HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


My tipping error

  • w

My employer did some free promotional work for a local restaurant, and we received free meals this evening in return. The only stipulation was that we pay for our drinks. My bill arrived, and there was a charge of $12 (plus tax) for the single cocktail I ordered. (No charge for the after-dinner coffee.) Service was very good, so I tipped very well, but I absent-mindedly tipped on just that one cocktail, and not on the $116 five-course fixed-price dinner. When I got home, I thought, "Crap, I blew it." (It wasn't even such a potent cocktail, so I can blame nobody but myself.) Now I'm seriously considering contacting my associate at the restaurant and asking how I can rectify this, since I feel I've insulted my servers.

So... Am I wrong in thinking I've made an error? Am I being ridiculous in thinking I should try to follow up on it? Is there a tactful way to approach this? Has anyone else encountered a similar situation?


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. It depends. Often restaurants will include the comp in such things, other times they won't. I'd say just take in what you would have tipped, and give it to your server. Just let them know you forgot to tip on the meal last night and want to make sure they are compensated well for the excellent time you had. Even if the restaurant took care of the gratuity, it's a generous touch that won't be forgotten.

    1. It's good you want to rectify it and I don't know that you have to go through your associate as long as you know the server's name (but of course you can if you wish). Just return to the restaurant, cash in hand that you want to give to the server. Ask if she/he is working, if not, ask for a manager and explain that you were there last night and mistakenly undertipped so and so, and say you would like to leave this amount for that person, ask if they can hold it for them until the next time the person works.

      3 Replies
        1. re: rockandroller1

          mistakes happen. correcting them is key. R&R1 has the correct approach

          1. re: jfood

            I agree completely. When I used to wait tables, I had lots of customers come back and say, oh gosh I did the math wrong, may I leave this tip for so-and-so? Just run-of-the-mill restaurant patrons, not those in complicated bill situations did this, so I wouldn't worry about it. If you want to correct the mistake, and you should, if you consider it a mistake, then just go tell the manager that. It will be handled more easily than you think, probably, because it probably happens more often than you think.

        2. How many is "we" and what did the rest of them do? Often in those circumstances, you end the meal thanking the restaurant owner for the free meal and passing the hat to tip the servers. Sometimes the restaurant owner says that they are covering the tip also. There may be some back and forth, depending on how many Norwegians and Canadians are present.

          1. Thanks to everybody for your feedback. People from my company were split up at different tables, not as one group, so we didn't have a chance to discuss this until later.

            I just got off the phone with my contact at the restaurant. Frankly, I'm rather confused by the whole set-up, but at least I'm not so concerned about having stiffed anybody.

            I should note that this was actually a sort of dinner theater, not just a straightforward restaurant. The show is set up as a non-profit, and the restaurant is set up as a for-profit. Essentially two companies under one roof putting on a single event. Had I simply been a normal patron that night, I would have spent $116, plus a $13 dining room fee, plus drinks. But the check I would have received at the end of the evening would only reflect the dining room fee and the drinks. So presumably most if not all of the $116 is for the show, rather than the restaurant. (Despite my comp, I was supposed to be charged the $13 dining room fee, but for some reason wasn't.) While servers wear costumes and participate in elements of the show, they are technically part of the restaurant. Tips are pooled, because while each table has a primary server, multiple servers attend you throughout the evening. My contact said that enough is generally consumed each night on drinks (it's a three-hour show seating 285 people; cocktails are $12, a wine flight is $45, etc, and groups often spend hundreds if not thousands on drinks alone; parties of 6 or more receive an automatic 18% beverage gratuity) that tips end up being enough to keep the servers happy.

            Does that make sense? If this had been a normal restaurant, I think I would have made an error. But it sounds like this establishment is set up in such a way that I did the right thing, as weird as it sounds.

            9 Replies
            1. re: weem

              Karmically, you still shorted the tip, whether it was a larger "pool" that was spread out among others or was an individual or couple at a table.

              If you get an item of food complimentary (or with a coupon), you should still tip as if you paid for it. So even if your dinner was comp'd, IMO you should have tipped on the $116 fee. That you weren't charged the additional $13 is also an error, and I would go back and tip on the $140 total, minus whatever you originally tipped. Even if it was only a dollar, IMO it fixes your karma.

