The unwritten tipping rule that I never knew about
July 7, 2015 9:23 PM   Subscribe

Did I break some unwritten tipping rule when I "generously" tipped on a free meal?

So a relative owns a restaurant where we go to from time to time, and typically we get a few items paid for and are billed for the rest.

Tonight the relative graciously informed us that the entire meal was on the house.
After some mild arguing, we accepted, but also left the waiter a tip.

I tend to be a very generous tipper, especially for good service, and this was good service. I tipped 30% on what I quickly calculated to be the total bill. I'm also very discreet, don't brag or gloat, and really the only person who knows about how I tip is Mrs. Bitteroldman. It's just something I like to do, because I want to reward outstanding service, I'm in a good financial position to do so, and to acknowledge the fact that a few years back, I couldn't afford over-the-counter pain medication for a toothache and I just happened to get lucky in life.

Anyway, I tipped, thought nothing of it, and made my way home. I guess the waiter told my relative about the tip; the relative told the spouse and the next thing I know, I'm getting an earful of "who do you think you are?", "we're not the Kennedys", etc.

When I asked what was so offensive about what I did, the response was that because I got a free meal, by tipping generously, I was saying that I didn't need the owner to give me the free meal and I was trying to show them up.

This doesn't make sense to me because the "transaction" was between me and the waiter. How does my tip reflect on what I think about the owners? Note that this is NOT an establishment where the bill includes the tip. It's possible that the tips might be shared among all the wait staff and kitchen, but I'm not sure.

So did I do something wrong? If so, can you explain to me what I did wrong, hopefully in ways that are more gentle than the expletive-riddled rant I had to deal with this evening?
posted by bitteroldman to Food & Drink (54 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: the relative told the spouse
just to clarify, the relative told his/her spouse, who then gave me the earful.

My own spouse, Mrs. Bitteroldman, seems to be just as confused as I am.
posted by bitteroldman at 9:25 PM on July 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah you're good.

As a server I always heavily tipped on meals I was comped and frequently received the same. Just because your meal was free doesn't mean the server shouldn't get paid.

You did the right thing.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:27 PM on July 7, 2015 [67 favorites]

Your behavior was VERY NICE. Entirely appropriate. The only exception might be if the owner served you themselves and you didn't interact with waitstaff, but it doesn't sound like that was the case. anyone who makes you feel badly for this is acting rude and weird.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 9:28 PM on July 7, 2015 [16 favorites]

You are absolutely in the right. At my old bar the owner would be mortified if his family didn't tip well on what he comped. He'd also give me a twenty cause he was an ok guy who appreciated the transactional nature of the server/patron relationship.
posted by stormygrey at 9:28 PM on July 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

Yeah, that's crazy. It's perfectly fine for the owner to give you a free meal. It's way not okay for the owner to make his employees give you a free meal. By making a big deal out of the tip, the owner is demanding his employees work without normal pay. You're right, he's nuts.
posted by jclarkin at 9:28 PM on July 7, 2015 [23 favorites]

The only way I could see your relative and his/her spouse being embarrassed by you tipping your server is if they took it as you implying that they don't pay their waitstaff enough (which they probably don't, because no restaurant does).

You did a kind and conscientious thing. The restaurant owner and their spouse are out of line.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 9:29 PM on July 7, 2015

Maybe you miscalculated the actual bill and tipped closer to 50+%? Regardless, tipping is a good thing.
posted by AugustWest at 9:32 PM on July 7, 2015

Yeah, something's going on there that's entirely apart from the tipping issue. I would have done exactly what you did (if I could afford it).
posted by WesterbergHigh at 9:32 PM on July 7, 2015

What you did is more or less the industry standard, one or both of these people are crazy or have some strange grudge against you, also maybe a form of crazy. And what the hell do the Kennedys have to do with it?
posted by vrakatar at 9:36 PM on July 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Always tip on the full (or close to it) amount if you've been comped or, more commonly, used a coupon.

