stood at the bar. I peeked at her middle name printed on her platinum card, watched her make her large, looping signature. I watched her write the tip. The drinks, four tequila sodas each, came to $96. How, then, did the total come to only $108.48? At this point, she paused, tilted her head to the side and tapped her pen on the bar counter. Here was the moment in which she would realize her mistake, I thought, and revise the number on the receipt. Instead, she pushed the receipt tray across the bar and turned to me and murmured, “Let’s go.” I dug into pockets looking for the cash I never carry.

I went home with her, but only once (and then one more time a few weeks and another bad tip later), because while the sex was fine, it just wasn’t that generous. I suppose I could have expected this. A transactional nature tends to show up everywhere — I’ve learned the hard way. I lay awake long after she drifted away. Visions of small math — of her figuring the 13% tip, carrying the one, scribbling on the back of the receipt paper — played over and over in my brain like an intrusive thought.

In truth, I’ve never thought I’d find myself on a date with a bad tipper because I did not consider that gay people would be bad tippers, just as I often forget there are gay republicans, gay cops or gay Enron executives. One of my best friends, a dyke, has a crush on a bartender and has been routinely tipping her 100% for the better part of a year. Maybe they’ll fuck, likely they won’t, but at least she’ll have the knowledge that she gave freely. But it’s true, of course it is, that gay people are often unethical, boring, annoying, etc. And besides, why was I so annoyed by my date’s frugal tip when I’d happily ignored so many other dating red flags? I’m often guilty of making broad generalizations about “my community,” assuming all queer people are more or less like me. I expect queer people to adopt shelter pets, to have pro-union values, to tip strongly, and when they don’t, I’m always a little surprised. Frankly, it’s embarrassing, like a parent sending an entree back to the kitchen or beadily watching to make sure a cashier applies their coupons correctly at checkout.

Politically, it is bad not to tip well — we already know this — but where does my generosity come into play if I am not willing to see her again, to give her the benefit of the doubt? To playfully call her attention to her horrendous tip, to give her a chance to reform? Beyond this, though, if someone is going to figure their tip to the exact cent, then they are likely also the kind of person to keep long lists of petty grievances and outstanding debts in the recesses of their mind. These are the sorts of people who think only about what they are “owed” and not what they can give. A bad tipper can change, of course, but this is only the behavior that stems from the real malignancy: a selfishness and lack of revelry that will always attempt to bridle passion. The sort of person who will stiff a bartender on a first date will also Venmo request you for $7 on the fifth date, will always comment when they wash a mug you leave in the sink, will never understand why you brim with feeling, won’t stay up late if they have work in the morning and more often than not, will choke down vulnerability in favor of control.

Ethical arguments aside, it’s just deeply unsexy not to tip well. I live to buy things for beautiful women. I don’t see the point in working at all if I can’t do this. I want looseness and grandeur in all things and absolutely no long division.


Feel free to share your own red flags in the comments!


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Alyse Burnside

Alyse Burnside is a writer living in Brooklyn. She's writing a book of essays about love, queerness, drama, and jobs. Find her at www.alyseburnside.com

Alyse has written 1 article for us.

53 Comments

  1. In addition to tipping, I think you should cover the ultimate red flag: do they put the shopping cart back?

    If you’re an able-bodied adult, there’s absolutely no excuse for not putting your shopping cart back in the corral or in front of the store. The one person I dated who failed to do so cheated on me. Coincidence? I think not.

  2. I heartily agree with the ethos of treating others with consideration, and that small actions mirror larger ones.
    However I do want to say that living generously financially depends on circumstances. Somebody may have one cheap drink because that’s all they can afford, and that and a tip is their limit (obviously not the case in the story told).
    There is already so much stigma around financial insecurity, another way to be generous is also to be aware that someone else may not have the same money to spend, and even if they would love to do something on a whim, it may not be possible for them.

    • This. All of this. I try to tip the best I can, but I am a disabled queer barely surviving on social security, and this article reeked of classism. My takeaway from it was basically “if you’re poor you deserve to be alone.” Not happy to see this kind of attitude being celebrated on AS of all places.

      • Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments! I’m the editor of this series. The author is describing a situation in which a date offered to pay the full bill and only tipped 13% without asking the author to chip in (after the author had already volunteered to cover the bill herself). To me, it’s clear that this person had the means to provide an adequate tip (either from her own wallet or with the author’s help) but chose not to, and that’s the red flag that the author is describing. I think most of us are well aware that the tipping system in the US perpetuates classism and other forms of oppression — restaurant workers and other folks in the service industry make hourly wages that are often well below minimum wage with the expectation that tips will make up the majority of their income (and even when the tip money is decent, it’s often the white and “conventionally attractive” workers who go home with the most cash). Because of that, I think the author is saying that if she’s on a date with someone who is in a position to leave a fair (or even generous) tip, then she expects them to do so. If only service industry employers just paid their workers a living wage!

    • Hi all. I was dating a woman for 2 years. There were many red flags I chose to ignore until we were walking on a beach one day. A boy was walking toward us with his grandmother. He excitedly showed us some sand dollars he had found. My GF talked about how much she liked them. He was a sweet and generous little boy. He offered her one. SHE TOOK THE Biggest one!!! I said you can’t take his Biggest find. She took it anyway. I just couldn’t get over it. Who does that shit! I broke up with her soon after. I have decided to remain single!

    • beautifully said. I find going out in the States horribly stressful because of the tipping stuff- I don’t understand why they don’t just add in the “ti” to the price and pay staff properly. And you are SO right on the huge stigma against anyone who isn’t flush. well said. I get the point of the article but it read as a someone who is well off and only interested in someone equally well off.

  3. I would like to argue that banana peppers are not strange, they’re delicious and normal additions to any burrito!

    But I love this and totally agree. Stinginess is such a turnoff. More generosity and abundance in 2022!

  4. I think a lack of social consideration is definitely a red flag, and tipping is a little more nuanced (see above comments re: financial stability).

    Also, the history of tipping in general is pretty elitist (check out an AWESOME through line episode to learn more about this). More and more places are doing away with tipping altogether and actually paying their employees a living wage with benefits, building these costs into the price of their meals.

    All that is to say that a GREEN flag I have is when people suggest dates at local/BIPOC/queer-owned establishments! Or public libraries! Or a picnic at the park!

  5. hmmm while I definitely am pro leaving a good tip if you can, I think I echo the comments above that financial ability to tip is not necessarily tied to your desire to tip…author, I feel like you draw a lot of parallels between tipping generosity and other types of generosity, so maybe you feel like you can tell when someone has that kind of big, generous spirit regardless of their actual means, but…yeah.

    Basically — I think it’s lovely to be able to tip like there’s no tomorrow, but sometimes ye olde bank account doesn’t allow, and I don’t think that should be held against folks.

  6. I’m so happy that I live somewhere where a tip is more like leaving 50 cents if they were nice to you and the food was good. Generally no one tips for just drinks. I’m not sure I could deal with the social dilemmas. Or the maths involved.

    And I must confess I do not understand the parallels between queerness with giving more then you are comfortable with? How is spending beyond your means queer?

      • That could make sense. I don’t date all that much. Last few dates I had were in the summer. We went for a walk (I baked banana bread for the picknick) and swimming in a local lake. All free and fun things which is great because I’m low income and am trying to save. 94 USD is €82 which is over 1,5 times my weekly budget… and that was before the tip!

        • I think you were exactly getting the point! If $94 + tip is too expensive, then that particular restaurant (or that specific drink, or 4 of that drink) is too expensive and it’s better to go for another option like a cheaper drink, a cheaper place, or a fun, free thing like you mentioned :)

          • Yeah, true, I would probably not make that choice. (If only because after 4 drinks the only thing I will do is sleep and wake up in a horrible mood.)

            I get that tipping in the US is very different from here, and that it’s a bad move to not do so. It’s just the last thing, the giving more then you’re comfortable with as being an act of queerness that I do not understand.

  7. Although I understand the point of the article, I think it’s wildly unfair to judge someone for not tipping or not tipping enough. I think if people knew the history of the practice they might feel differently about endorsing it. As someone who has been a server and a driver, I always tip because I understand the struggle. I think, instead of shaming non tippers we should be applying pressure to businesses to compensate their employees appropriately. Tipping is an outdated, discriminatory practice and it should be illegal or at the very least discouraged.

