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Feb 26, 2014 10:41 AM

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.