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Awkward Dining with Friends

I wasn't even sure how to word the title as this is about an atypical tipping situation, actually.

We live in a town near a metropolitan area. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour 30 minutes to get to good restaurants. We are not a culinary hub to say the least.

Just today, an Indian restaurant opened in town. You can't imagine how excited dh and I were about that. We love Indian food and usually drive the hour to our favorite spot about once a month.

Knowing that there is probably not a huge Indian food fan-base here, they smartly offered a FREE lunch buffet.

Our good friends alerted us to the fact that this place had the free buffet and even though we had eaten lunch about 2 hours earlier, dh, dd(9), and I met them there to get an idea of what they had to offer. I had about a tablespoon of many of their dishes to just taste them. Dh had a bit more, and dd, by far ate the most of all of us, eating a kid's portion of lamb korma, a dab of tikka masala, a couple of pieces of pakora and some dessert.

Our friends had not had lunch and ate 2 or 3 FULL plates of food, not including dessert, of which they each had large portions. I would not normally have paid attention, except that they kept going on about how good it was and making a point of going back for more.

After the meal, they were getting up to leave and as we were gathering our things, I was astounded that they were just going to leave. I felt that a tip was still due. I didn't say anything and dh and I quietly put together the small bills we had to leave a tip. We left a little more than we normally would leave for a $7.95pp buffet where they're just filling water and removing plates. We had $8 in small bills and so that's what we left . Heck, it was free, even if we barely ate anything. I felt we needed to give something.

So, the husband, seeing me leave a tip says, "Oh, yeah... here, I'll make it an even 10" and laid another $2 on top of ours.

I'm sorry, but that just irked me. First of all, because it made it look like we all left $10 for the whole table and also because they ate SO much food.

Am I out of line here for thinking that this was poor taste? Obviously, I didn't say anything, but it kind of makes me raise my eyebrows to myself.

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  1. You probably should work at cultivating a few new friends that are not clueless.

    2 Replies
    1. re: RedTop

      Excellent answer. We are all judged by the company we keep.

      1. re: RedTop

        For buffet service, the prevailling US custom is they should have tipped at least 10% of the normal pretax cost of their entire meal. In tipping, one grosses up from comps, discounts and gratis items. They probably don't know this, and you probably were not feeling confident enough to announce that baseline obligation. Hopefully, in the future, you will feel more confident to do so. It's less of a problem to announce in the buffet situation, because there can easily be confusion within a party on this point, as there are quite a number of people who think little or no tip is obliged when they don't receive full service (wrong, descriptively and prescriptively) and there are quite a number of people who feel that there should be no distinction between full and buffet service (wrong in terms of understanding the prevailing customary norm, but their heart is in the right place so long as they don't try to turn that into a prescription on others; people are always free to be more generous with their own money than the norm).

      2. First of all, I think you are exceptionally generous and gracious. And your friends were a little bit clueless.

        But I'm doing the math here and if there were two of your friends, and let's say the buffet was worth ten bucks (and it actually doesn't matter how much you eat), and if the 10% rule for a buffet is valid, then $2 for a $20 check is about right, no matter how low it feels. Your $8 for a theoretical $24 check, by your estimate, is over a 30% tip, which is exceptionally generous.

        So $10 on the table for a $45-$50 check is about 20%, which isn't bad.

        But I don't blame you for feeling weird about all this. You took the higher road.

        4 Replies
        1. re: acgold7

          Well, since it was free, I thought it was appropriate to leave quite a bit more in tip... for the very reason that I imagined there were a lot of people who were thinking, "Hey, free is free."

          And you are right... it was a fine tip to leave if we had actually paid. I guess what I was feeling odd about was that our generous tip made up for their stingy tip and they were O.K. with that. It just felt awkward. And I do think the fact that they ate so much more made a difference because the waiters had to clear many more plates and pour much more water for them than they did for us. In other words, they worked a lot harder for them, than they had to for us.

          Perhaps I need to reevaluate my own thoughts and feelings of why I felt this way. I suppose it may just be that I'm wondering if they are poor tippers, in general. We have been out to eat with them many times and we either get separate checks or dh and I pay. I'm wondering if they have stiffed the waiters in the past.

          1. re: velochic

            > Well, since it was free, I thought it was appropriate to leave quite a bit more in tip...