              And if your contact is a manager, I definitely wouldn't take their word for it. They don't really know if everyone felt like they were a little "thin" that night or how many other people didn't tip on X, Y or Z, they just know how much was made in dollars/sales.

              1. re: rockandroller1

                You're right about the $13 dining room fee. I still feel I owe for that. (Although having generously plunked down a $10 for a $12 cocktail, I don't think I owe too much more.) But the impression I got from the phone call was that the $116 fee goes to the theater, based on the way the restaurant and the theater divide up the revenue for their separate businesses, and that the restaurant really counts on making the bulk if it's money from drinks and that token dining room fee. Apparently, if I had been a regular customer, I would have paid the $116 upfront at the box office, and then would have received a check at my table after the meal for the $13 plus drinks. No mention of the $116 would have appeared on the bill.

                That surprised me, since it seems like a rather disproportionate allocation, but she assured me it works after all these years. Presumably the theater's money goes to not only the show, but also the entire building, while the kitchen is less concerned with the overall facility and infrastructure of the place. Or who knows, maybe I'm completely misunderstanding the situation.

                And no, my contact is not a restaurant manager, she's a sales coordinator in the box office.

                1. re: weem

                  It's a very strange set-up, but I think it's becoming more clear to me now that you've posted the above.

                  Let me get this straight, at no time do patrons receive a bill for the meal and so the servers are never tipped for meal charges? Servers only ever receive tips for the drinks (and maybe the dining fee)?

                  1. re: lynnlato

                    Sorry my posts have been so confusing. Part of that was my own confusion. And part of it was an attempt to explain the place without sounding like I was continuing to do promotional work for it (which I'm not).

                    I guess the mistake of my original post was in thinking that the $116 was for the meal. To the best of my current knowledge, it is two separate businesses (a theater and a restaurant) in the same location, putting on a joint event. Performers, box office, janitors, etc., belong to the theater. Chefs, servers, and bartenders belong to the restaurant. The $116 is collected upfront and kept by the theater. That leaves the restaurant to exist on the drinks and the $13 "dining room fee" (which I assume is there to help make up for somebody simply drinking tap water). So no, a diner would not see the $116 on the check at the end. My contact assures me they rake in a ton of money on drinks. And I'll bet a lot of confused diners tip on the $116 anyway.

                    If you go to a bar or snack counter at a regular theater, you might tip on the cost of the drink or food, but not also on the price of the show's ticket. Same concept here, except that the set-up is so blurred as to be misleading.

                    And for the record I agree with the other posters that correcting an error is the right thing to do.

                    1. re: weem

                      Oh! It's a dinner theater. Why didn't you just say that up front?

                      Analyzing how they split the proceeds isn't really the right thing here in my opinion, and I'll explain further. If you went to a comedy club and they had a 2 drink min, you're right, you would only tip on the drinks, not the ticket. But you got a MEAL in addition, which you were served by a server, yes? Whether or not the meal is "included in" the price of the ticket or not, IMO is irrelevant, you would still tip on whatever you are served - food, drink, desserts, flambe, appetizers, cheese course, whatever it is. Determining the "exact" price of "just" your meal since it's included in the ticket is a) impossible for most diners and b) not the point. You were served food, you paid for it (as "part" of the package), you should tip accordingly. JMO.

                      1. re: rockandroller1

                        Still shouldn't tip on the whole $116 dollars as she did not get a $116 dollar meal.

                    2. re: lynnlato

                      Okay, I did some more research into this on their website. Here is what the website states:

                      "Q. What is included in the dinner price?
                      A. The ticket price includes: a gourmet five-course meal and an indescribable 3-hour performance.

                      Q. Are there any other costs associated with seeing the show?
                      A. The ticket price does not include beverages (other than coffee served with dessert), beverage gratuity and parking fee ... At the end of the evening, your server will present you with a check for any beverages you have ordered, a $12 per guest dining room service charge for meal service, and applicable sales tax.

                      Q. Is gratuity included with the price of the ticket?
                      A. No. Gratuity is based at your discretion on the amount of beverages you consume. Standard gratuity is 18% of your beverage bill. Parties of 6 or more will be charged an automatic 18% beverage gratuity."

                      So I guess I technically didn't do anything wrong. Did I karmically do something wrong? I'm not sure, though I'm also not sure how I would have guessed the dinner's value had I thought to tip on it as well. My primary server was beaming at the end, telling me how she loves her job and has been there for years, so I guess she's getting adequately compensated somehow. Still, it seems like such an unusual set-up.