    • I fully agree with you. Also I think tipping is a concept neo-liberals love because we never have to focus on the economic system that promotes low wages and grueling work conditions, never have to discuss or support worker’s unions, never have to discuss rising housing costs, and instead blame the consumer for not subsidizing workers pay. This is why liberalism isn’t enough. It’s directly under the umbrella of relentless support for globalization and capitalism.

  8. This article is making me think my life is a lie, because I thought the etiquette was to tip per drink at bars, not on the whole tab! I get almost all my etiquette knowledge from deep internet research because I am autistic, and no matter how much I dig, I can’t figure this one out. Thoughts?? Help?? For what it’s worth, these types of questions are never as black and white as some people present them to be, and people may never come to a consensus on certain topics (like adopting from a shelter, which may not be for everyone, and that is okay)! Tipping is an area that is important to get right, but is also mired in social expectations, responsibilities, and unspoken values that can be hard to puzzle out.

    • hi treble! i think it’s ok to do either? i always tip when i pay, because i am not good about carrying cash on me — so that means i tip on my whole tab at once. i haven’t heard of people tipping per drink, but i can’t imagine that any bartender would mind?

      • Thank you! I reread the article and realized this was on a tab of 8 total drinks, not 4 like I originally thought, so I feel better. My tipping method would be to tip $2 per mixed drink, which is more than what this person tipped regardless. (I was also baffled by a 96 dollar tab for 4 drinks, lol)

  9. Not to validate commenters who seem to be missing the point on purpose, but as someone who has worked service jobs and been broke most of my life, cutting back on spending NEVER comes out of my tips. If I only have $15 to spend tonight, I’m buying a $10 drink and tipping $5, not buying the drink and the $4 fries and tipping $1. If I only have $10, I suggest we go for ice cream instead. This is the Broke Solidarity Rule I thought we all knew this!!

    Generosity isn’t just about the dollar amount you’re dropping, it’s about being kind and giving what you’re able to give without expecting anything in return and THAT is the point

    • Agreed, I operate under the assumption that if I can’t afford a 20% tip, I can’t afford the meal/drink. Aside from non-US folks who don’t have the same tipping conventions, I’m honestly surprised by the number of people who think this is classist or unreasonable. I don’t necessarily agree with every point made in the article but I thought most people would agree with the premise that tipping poorly (in the US at bars/restaurants where servers earn way less than minimum wage) is a red flag.

    • And drinks/food aren’t the only option for dates! If one of us can’t afford the cost of the place (and cost includes both the price of the items PLUS a decent tip), we can chat by the river! We can bring our own coffees and sit in the park! There’s a walking tour in the city! But if someone were to suggest we go to a place and then undertip? Nah. Our values aren’t compatible.

      and re: “only dates rich people” above ymmv but ime rich people tend to be much, much worse tippers. The most generous tippers I know are servers who are living tip-to-tip themselves.

      • I’ve worked tipped jobs. I know rich people are the worst tippers. I guess you all are just interested in piling up on me because I never said I would suggest an expensive restaurant and then not tip. I don’t know where the original author is located, but I am in a state where it is thankfully illegal to pay tipped workers less than minimum wage. Even so, I try to leave good tips whenever I am able, but I am also at a point right now where I am too disabled to work OR cook my own food so having everybody gang up on me and say I am missing the point on purpose feels like you’re agreeing with capitalism and saying if I can’t afford to tip 25% then I don’t deserve to eat, let alone go on a date.

        • Didn’t intend to pile on! I was mostly just surprised by the variety of opinion on an issue I thought was straightforward. I think the fact that your state requires tipped workers to earn minimum wage is probably where our different understandings come from. I live in a fairly liberal area in a very conservative state, so whether workers are earning a fair wage is never a guarantee. My “if I can’t afford to tip 20% I can’t afford it” rule definitely comes from that place. Honestly this comment section has been very interesting and I appreciate everyone’s input!