            Why? The wait staff didn't have to do any more work than if the meal had not been free. If you want to compensate someone fairly, compensate the restaurant owner--he/she's the one that's losing money on the transaction. The wait staff are being paid the same as always.

            1. re: velochic

              [Quote] Well, since it was free, I thought it was appropriate to leave quite a bit more in tip... [/Quote]

              I agree with you. My wife and I often meet friends at our favorite local bar and even when all we drink is water, we leave a tip. Usually it is around a $5 tip for free water and for the same reason you expressed.

              1. re: velochic

                Unless there is something you aren't sharing, their tip wasn't "stingy." You suggest that the buffet price was $7.95, making it about $16 for two people. Standard buffet tip is 10%; they left $2 or 12.5%. Maybe there are drinks that you haven't mentioned that would have added to the total, but you do mention water so it sounds like most likely not. I would have left more than $2 myself, especially if the servers were clearing multiple plates, but I don't think we get to call them stingy for leaving a tip that was slightly above the current custom in this country.

                Even if you average out both of your tips, you left 25% for the whole table. It seems really unlikely that the restaurant staff is in the back talking about those jerks who only tipped 25% on a buffet.

            2. I think you should have put down what you think the tip should have been for your portion of the tab. I think by being overly generous, you ran the risk of embarrassing your friends. For my dh and me, our rule of thumb is the following. In any restaurant, if we think the other party left too little, we do not try to overtip to make up for it or sneak extra money on the table when we think the other party isn't looking unless we are so regular at the restaurant that we would be embarrassed to return, and, only if there is no chance the other party will see what we have left. If we are with good friends, we think our first priority is not to offend them.

              7 Replies
              1. re: middleagedfoodie

                Clarification, please. Are you saying you would offend a server before offending a friend?

                1. re: RedTop

                  I for one would value a "good friendship" over a server in a restaurant that I may or may not ever go back to.

                  1. re: RedTop

                    I would try to avoid offending either, but in a choice between a good friend and someone I may never see again, I would feel, I did the right thing and if my friend had different tipping style is different than mine, I am not putting my friendship in jeopardy.

                    1. re: middleagedfoodie

                      Really? What if your friend wants to keep going to the same place and tip poorly, does that change your mind?

                      I guess I just find bad tipping off-putting enough that I wouldn't dine with those who did it more than once....

                      1. re: LeoLioness

                        Well, first of all, the friends I was referring to have started tipping more equitably, at least wih us and there tipping was never terrible. They used to be 15%'ers, where we were 20%'ers on the total including tax. But, if I had friends that were lower tippers than us, I would suggest new places each time.

                        I, also, don't understand bad tipping. But, it is only one aspect of a whole person.

                        1. re: middleagedfoodie

                          Okay, well that's different. I also tip more than 15%, but I wouldn't fault someone for doing so.

                          Honestly, if I had friends who tipped below that, I would just not dine out with them. I agree that it doesn't define a person's overall character, but it does say something about them (and about me, by proxy) and I'd limit my activities with them as such.

                          Much as I won't go for cocktails with people who can't hold their liquor or to a movie with people who cannot remain silent during the film, I wouldn't go out to dinner with people who cannot tip appropriately.

                  2. re: middleagedfoodie

                    " If we are with good friends, we think our first priority is not to offend them."

                    If they're truly "good friends", why the heck can't you tell them to up the tip and stop being cheapskates? Acquaintences or colleagues are a different story, but walking on eggshells with your close circle of friends makes no sense to me.

                  3. Count me among those who think you did the right thing and further are not wrong in any way for thinking this was in poor taste.

                    Just a question: Have your friends ever done anything like this before, or is this completely out of character for them?

                    Further, while I understand middleagedfoodie's comment upstream about preserving the friendship over doing what you think is right in this situation, if you did embarrass them, it wasn't because you overtipped. It was because you tipped at all.

                    1. Seems to me your friends, in the absence of a check, simply forgot to tip and remembered to do so after seeing your tip. Just because you feel you should over tip because the meal was free, doesn't mean your friends should agree with. It doesn't matter if they ate a lot of food, you could have left a $50 tip and that money never would have helped the owner who paid for the food. Those that tell you that YOU should be looking for better company to keep, well I may say the same about you. A friend that goes online to ask if their friends are have poor taste or not . . .