(Next time you visit a place that takes Groupons, ask the wait staff about how pleasant that is for their personal income. )
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:40 PM on July 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

Yeah, you're fine, they're being weird. Though I tend to wonder if they aren't skimming the staff's tips, to know exactly how much you left like that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:40 PM on July 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

by tipping generously, I was saying that I didn't need the owner to give me the free meal and I was trying to show them up.

That makes no sense. You didn't need the owner to give you the free meal. The reaction of the owner and their spouse is out of line and you are perfectly fine.
posted by the webmistress at 9:43 PM on July 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

It sounds like the owners are patronising you, in both senses of the term, wrt your financial situation. By leaving a generous tip you are saying that you have some money to share. This may make them feel less, um, superior? or something. Which is seriously their problem, not yours. I bet you don't get a full complimentary meal again soon, but that shouldn't bother you. You did good. They are strange.
posted by Thella at 9:43 PM on July 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

What you did is what people in the industry typically do. I end up getting a fair number of professional courtesy comps (or significantly discounts), and I always tip on my best guess of what the total should be.

Seconding Kadin, though. It's weird that they know the amount, weird that they brought it up, and weird that they were upset. Even if the server was tipped on the retail value of the check by the house (and the server should be, but probably wasn't), it's still a bizarre encounter all around.

tl;dr You did the right thing, they're crazy.
posted by builderofscience at 9:46 PM on July 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Well, you got their explanation already. Were you objectively wrong? I don't know - from the point of view of family relations, it's a question of etiquette, and that's down to family and possibly ethnic culture, momentarily disregarding the POV of labour relations / general fairness (and those points of view may well be opposed, obviously).

In general, gifts that are met with immediate repayment (if that's how the tip was maybe perceived?) may be seen as undercutting the giver's generosity (and thereby their social rank). I think you were supposed to just be grateful for now and maybe do them a solid in like a year (on the anthropological theory of extended reciprocity as remembered by me), which would establish long-term trust. (Because no one would clearly have the upper hand over the long haul; you'd be in a prolonged state of mutual debt). That is (in some places) family/social logic, though, not restaurant-industry-in-America logic. Sounds like they're applying the first here.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:52 PM on July 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

You did the right thing. I think the relative has some weird attitude regarding his servers that I am not going to speculate about.

You always, always, always tip the servers when you get a free meal. One of the reasons for this is that you want the servers to be happy about it when you get a free meal, not have their attitude be, "oh, crap, it's that owner's relative. We're going to get stiffed on this."
posted by deanc at 9:53 PM on July 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

the response was that because I got a free meal, by tipping generously, I was saying that I didn't need the owner to give me the free meal and I was trying to show them up.

this is amongst the silliest things i have ever heard. you're all good.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:54 PM on July 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

Doesn't the tip generally go towards the server, not the restaurant/owners?? They are being ridiculous if they think the money was intended for them instead of the waitstaff.

You are perfectly in the right here.
posted by littlesq at 10:13 PM on July 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

OMG. Even if your meal is free, the waiter/ess will not get anything over server wage for waiting on you. (In my state it's $2.25 an hour.) The tip is based on service, usually calcluated at a percentage of the actual price, not on whether the meal was free or disocunted or whatever. For example, if someone had a coupon for $10.00 off an $11.00 meal, it would be super shitty to calcualte a tip at $1 instead of the full $11.

You did the right thing.
posted by mibo at 10:18 PM on July 7, 2015 [9 favorites]

To be hyper-redundant at this point, when I was a waiter in a former life, tipping on comped meals was normal, expected, needed and appreciated. Owner is acting weird.
posted by univac at 10:35 PM on July 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

are you all of the same culture/ethnicity?
posted by aielen at 11:16 PM on July 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

because I got a free meal, by tipping generously, I was saying that I didn't need the owner to give me the free meal and I was trying to show them up.

That is some seriously crazypants paranoid insecure weirdo shit right there. You did the gracious, most utterly polite and respectful thing by tipping the waitstaff generously for a comped meal.

How would tipping (i.e. "paying a share of the waiter's wages because otherwise he makes only $2.13/hr " presuming you're in the US) be understood to be a secret communiqué to the owner that you're showing him up? Whut?

Gods, the poor waitstaffperson probably told the owner so that owner could be proud of what a class act his relatives are, and instead you're getting spanked for it.
posted by desuetude at 11:18 PM on July 7, 2015 [12 favorites]

Yeah, the wait staff (and whoever they have to tip out) doesn't work any less on a meal comped by the owner, so unless the owner already covers lost tips on comped meals (hahahaha as if), it's between you and the wait staff.
Unless you're in a country where one doesn't tip because servers are paid a genuine living wage (like Australia). Then the politics around showing off with money can get complicated. But in the US? Where in lots of states, wait staff are barely paid because of the expectation of tips? Yeah, you're fine.
posted by gingerest at 11:32 PM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your best course of action here is to write a really gracious note thanking your relative for the wonderful meal and apologizing for any misunderstanding about the tip, and that your intentions were to show your appreciation. That's your truth taken care of. Their reactions are on them.
posted by gt2 at 11:34 PM on July 7, 2015 [13 favorites]

When gifted the meal, or discounted by a coupon, or bringing your own wine, the norm is to tip based on the normal price, not the discounted price.

The only time you don't pay a tip on a discount is when it is comped because of low quality/error, and even then it would depend on how it is handled IMO/what the problem was.

Is it possible the owner paid and tipped on your behalf, thinking you would of course assume they handled the whole bill? This is the only scenario where i understand their action.

if that is possible, I'd follow gt2's advice and say you are sorry, you didn't realize they paid for the meal *and* the tip, how overwhelmingly generous of them!
posted by chapps at 11:42 PM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds like the waiter was not part of the family? I've always heard that you don't tip the owners. But if the waiter is just an employee and not a part-owner, then yeah, you'd be considered rude not to tip based on the uncomped check.
posted by ctmf at 11:48 PM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Like chapps, above, I'm assuming the bill was already tipped as part of the comping. My parents own a restaurant, and that's how the managers generally handle my bills--tipping on top of the bill would be weird, since the staff are already getting their 25%.
posted by zinful at 11:53 PM on July 7, 2015

Is it possible that what was said to your wife was meant as kind of a joke? Like, "har har, such a generous tip! People are gonna think you didn't even, like, need a handout, har har, what are youse guys, like, the Kennedys or something? Seriously, nice tip..." Only much more drily delivered to your wife, who couldn't read the humor because that humorous intent was possibly mixed with some weird unrelated resentment/competitive impulse by her relative or in-law?
posted by amtho at 12:01 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

... I always thought that tipping generously on a free meal was what you're SUPPOSED to do (assuming that the service was good) so whomever is giving you a hard time about it is just making shit up.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:08 AM on July 8, 2015

I'm not even from a tipping culture, but I would give a good tip on a free meal. After all, it's the manager giving up his profit to give you the meal - the waiter isn't choosing to go without a tip. So yeah your relative is bonkers.
I wonder if this is revealing something like the waiters have to hand all tips over to management for some reason (either for splitting between all staff or the management takes a cut)? Otherwise I don't get why the waiter would tell the manager.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:16 AM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

This isn't about the tip. This is about something else entirely; possibly other intrafamily drama, or possibly something you're totally uninvolved in (e.g., EndsOfInvention's point about it revealing something shady), and someone was looking (perhaps subconsciously) to start a fight.

So now you're in one of the three phases of Being Mad At Family:
1 -- Mad because you did a Thing. This is typically the shortest phase, and they're probably out of it already. The way out of this is to apologize for doing the Thing (regardless of whether you are actually sorry).
2 -- Mad because of how you reacted to them being mad about the Thing. This one lasts a little longer, and often features the mad person seeking support from others ("Am I the asshole here?"), often because they know they were wrong to get mad in the first place ("Sure, it was just a mistake, but did he have to say that?"). The way out of this is to apologize for being an asshole (again, regardless of whether you think you were); apologizing for the Thing isn't enough.
3 -- Mad because they were mad at you yesterday. This phase can last for literally centuries and break families apart. And there is no way out of Phase 3 for you. Even if you apologize for the Thing and for being an asshole, it's not enough, because you can't change them being mad at you yesterday. Nothing you do at this point can be enough until the other person just decides not to be mad at you anymore.

Right now, your worst problem is that you legitimately don't know which phase you're in, because this isn't about the Thing. But it's probably Phase 2, which is actually good, because you don't need to know what you're apologizing for. Just apologize for being an asshole generally, and if that isn't enough, then it was never going to be enough anyway.
posted by Etrigan at 2:42 AM on July 8, 2015 [17 favorites]

A good friend was chef for a fancy restaurant in NYC. We would go there a couple of times a year and he'd send us lots of things from the kitchen in addition to what we ordered. We always tipped on what the cost would have been if we'd been paying for everything he sent us.

Your relatives are acting strangely.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:02 AM on July 8, 2015

Also not from a tipping culture here, but perhaps there is some offense taken that you took a free meal from them and then tipped the waiter? (Meaning you should maybe have paid for the meal anyway?). Just speculating.
posted by ryanbryan at 3:56 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Dude, weird. In my friendship group it's common to leave some money even if you only ordered water. The waiter still had to wait on you, regardless of what you actually paid on the item.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:32 AM on July 8, 2015

When I waited tables, I once served a family (likewise, friends or relatives of the owner) who got a big comped meal, were a demanding table, and didn't tip a cent. I think I mentioned it indignantly to the cheapass owner, who didn't apologize or make amends. I felt so burned that I remember it almost fifteen years later.
posted by the_blizz at 5:15 AM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

Unless your waiter was also a relative, tipping was the appropriate thing to do. If you have a coupon/discount/free meal/etc, you are supposed to tip on the pre-discount price.
posted by jeather at 6:01 AM on July 8, 2015

Nthing... relatives are acting very strangely, assuming you interacted with non-family waitstaff or took up a table that waitstaff would normally wait on.

Amtho's suggestion that it was a joke that somehow lost context might be worth asking your spouse about. But I'm afraid Ethrigan's analysis of family dynamics seems very true to my life experience.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:19 AM on July 8, 2015

You are fine. I own a restaurant and when I eat there, I obviously eat free. However, I always leave a >20% tip on what the full price of the meal would have been. I find your relatives' behavior bizarre.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:27 AM on July 8, 2015

The only thing I can think of, is that by giving more than the typical tip, you are essentially transferring some of the "gift" that was given to you to the waiter. The owner doesn't benefit from this, but in some way might feel that the value of the gift to you has been reduced at his expense. A lot of people do employ some sort of gift accounting. So you've reduced your receipt but he still had to give the same amount. He wanted you to benefit, and if the waiter/waitress benefited, then he doesn't get credit for that.

I can see people I know being upset by this. Tipping the normal amount would be a good thing. I'm not saying I agree with this perspective, just sharing what they could be thinking.
posted by cacao at 7:43 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Must be some pride thing going on; you did the right thing. Maybe you way overestimated and tipped about what the meal would have been? Still not an excuse for the reaction, particularly the earful.
posted by kapers at 7:46 AM on July 8, 2015

only hypothesis I can think of - and this would explain the "Kennedys" part - is that the owner tipped the waiter already on the comped meal, not realizing that you would also tip. And then you tipped more. So you simultaneously "wasted" their money (the tip they didn't need to give) and showed them up (by giving a larger amount than they did.)

Like, owner went home and told wife spouse "well I coulda kept that $10 I gave to Waiter as it turned out, Relative thinks he's a celebrity and gave him $30 and now I feel cheap as well as silly, all because I did a nice thing for Relative and was trying to be conscientous towards Waiter." And spouse went on the warpath.

None of this is to say you did anything wrong obviously. Just musing this is maybe how it went down.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:59 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all for your answers! I feel better now. To be honest, what bothered me more was the high-volume, expletive-filled yelling that happened after when spouse came over, while my 6-year-old was in the other room (and this after constantly repeating that there is no yelling at anyone in our house). But that's another story.

I looked at the menu, calculated the cost of what we ate and it looks like I tipped 40%. I don't think it matters, but I want to be open here.

FYI. We're in Montreal, Canada, so tipping is definitely part of the culture, typically 15%; while it's nowhere near to being good money, minimum wage for waiters is a lot higher here compared to other places.

As for practices of other cultures and ethnicities, it's possible but I doubt it - we're all 1st-Generation Canadians all over 40. If there's any influencing culture, it's that one person thinks he's a character from a Mario Puzo novel, while the other one thinks she's a long-lost Kardashian sister (no offense to the Kardashians).

I also appreciate the other points of view - I don't believe there was any tip paid by the owner - during the friendly "argument", spouse told me that I can "just pay the tip". If there are any accounting practices that will impact what I did, how am I supposed to know about this?

Considering all this, I think I might have just inadvertently one-upped them (in spouse's mind).

Anyway, I'll call the relative/owner, say thanks again for the meal, apologize for any misunderstanding and end it there. Then again, maybe the owner doesn't care and it's all in the spouse's head. Who knows.

Thanks for the support!
posted by bitteroldman at 8:47 AM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Cousin, it was so generous of you to comp our meal, I was happy to pass along some good fortune. You know I/we love your meals.
posted by theora55 at 9:06 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have a friend whose father is a food critic and my husband has a friend whose son owns a restaurant. We've been comped for a lot of meals in the US and France and we were always told that a high-percentage tip (such as what you did) is customary. So that's what we always did and no one's ever raised an eyebrow.
posted by rada at 9:09 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

You didn't do anything wrong at all -- Spouse probably just feels insecure and/or jealous about the fact that you tip at a higher rate than they do. But that's not considered an OK opinion to express in public. Hence the invented justifications.
posted by ostro at 9:48 AM on July 8, 2015

Recently, I have actually seen some gentle reminders on printed gift certificates stating very politely that tipping for the actual cost of the meal (before application of the gift) is always appropriate. And that's the way I've always understood it.
posted by raisingsand at 12:55 PM on July 8, 2015

When I asked what was so offensive about what I did, the response was that because I got a free meal, by tipping generously, I was saying that I didn't need the owner to give me the free meal and I was trying to show them up.

Oh, and another other thing. WTF does she mean, you didn't "need" the owner to give you the free meal. Of course you didn't need it, it was a gift, a nicety, a favor.

Now, if this had been an act of charity because you're hungry and couldn't afford food, and then you turned around and tipped a huge amount, I guess that could seem a little awkward. But based on your description, that's definitely not the spirit in which the meal was comped.
posted by desuetude at 2:23 PM on July 8, 2015

If there's any influencing culture, it's that one person thinks he's a character from a Mario Puzo novel, while the other one thinks she's a long-lost Kardashian sister (no offense to the Kardashians).

No offense to restaurant owners, but they can be... peculiar... when it comes to the relationship with their staff members. Like some of them, particularly those with certain delusions of being a "gentleman restaurateur" start to believe they somehow "own" the waitstaff and that anything good that happens to the staff comes from them, the owners. By tipping them well, your relative and his wife may think that you "stepped out of bounds," by getting between the relationship between the owner and his staff... or, quite possibly, the spouse now worries that "if this guy shows he has enough money to tip well, the staff might get the impression we have enough money to pay/treat them better!" (which is my cynical take on what "we're not the Kennedys!" was about).