  10. This is an interesting article insofar that I can read it and nod along without thinking too much about it because, of course, a person who is perfectly able to tip generously and does not is not necessarily one I’d want to date for longer probably (even though I live in a country where tipping seems to be rather different than in the US and 5-15 percent is what you do) but when I think more about it it sits somewhat wrong. Money is such a strange beast and while I agree that it’s utterly nice to be in the company of a generous person it’s not an issue where judging and assuming leads to much, I think. I tip well but probably only because I can afford it and because my parents always were generous with money while never being super well off so I kind of copied that? That does not necessarily makes me a person that does not complain about your mug though. I hate doing the dishes. So tipping? Not the smartest red flag for me. Astrology on the other hand … :D

  11. Yeah, because life isn’t full of contradictions and complexity. I don’t agree with it but if I happen to want a sandwich I participate because I know that my noncompliance could have a negative impact on someone’s livelihood. I can still disagree and encourage others to seek more knowledge.

    I know my opinion is unpopular but I’ve made efforts to challenge perceptions, on this issue. I am not just talking about it; I am being about it. Perhaps, next time try adding something more constructive to the conversation.

  12. A very long time ago, as a college student in the days before smartphones gave us nonstop calculator access, I was on a date with someone who started to leave a bad tip. I offered to cover the rest. And my date said, “What do you mean? That’s 20%.” That’s how we both realized that my date did not know how to correctly calculate percentages. My date was mortified that he’d been tipping badly and was glad I said something. I taught him percentages and he was appreciative. For a few dates after that, he checked with me before he left a tip to make sure he got it right, because he was not confident with math.

    Personally, if I were in the author’s situation, I’d rather cover the rest of the tip (even if it means pulling out my credit card after my date already paid), rather than silently thinking “red flag” and leaving the bartender or server underpaid. Plus a date’s response to me correcting the tip gives me plenty of information, without needlessly writing off, say, a lovely person who struggles with math or someone who offered to pay for something that turned out to be beyond their budget once they got the bill.

    Bad tipping is a perfectly valid red flag for some people. Nobody needs to keep dating someone they don’t feel like dating, for any reason, and nobody needs to have a potentially awkward conversation with a date if they don’t want to. But if you’re up for it, calmly saying, “I can cover the rest of the tip” can be great in this scenario.

    And tipping well is definitely a green flag.

  13. It seems unsurprising to me that discussions around money in a capitalist society are full of thoughts and feelings because they are one of the aspects of access to power, and this regards power dynamics at play.
    I had wanted to bring up the idea of that unequal access not because I thought the specific example given displayed that, but because I wanted to gently bring out the idea that those dynamics can be hidden in many ways.
    I have power in that currently if I order food I can (and do) tip well, but having been homeless and in very precarious financial circumstances in the past I remember vividly what it’s like to hide that out of societally imposed shame. If I had been able to go for a cup of tea somewhere to meet someone I would have indeed calculated beforehand to the penny what I could pay for, and pretended not to be hungry.
    I get to enjoy feeling generous every time I tip now, but it’s a feeling borne out of the financial power that I have, and I want to be cautious and remember that it’s based on inequality. I should tip well if I can, absolutely, because people need to survive now, not just in some theoretical future, but I will also remember that my financial generosity is predicated on a power imbalance.

  14. Oh my goddd, all this rings so true. I live in a country where you don’t have to tip, and the difference between the girls who judge me for tipping and the girls who appreciate it reflects exactly in that ‘mug in the sink’ example 😂

  15. This article and the comments have been an interesting look at people’s tipping norms. It seems like maybe the date was tipping 15% on the pretax amount, which for a lot of people is the norm I think. I’ve also gotten more generous as I’ve gotten older, and had more reliable income-and I think that’s true for a lot of people too, the friend who used to very seriously only order an appetizer, study the bill and tip $2.75, will now say she wants to make sure someone has a good night and leave 30%. So I do think these things are dependent on someone’s circumstances and the norms they learned from family. But also, carry cash so you can throw down a few bucks when someone you’re with isn’t leaving enough.

  16. I can tell by the comments how many people have never depended on their tips to get by. It’s a crappy system, but until we overhaul capitalism, many need tips to eat, pay rent, to live.

    If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out, go to a bar, take a cab, full stop.

        • As someone in the industry, I have to agree with the “Don’t go out to eat or drink if you can’t afford to tip” sentiment. Tips are how bartenders and servers pay for rent, groceries, bills, etc…The hourly doesn’t cut it. I get that customers are strapped for money right now, but so are industry people, especially as Omicron is out of control . And there are other options if you can’t afford to tip, like getting something from the store, taking the bus instead of a cab, etc, if you are able. I’m not disputing that it’s a messed up system, but it’s the one we have to live with right now. I guess I just want to reiterate that 20% is the basic standard in the US, and to tip accordingly.