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Rick

                        IMO, the OP doesn't seem to be looking to condemn her friends, rather to get opinions about her assessment of a singular event. She didn't ask if people thought her friends have poor taste, she asked if we thought what they did on that occasion was in poor taste. You can disapprove of a thing your friend does and not disapprove of them as a whole.

                        1. re: Rick

                          Rick - You certainly have a right to your opinion. I disagree with it.

                        2. So, I'm assuming you were actually waited upon other than getting your food. Drinks, etc?? You tip on service and if you got not service, you don't NEED to tip.

                          OTOH I would tip no matter what. I'd probably drop a subtle remark about looking after the tip and be done with it.


                          1. I'm confused on the players here - dd(9), dh?

                            In regards to tipping, my wife and I have learned to not worry about other people's tip amounts. We're generally 20%-25% tipper while our friends and family are strict 10-15% pre-tax amount tippers. My point is don't sweat how other people tip.

                            Is your situation irksome? Yes it is.
                            However, you tipped what you think was right. They tipped what they thought was appropriate.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: dave_c

                              This may be the best response


                              1. re: dave_c

                                dd(9) would be: dear daughter - 9 years old
                                dh would be: dear husband

                                1. re: tracylee

                                  And here all these years I figured dh = damn husband ;-)

                                  1. re: silence9

                                    Well, there is that interpretation, too!

                                  2. re: tracylee

                                    Thanks for the decyphering. I thought she had a large family with 9 dd's, but I didn't know what dd was. :-)

                                2. For tipping at inexpensive places l worked out a formula some time back that works for me. Yes your friends tipped the 10% required, yes you tipped more than necessary but not absurdly. l always wondered why a check in a $ 100/pp place should be 5 times as much as in a $ 20/pp place. l think it should not, thus at inexpensive places my tip is usually 30% and 20% in an expensive place. l never leave less that $ 2-3/pp in a sitdown environment, not because l should but because sometimes a coffee and a toasted bagel takes some effort for the waitperson to get. One restaurant in a town l spend a lot of time in has a breakfast place, where clueless people sit for an hour or two get a full breakfast and innumerable refills of coffee/water and leave a $ 1 tip or LESS. Sorry, IMVHO, not fair to waitstaff

                                  1. I guess the part that was mostly irksome was that they counted what we had left and just rounded it up. I just found it so awkward and wonder what they would have done if we had a tenner to leave. Not leave anything at all?

                                    We really love these friends and would not do anything to harm the relationship. They are as different from us in preferences as possible, but they are warm, kind-hearted people. Their hearts are in the right place. I just think that they are a little sheltered (they only leave our town to go to the next county for bluegrass concerts) and might be somewhat clueless about tipping etiquette.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: velochic

                                      Let me put this in perspective for myself. Warm, kind-hearted friends hear of a free buffet and of all the choices they have, they invite you to go with them. As you had just eaten, you tried little bits of everything. Since they were hungry, they ate proportions that were appropriate for them. While I don't know the norm for your area, 3 full plates plus dessert is the norm on the Space Coast.

                                      The basic tab for your family of 3 would have been $24. I always round up, so your tip would normally be $3. Their's would be $2. Do you habitually over tip? Do they normally under tip? You know the phrase it "It doesn't take a rocket scientist...". A rocket scientist friend of mine is the epitome of the absent minded professor. He forgets hats, umbrellas, and tipping. Some times he is so deep in conversation he forgets to pay the check!! To know him is to love him. We all cover for him. Especially his wife.

                                      Here is a phrase used in the family for many years. "Thanks so much for bringing us here. Your tip is on us."

                                      This allowed my Mother to compensate for Dad's limit of 10% for the tip. It also resulted in being invited out to dinner alot.

                                      I can understand being irked at their adding 20% of the total tip. But the amount of their tip was far more appropriate than yours. And how much time have you spent ruminating on this? Was it time well spent? Wouldn't be for me. But I am only me.

                                      P.S. Best burgers, que, and tipping usually have the most threads. Because they are all highly opinionated, and regional.

                                      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                        >>While I don't know the norm for your area, 3 full plates plus dessert is the norm on the Space Coast.<<


                                        Is there a Senior Sumo Wresting League down there on the Space Coast?

                                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                          They didn't invite us, we met them there.

