click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

The Jewish Ethicist: Paying for Bad Service

The Jewish Ethicist: Paying for Bad Service

Can I underpay when I got bad service in a restaurant?


Q. I recently went to a restaurant and got terrible service. The waitress never brought the french fries which were supposed to be included in my meal, and the coffee was absolutely undrinkable. When I got home, I noticed that I was undercharged. Given the disgraceful service, can I just call it a wash? Can I at least ask for a discount?

A. It goes without saying that everyone should always try to give the highest level of service to the customer or employer. However, in practice we all sometimes fall short. In this case, the general approach of Jewish law is, “Fix the problem, not the blame.” In other words, we should give the delinquent individual a reasonable opportunity to fulfill his or her obligation before we seek a release from it.

For example, the Talmud tells us that in most cases, the employer may not abrogate an employment contract without giving the worker a fair chance to improve his performance. And in the case of a sale, if the merchandise delivered is short, the customer can’t cancel the sale unless the seller is given a reasonable opportunity to make good on his obligation.

Likewise, in our case the appropriate course of action would have been to politely mention to the waitress that your french fries never arrived, and to request that the coffee be replaced with something slightly more potable. Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody deserves a reasonable chance to correct them. If you didn’t make any comment, it’s not really fair to unilaterally deduct payment.

On the other hand, it is still proper to try and negotiate a compromise with the owner or manager. After all, you really didn’t get your money’s worth, and the person in charge will probably be willing to take that into account -- especially in the ultra-competitive restaurant business.

In any case, any shortfalls in table service may be reflected in the tip. That’s exactly why tips are not included in the fixed price, so that the amount may be adjusted within reason to reward especially good service or to give a gentle reminder to the less attentive waiter or waitress.

SOURCES: Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 109a, Bava Batra 103b. Shulchan Arukh Choshen Mishpat 306:8, 332:1.

Send your queries about ethics in the workplace to

The Jewish Ethicist presents some general principles of Jewish law. For specific questions and direct application, please consult a qualified Rabbi.

The Jewish Ethicist is a joint project of and the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem. To find out more about business ethics and Jewish values for the workplace, visit the JCT Center for Business Ethics website at

JCT Center For Business Ethics

Copyright © JCT Center for Business Ethics.

January 18, 2003

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 3

(3) Steve Skinner, January 21, 2003 12:00 AM

fix the problem, not the blame.

That is one of my favorite sayings. I use it all the time. I really never thought of it as having it's origin in Jewish Law. Just discoverd it was a good practical way to move a job forward and a group forward in industrial and commercial construction. Gets everybody involved in finding solutions rather than finger pointing.

(2) DAVID, January 19, 2003 12:00 AM



(1) Ellen, January 19, 2003 12:00 AM

What about the other part of the question?

Wonderful wonderful answer for the first part .... but what about the other part of the question about being undercharged? Should he have called the restaurant to tell them that he was undercharged but got poor service? I think so, and the manager would probably consider it a wash, but at least he'll know that he needs to tighten up his service to keep customers.

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment