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When your dining companion stiffs the waitstaff

Having worked in the restaurant business, I am always sensitive to tipping waiters / waitresses appropriately - i.e. always at least 20%, even for subpar service, unless my experience was just all-around flat-out horrible, because I don't want to screw over the host / barstaff / porters / etc.

So my question is - what should you do if the person you are dining with tips unfairly? There are different factors at play, for example when we split the bill and my companion says they are tipping lower due to x or y factor, I usually surreptitiously make up the difference on my own tip.

But how about when your companion picks up the entire bill? For instance: The other night I was out with a friend visitng from out of town. I took him to one of my favorite restaurants in the city, where I am a regular, and am on a first-name basis with most of the staff (both front + back of house). After our meal he offered to pick the entire bill. I protested; he insisted; so I thanked him and offered to get the next one.

Then he made some comment about mentally doing the math for a 12% tip. I would've thought that was low even for barely-acceptable service, but, per usual for this particular restaurant, the service we had had that evening was absolutely splendid - they sent out plates and desserts on the house; the bar sent over cocktails; the chef came out to greet us after our meal.

I felt particularly crappy about it because this was sorta like, "my place", you know? When I come here I usually tip well above 20% (to make up for some of the food they always send over gratis). I thought about slipping the waiter some cash on our way out the door but didn't have an opportunity to do it in a way that my companion wouldn't witness.

What would you have done? Tip more the next time you go? Apologize to the waitstaff later? Asked your companion to leave a higher tip?? I didn't want to make him feel like a cheapskate or insult him after he so graciously paid for my meal. Gah.

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  1. i've had the exact same experience.

    i went back alone the following night and was able to find the server in order to "make it up" to her.

    from then on, i tell everyone that whenever we go to any restaurant on my regular rotation, that "it is my personal policy" to do the tipping at all such restaurants.

    they can speculate all they want as to why, but i always tell people this whenever they offer to pay.
    it's just my "policy."

    4 Replies
    1. re: westsidegal

      Interesting! Do you do this at places where you aren't a regular? I was just wondering if you went back the following day if the server would recognize you, if you weren't at the restaurant often.

      1. re: sharebear

        haven't thought about what i'd do going in if the restaurant was not on my rotation.

        after the fact, i still would have returned to try to find the server and make it up to him/her. it really doesn't matter to me if THEY recognize ME.
        as long as I can recognize THE SERVER, i can make things right.

        1. re: sharebear

          I would go back even if I wasn't a regular. In fact, I did this a few years ago when I realized later that night that I'd grossly miscalculated the tip (which I'd written on my credit card receipt, as proof of my ignorance...). I stopped by the restaurant the next day with "make-up" tip cash in a sealed envelope with the server's name, asked for the manager since the server wasn't there, and explained the situation. She was absolutely flabbergasted that I'd come back!

        2. re: westsidegal

          I like that suggestion, and I'm going to try to keep it in mind! :)

        3. When he offered to pick up the entire bill, you could have insisted on leaving the tip, even though you didn't know at that point whether he would tip properly. Like you, I thought the 12% tip was a thing of the long ago past. Your companion obviously isn't a cheapskate or he wouldn't offer to buy your dinner, so he must just not know any better. Too bad - I'll bet he doesn't get the stellar service you do.

          1. I don't care what my DC would notice. I would tip, in cash, and with gratitude.

            1. When it's a place where I'm a regular, and someone's treating, I ask to get the tip, and I will say "I come here frequently, and because they treat me like family, I always make sure I show my appreciation with a tip that is larger than most people usually pay, so please, allow me to get the tip."

              If they won't let me, but I'm aware that they're tipping lower than I normally would, I excuse myself to go to the ladies room (with my purse in hand), and then ask a staff member to get the FOH manager or a trusted bartender or my waitperson, and give them extra.

              1 Reply
              1. re: LindaWhit

                This is a really good idea. Straightforward and not making it sound as though anyone is doing anything wrong - i think that's what I'll do going forward.

              2. 20% for subpar service? Seems to be perpetuating the problem

                3 Replies
                1. re: BiscuitBoy

                  What do you mean by perpetuating the problem? I tip at least 20% because I'm aware that at most places, tips are collectively split between many different people (bartenders, barbacks, porters, etc.), most of whom had nothing to do with subpar service provided by one person (the waiter).

                  1. re: sharebear

                    If your service sucks, and you tip 20%, you give your waitron the impression he/she is doing a good job. I can't begin to wonder or worry about how the lousy server is tipping out support staff, and frankly that's not my concern. I cannot save the world with my turkey club

                    1. re: BiscuitBoy

                      I guess I think about it differently. In my opinion my tipping lower is not going to change their behavior and I'd rather not punish the entire house in order to teach one person a lesson.

                      Of course that's not the case if all-around it was a terrible experience. There was once a horrible experience that began with a half hour wait for a glass of water and ending with the owner screaming and cursing at my friend for refusing to pay an automatic 18% gratuity tacked on to the bill. We left no tip.

                2. My FIL is quite frugal when it comes to tipping, I've made it a practice, when he insists on paying, to bring cash, shake the hand of the server and pawn the cash to them when I leave.

                  1. Wouldn't have crossed my mind to do anything .

                    1. I have slipped a $20 under my plate more than once, because of under tippers and rude behavior... I used to tend bar part time....

                        1. re: Karl S

                          But do they have a pension plan and benefits?

                        2. Just curious why your friend thinks 12% is acceptable?
                          Does he live in Europe?

                          If he lives in the USA, he knows its your 'go to' place and he leaves a tip like that?
                          IMO, he sounds to me like a bit of a Dbag.

                          I would call the Mgr immediately and ask if you could drop off an additional cash tip to the waiter who got basically stiffed by your cheap ass friend.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Beach Chick

                            I have no idea. He's from the US, but i think it's maybe because he's from a state where minimum wage is minimum wage for everyone, not just for non-tipped employees, so he doesn't get that tip = base income for service staff? /shrug

                          2. <<<<<<<<What would you have done?>>>>>>>>

                            Handled right then and there on the spot!!! Boom!!! There are numerous ways you could have accomplished it.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Uncle Bob

                              sometimes a person is caught off guard (normally only once or twice) so then the question becomes what to do after the fact.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                Frankly my dear, I don't have a problem with your approach........once or twice. :)

                              2. re: Uncle Bob

                                I agree with @uncleBob.

                                Depending upon the relationship with the friend...

                                "12%? I thought the service was great. I usually tip 20% or so. Let me take care of that for us. Thanks for dinner!"


                                "I just love this place and come back a lot. I'm going to throw in another $10 / $20 / $50."

                                One is instructive to the friend. Both take care to properly tip the staff. None of this secret stuff.

                                Though if I didn't have cash on me (which is often), I don't know how I'd handle. Probably next time I visited, I'd apologize and leave some more.

                              3. along with offering to get the tip, and surreptitiously slipping cash under the plate, I've also invented last-minute dashes to the ladies' room (oh, it's a long drive...) and dropped cash on the table as I walk past. I've even caught up with the waitperson and handed it directly to them.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  Those are all great ideas, but like I said in the thread I started about this very subject... sometimes the cards are completely stacked against you and not a single one of those opportunities arise. That's what happened to me, and believe me, I was wracking my brain to figure something out in those last minutes.

                                  After reading my thread, I came to the conclusion that you just make up for it next time. Even if it isn't the exact same place or waiter... the universe will understand your good intentions and eventually someone will pay it forward to the waiter that got stiffed.

                                  1. re: gardencook

                                    I promise, nobody dares get in the way of my bladder. :) and nobody gives it a second thought that I might need to powder my nose.

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      In my case, my cousin came to the restroom, which was right at the exit doors. How do you sneak back through a maze of dining rooms to get back to the table when your dining companion is right there with you? You can't. It's not about the bladder, but the strategic placement of the restroom, which, in my case was not conducive to my plan.

                                      Sometimes, you just have to let it go. But we're talking about tipping and chowhound, so even those $2 that were not offered up to the deserving waiter are a mortal sin and we'll all go to chowhound hell for it if we make that mistake to not make it up to him/her.

                                    2. re: gardencook

                                      If they know you as a regular then they also remember that YOU tip well- a simple continuation of your own previous behaviors will ensure they will continue to take care of you. I am sure your waiter would appreciate additional tip from that evening but odds are by now he already forgot about it altogether and will appreciate your generosity next time he waits on you.

                                    3. re: sunshine842

                                      That was my standard when I was a kid - Dad would pay and Mother would slip me some extra cash to leave. I would always go to the ladies before leaving the restaurant and they would go ahead to start the car. Father never caught on.

                                    4. I probably would have said "12% is too low. Here, let me add some money."

                                      Tipping 12% is being a cheapskate, imo.