                                          And for the record... my husband is a computer science professor and is the typical absent minded professor about mundane things sometimes. He's never forgotten a bill or tip, though. Sorry, doesn't hold water for me because I have different experience with professors. He may forget to take out the trash, but he doesn't forget to pay a bill or tip servers.

                                          I think what it boils down to is this. Even though it was a buffet, our waiter worked his TUSH off fetching water and plate after plate after plate, and explaining food, and getting take out menus, extra napkins and silverware, and what not... and these friends thought that that kind of "bend-over-backwards" service was worth only $1 per person?? Particularly when the food itself was free?? It makes me wonder how they tip when the service is just O.K. and the food is not free. It will not change our relationship, but I'm afraid it may change my attitude about eating out with them any more.

                                          1. re: velochic

                                            > Even though it was a buffet, our waiter worked his TUSH off fetching water and plate after plate after plate, and explaining food, and getting take out menus, extra napkins and silverware, and what not... and these friends thought that that kind of "bend-over-backwards" service was worth only $1 per person??

                                            If you had actually mentioned any of this in your OP, it might have changed people's reactions. As your OP stands, I am right there with INDIANRIVERFL in saying that you overtipped, and they tipped appropriately for a buffet. As such, who was more clueless about tipping etiquette?

                                            1. re: travelmad478

                                              Funny how we all read these anecdotes so differently. While I got that the OP felt the tip her friends left was insufficient, what struck me most was that it appeared the friends were planning not to tip at all.

                                              And besides, I think all those things she failed to include in the OP can reasonably be assumed given a buffet setting in which people are going back several times.

                                              Maybe she might have felt differently if they had laid down a tip, any tip at all, before they motioned to leave. And if they were planning not to tip at all, then couldn't that be considered *clueless*?

                                        2. re: velochic

                                          Counting the money you left is definitely irksome and, to me, is kind of antisocial.

                                          It sounds like a Seinfeld episode.
                                          Jerry - counting money I left on my side of the table is like counting money from my wallet.
                                          George - Once the money hits the table, it's public domain.
                                          Elaine - Do I have spinach in my teeth?
                                          Kramer - I'll take the three $1's so we don't look cheap leaving singles.

                                        3. I think I would have been more disturbed by the amount of "free" food they shovelled in!

                                          Within my own family and extended circle of friends there are a number of people that make a point to stuff themselves when it is on someone else's dime and that type of behavior has always bothered me.

                                          Off topic - OP, nice that you will have an Indian restaurant in town! I wish I had that option.

                                          1. Maybe i'm the only one that feels this way but you're looking at your friends as if they were in poor taste; meanwhile, i was thinking as i was reading your post that i probably would not have gone to a free lunch buffet after i already ate lunch. Even if you only ate small bites.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: iluvtennis

                                              Good point. I don't agree with it, though. It was over 2 hours after we had eaten lunch (dh and I... dd had not had lunch, and she was actually the catalyst to get us to go because she was hungry, in the mood for Indian and asked that we go), but we also left a tip for their trouble. Dh and I ate only a tiny bit each to sample their food, and the kiddo loved it so it prompted us to return as paying customers. I actually thought that the free lunch was a smart move by the owners. This area is NOT known for people knowing food at all. I don't see that the restaurant lost out because they garnered new clients without actually having to feed us a full meal like they did the others who were there taking advantage of the "free lunch". I certainly don't think we took advantage of them in any way, such as you're suggesting.

                                            2. velochic - What they did was in incredibly poor taste. After he turned away, I would have felt the urge to remove his tip from your family's stack and put it with their plates.

                                              I recently dined at a cafeteria style restaurant, where a 10% gratuity was added to your check, as a waiter visited to assist with any questions and refill drinks. While we were still collecting our own food, our waiter was very attentive, pleasant, and checked if we wanted fresh drinks before we ran out. As someone who tips bare minimum of 20% for such service, 10% certainly wasn't enough. The 10% added to the check ended up being around two dollars, and I left another $2 on the table for good measure (the only cash I had on me). We basically ended up tipping $1 per glass of fountain soda. Some people don't even tip that well for a drink at a bar.

                                              And like any discount/coupon/promotion that may be applied to a meal, you tip on the VALUE of the meal, NOT the post-discounted amount. Buffets are typically inexpensive, such as was the regular price they would have charged for your experience. Kudos to you for being a little more generous, even though you didn't fill yourselves like your friends did. You certainly did the right thing!