HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Etiquette question regarding comped meal

Last night, I went to a restaurant with my husband and parents and had a fabulous Italian meal that to our surprise, was comped by the owner.
I'm assuming it's because I'm a local television reporter. Had I known that that was going to be the case, I would never have gone. Our biggest quandry is that none of us had a lot of cash on us because we were expecting to pay in a credit card. We left $100 as a gratuity. The meal itself, likely would have been about $250. Was that enough? Did we look cheap? I felt that we should have gone to the ATM and gotten more cash out or asked to charge the gratuity but my husband felt $100 was more than appropriate saying that in the Italian culture, (he's Italian-American), when someone gives you a gift (in this case, a wonderful meal) you should graciously accept it and send a heartfelt thank you note. Thoughts??

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Nope, you didn't look cheap at all. It's about double the normal tip on that check!


    1. The rule of thumb that I was taught by a friend who is a chef is to double the tip on a comped meal. In your case $100 was perfect and I'm sure the server was more than happy!

      8 Replies
      1. re: geg5150

        I don't get it: what's the logic of doubling the tip if the meal is comped? Did the server(s) work twice as hard just because the owner picked up the tab? It doesn't make sense to me at all.

          1. re: yayadave

            It's a win-win. You got a free meal and you want to spread a little fairy dust to those at the resto who could probably use the extra money. It's like playing with the casino;s money in Vegas.

            1. re: jfood

              Well, I think it's just an extra way of saying thank you. Chances are that the owner or manager who provided the comp won't take a cash gratuity as your thank you. And, you probably wouldn't attempt that anyway.

              But a way to show your thanks is to tip the server a little extra. It shows your appreciation and the server will certainly pass on word of your generousity to the owner/manager.

              And, you're still getting off with paying less than you would've if you actually paid for the meal in its entirety.

              1. re: geg5150

                to be clear, the extra tip is for the waiter, absolutely not the manager. Like leaving cash on Christmas Eve, not cool.

                1. re: jfood

                  Sometimes the waiter is the one who provided the impetus for the comped meal.

                  Actually quite often it's the waiter who said something.

                  I'll always try to get meals comped for good people.

                  1. re: therealbigtasty

                    whoever is the impetus to a win-win, so be it. bigger tip is for the wait staff. :-))

                    1. re: therealbigtasty

                      "Actually quite often it's the waiter who said something."

                      I hadn't thought of this aspect of why double the standard tip.

        1. I think $100 was very nice... What were you thinking you should have given? Too much, I agree with your hubby, would have almost negated the kind gesture :-)

          1. You don't report on restaurants, I take it?

            4 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Do you ask that because as a food writer/reviewer you are not allowed to receive a comped meal? The conflict of interest thing?

              1. re: Michele4466

                Well it wouldn't matter if you weren't "on a review" at the time. And if that's a restaurant which your station needs to review at a later date, it can always send someone else.


                1. re: TexasToast

                  It actually varies by institution. I've worked at places where we can't accept anything that's worth more than $25, even if we're not working on a story that has anything to do with the giver. The publication a friend works for won't let them accept ANYthiing of monetary value. I would have turned down the free meal if I thought I was getting it because I'm a journalist (but I'm not on TV so it doesn't happen often.) I'm not judging the O.P. I just wouldn't be comfortable taking a free meal, or a free anything else. But, policies vary. I think the tip that was left was fine.

                  1. re: writergirl

                    It just sounded like the OP was given local "celeb" treatment and not to curry favor with their employer.


            2. You certainly weren't being cheap. Just doing a thank you note would have been cheap, as the waiter would be the one who gets the tip and he wasn't the one paying for your meal. When getting comped food, I would make the minimum tip 20 percent of how much the meal should have cost.

              1. I think you hit the number right on the head. My normal rule of thumb for a comped meal if the service was really good is about 40%.

                2 Replies
                1. re: jfood

                  Why would a comped meal be different from just a regular meal?

                  1. re: PeterL

                    My Chicago training preached "There is no such thing as a free lunch." If I only paid the normal tip I would violate everything my professors preached.

                    But seriously, it is similar to getting a birthday cake at work. You can take it home and suck on sugar for five days or you can cut it up and share. If you are "given" a $100 meal which would have cost you $130 with tax and tip, why not spend $40 versus $20 for that "free lunch". Oops, couple of profs just rolled over.

                2. I'm sure the server/s were very pleased. The restaurant OWNER comped you not the wait staff. The fact that you left $100 was really very, very nice and I'm sure, greatly appreciated. Way to go!!!!

                  1. Could you have refused the comp? As a local reporter, is a comp at a local restaurant unethical???? That aside, i think your tip was more than generous---my question would be the morality of accepting a comped meal...
                    Yanno, the more I think of this, the more I am amazed that you, as a local journalist, accepted a comp at a local restaurant---wasn't it obvious to you why the restaurant was comping your meal...if not, consider this--would they have comped MY meal?? No offense, hoping you are young and inexperienced...but I think it is beyond shameful for a professional journalist to accept a comped meal---just curious, wouldn't you lambaste a policeman or any civil servant, for example, for accepting a free meal at the same restaurant?????????

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Marge

                      The OP is a television reporter. I think they just recognized her and decided to comp the meal because she's a local celebrity. I have a relative who's also a local TV reporter and he's had similar things happen many times (comped drinks, dessert, meals--though more rarely). Unless the OP's a TV food reporter, I don't see the conflict of interest.

                      Meanwhile, as you also asked, how do you refuse a comped meal? Do you make a big scene?

                      And to answer your other question: No, they wouldn't comp YOUR meal. Or mine. That's the breaks. There are perks to being a celebrity.

                      1. re: Kagey

                        Hmmm...Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think it's that unusual to have a meal comped, is it? I've had an owner comp my and SO's meal because we were regulars and it was my birthday. Also recently had a meal comped because the chef/owner (I was sitting at the bar chatting with him while he made everyone's dinners) said it was worth the effort of cooking to watch me enjoy the meal so thoroughly. Granted, it's more common to have individual items comped (certain places, for example, that usually comp my drinks or apps because I do there are lot and tip well), but I can think of at least a half dozen instances of having the whole meal comped, and not because of a complaint.

                        I usually tip double what it would have been (and for those times when items are comped, you should include what they would have cost when figuring out the tip), but then I usually tip generously, because the wait staff does appreciate it, and they let you know they appreciate it.

                      2. re: Marge

                        That is a little harsh on the OP... I am with some of the other posters... A TV reporter does not necessarily have ANY influence on the restaurant critic and/or programming, story ideas. In NY (and I am sure lotsa cities), many times a local celeb is comped just because...it is a nice thing to do... and I also agree, sometimes it is not easy to refuse... the OVERtipping was a very nice thing to do here, and somewhat offset the comp...

                      3. I'm a veteran of the restaurant industry in my town, and I often am comped for some thing or another. I am rarely comped an entire check, but the rule is to tip at least %20 of what the bill would have been. We usually leave %20 of the estimated check plus a little bit. The idea is that we don't want to short the server, and we don't want to deny the comp either.

                        1. All these people who are against taking the comp?!?!? I don't get it, unless you are a food critic, you take the comp. If someone wanted to comp my meal, I'd say sure. No questions asked.
                          For the tip, I like the idea of 2x15%. I know a friend of mine who'll more or less put in what it would've cost anyway and it goes to the server. I didn't think that made much sense.

                          As for getting celeb treatment, it goes both ways. You get comps and such but when you mess up, the whole world jumps on you.