                      1. re: weem

                        Ok, given that detailed Q&A I would call you relieved of your karmic duties. :)

              2. Weem,

                You would be doing the right thing to make amends. When we are comp'ed a meal, use a coupon, etc., I always ask for the price, without these, so I can formulate what the tip "should" be. This is usually written on a separate slip of paper, and I can tip, based on service, on what the bill would otherwise have been.

                Do contact your associate, and explain the situation. It is right, and you will feel better for it.


                1. Okay, I have to ask....$12 for a cocktail? What was it?!

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: BiscuitBoy

                    This topic probably merits it's own thread but $12 cocktails are very common. in the NY metro area. Nothing fancy. Stoli martini, $12. Nobody bats an eye at the cost that I've seen.

                    1. re: KTinNYC

                      Wow, thanks, KT...I was thinking it had to be a fru-fru blender drink or something

                      1. re: BiscuitBoy

                        It's also common in a place where there is entertainment but nothing but drinks are served, such as a comedy club, even in markets where drinks aren't regularly as expensive as NYC. 2 drink min. and the cheapest drinks are $8 each for example.

                    2. re: BiscuitBoy

                      I had to go back and look it up on the website. It's called an "Indian Summer", and contains "Campari, Patron Citronage, Cinzano Sweet Vermouth, Fresh Mandarin Juice & Carpene Malvolti Prosecco".

                      1. re: weem

                        That sounds pretty good, actually. I can understand the charge in this case

                    3. I've made this mistake before - during a soft-opening for a restaurant, everything was discounted 50% and I tipped on the discounted amount. When I got home and realized what I had done, I drafted a letter and dropped a $20 in the envelope along with an apology and a thanks for a very good meal. I received a phone call about a week later from the owner thanking me for following up with the staff. I would do the same thing again.

                      1. I'm totally confused. This wasn't Elmsford Dinner Theater, was it?

                        It sounds like you didn't do anything wrong, since the server was compensated and not stiffed by your oversight. Is that about right?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: dolores

                          No, dolores, it was a place here in San Francisco.

                        2. Clearly my biggest error here was in not fully researching the situation before writing my original post. That resulted in a twisting thread that left a lot of people confused. I think we are all in agreement that errors should be rectified. And that, given the stated policies of this establishment, I didn't actually make an error in the first place.

                          But rocknroller1 brings up an interesting point: what do you do when there is the _perception_ of inequity or unfairness in the way servers (or anybody, really) are being compensated? That perception (albeit belated, and ultimately mistaken) is part of what launched me on this whole quest in the first place. It's one thing to ask a server (say a banquet waitress or a wedding bartender) if they are permitted to accept gratuities. It's quite another to ask a waitress who is clearly getting tips if she's getting enough. To grill her about her salary and tips, management policies, etc., would be invasive and rude. And management would surely equivocate. And leaving extra anyway might mean leaving money you didn't need to leave. Well, I guess when in doubt it's best to just suck it up and ask. But that's probably a different thread.

                          Anyway, thanks to everybody who responded.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: weem

                            Don't worry - we won't sue.
                            I think in this circumstance, the servers prefer to think of themselves as performers whose performance happens to include plopping plates in front of people. They no doubt appreciate any tips left and will really appreciate you trying to make it right.
                            Oddly enough, the only place I've ever been charged that kind of a price for a beverage was also a dinner theater! $12 for a glass of house white wine.

                            1. re: weem


                              I'd overlook any lack of research. The important thing was that you wanted to do the "right thing," and were just searching for what that thing was. That is what really matters. More folk should be so motivated.


                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                Hate to disagree but wanting to do the right thing is not what really matters. If the right thing is for the server to receive more money that is what should happen. That server cannot pay bills with Weem's intentions. Motivation is nice but its action that really matters. Without action truly nothing happens. I urge you to remember the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

                            2. If I understand correctly The drinks are about $12 and the food cost $13. For $13 the food must be sketchy. I hope the show is more entertaining than the dinner.
                              With out the comp what would you have tipped. That is your answer. Take that number minus what you left and the resulting number is what you stiffed your server for. Getting this $ in her hand will eliminate the guilt that is haunting you and avoid the potential spitting in you plate accidents lurking in you future