        • So now it’s in vogue to laugh at people with disabilities I see. Very progressive.

          Not that you care, but I do treat service workers like people, and I do tip the absolute best I am able. I don’t go to bars or fancy restaurants, and the last time I actually ate dine-in was long before omicron.

          Now, I have been stricken with a chronic illness that leaves me with constant dizziness and the kind of fatigue that has me winded after limping with a cane from my apartment to the parking lot. I can’t cook. I can’t wash dishes. Some days I can’t drive, and taking the bus means struggling nearly ten blocks up a steep hill with no sidewalk

          So I order delivery, and I tip as much as I can, but I subsist off $800 a month in SSI and whatever my (also disabled) partner has left after she pays most of the rent and the bills. The last time I took a cab/lyft it was to get home from the emergency room.

          No, it’s not “radical.” It’s survival. Get down off your high horse and realize that some people have it even worse than you do.

  17. I really liked this essay. I also like generosity– I like being generous, I like being with generous people, I like virtuous cycles of increasing generosity. Love connecting tipping generosity with queer excess. Hurray for excess!

  18. We can be generous in material things but also generous in spirit.

    I think everyone here wants those working jobs that rely on tips to not just survive, but thrive.

    Asking for compassion and generosity in not making snap judgements of the person needing an emergency cab for medical reasons, a hot drink that can’t be made at home due to homelessness, to buy groceries with a multitude of coupons so they can pay bills too…this comes from dealing with the same struggles.

    We should be fighting together for a better society, because tearing each other apart only benefits those who profit from inequality. We are generous when we uplift each other, when we exercise compassion, and make space for each other.

    • Thank you for being a voice of compassion. I was almost starting to lose faith in the AS community after a certain commenter who shall remain unnamed. As I’ve said, I have worked a tipped job and I found it very easy to tell the kind souls who couldn’t tip because they were strapped for cash from the rich snobs who simply thought it beneath them. No, the hourly rate wasn’t quite enough, but I never held anything against the former.

      Also even though I am in the U.S. I am lucky to live in a fairly progressive state with a decent minimum wage that applies across the board whether the job is tipped or not. I honestly don’t know what I would do if that wasn’t the case. I’m not perfect, but I try the best my broke disabled trans queer ass can.

  19. It is really interesting how many people are reading “spend money on tipping” as “being rich enough to not worry about spending money on tipping”. Like….have you never met poor people who spend money rashly? That’s not a judgment on poor people’s spending habits (hi, it’s me, I’m a poor person who spends money rashly). It’s something we’re squeezed into.

    One of the common features of being poor in a capitalist society (where you’re surrounded by painfully stark wealth disparity, aspirational models of wealth; bombarded with adverts and influencers etc) is spending money you don’t have on shit you don’t need just to feel a brief instant of joy in between the general strife and shame of surviving to your next paycheck/dole check/etc. Poor people buy expensive drinks and big TVs and go to dinner and all that shit. The difference is we have to feel guilty about wanting these things because we’re supposed to pour every coin we get into credit card repayments and saving for a mortgage we’ll never get.

    This queer person who wrote this article does not sound like a champagne socialist to me. They sound like half the queers I know – spending money on the “wrong” things and valuing being generous over every material concern that they have – and those queers are not wealthy, they just don’t prioritise keeping the money that they DO have. The two are not exclusive!

    That’s not to valorise them or this text – I actually don’t think it’s particularly helpful to glamourise queer people’s tendencies to prioritise everyone else’s material needs above their own by throwing money at problems, to caricature financial generosity as the ideal we have to reach in order to build communities (We need to overhaul and overthrow this shit in other ways than just to stay broke!) – but I really think reading this as ‘this author is obvs just rich’ is to miss the obvious.

  20. 100% spot on. I’d add to that: how do they treat waitstaff, servers, retail staff in general. Do they complain about their food (or send it back!)? Do they talk to waitstaff like they’re servants? If they exploit the small hierarchy that’s inherent in these interactions and talk down to those in the service industry — for me, that’s a huge red flag.

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