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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.