It seems like there's a lot of weird class tension going on between you, your relative, and the waitstaff.
posted by deanc at 2:34 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: update on my end: I called owner to thank for the meal again (which I was going to do anyway):

Me: Thanks again for the meal!
Owner: No problem, but you shouldn't have tipped what you did - it's like you paid for the whole meal.
Me (having previously calculated the amount): Well, wasn't it X$?
Owner: No, it was X/2.5
Me: Huh - I must have miscalculated. Sorry!
Me: (I'm not really sorry, hee hee)

And after reading deanc's comment, I realize hearing other comments in the past from these two that made me think that they don't think much about their staff.

I feel like we're all aristocrats living in Victorian England and I was too nice to their servants or something.

So, not only was there a difference in opinion on the total amount, but there is a more fundamental difference on the way we view the hired help. So I was way out of line in their minds. Still doesn't justify the earful I got, but just goes to show that money doesn't buy class.

I think they would have been less offended if I got wasted and yacked all over the other patrons.
posted by bitteroldman at 4:39 PM on July 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

No, that's nuts. It's inconsiderate of the waitstaff who have to do just as much work without all the social-capital interchange.

Former waitstaff here, and agree with everyone that this attitude reveals a really low-level, lousy way of thinking about their staff. You did right. It's always the right thing to do to tip any waitstaff/bartenders what would have been the full amount of a free or partially discounted meal.
posted by Miko at 7:44 PM on July 8, 2015

typically we get a few items paid for and are billed for the rest.

It seems possible that, in their minds, you were in what in the anthropological literature is referred to as a patron/client relationship. In such a relationship, wealth flows in one direction, often in a steady or intermittent drip or drizzle, often in the form of favors. What flows in the other direction is deference, praise, obedience, etc.

The patron-client model is often deployed by employers towards their employees -- regardless of whether the job is a sinecure, a fair exchange, or exploitative. By the way, our city used to have a Mexican restaurant where waitstaff were not allowed to keep tips unless the customer had actually put the money in the server's hand, rather than leaving it on the table.

"who do you think you are?"
You stepped out of the role they had assigned you, and thereby disrupted at one stroke both the roles they had assigned themselves, with respect to you and to their employees.

I agree with everyone that this attitude reveals a really low-level, lousy way of thinking about their staff.
Yeah, your relatives are ... not people I would want to owe favors to. If it were me, I would eat at a different restaurant.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:06 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


It sounds like your relatives didn't see your tip as a tip, and if that's the case this whole thing makes a lot more sense.

Tipping that amount could look like you're actually trying to pay for the meal (for the reasons alluded to in your posts), depending on how you did it (who did you leave it with, did you say *anything* when you left it, how was it left, etc etc etc). And if you were trying to pay (symbolically) for a meal that someone (who wants to be taken as your equal, clearly) has given you for free, you have rejected their gift and also told them through your actions that you don't see them as being able to afford a level of generosity that would put the two of you on relatively equal levels of power/competency/respect/etc (especially when you're in your relatives' home base).

Obviously, you did not mean this. And I think equally as obvious, their sensitivity is at an inappropriate level and probably something to be aware of in the future.

But! If that's is the case, here's what you do. You certainly don't have to, this is just what I would probably do if I were dealing with people who are a) this sensitive that b) I still wanted to be close with. Talk to your relatives. On the phone is probably fine.
1) Validate. Be conciliatory, the way you would be when you mess something up that isn't a huge deal but you still should have known better, and now you feel foolish. Mea culpa. You should not have known better, but this is how you help your relatives save face and recover their pride if they're willing. Tell them you didn't mean to show any disrespect or hurt their feelings. You have always appreciated how they treat you when you visit their restaurant and you value their kindness and generosity-- it's the furthest thing from your intention to disrespect that, suggest that you don't appreciate it, or be condescending or patronizing.
2) Reframe. Redirect the mistake. "Hey, the kid did a great job. [specifics about how good the table service was]" Pull your relatives in; help them value the service you got-- if you do it right they should wish they were there so they could have helped tip the kid themselves! "If I went overboard because my math is bad (Classic!! Your social mistake, focused on people, is redirected to be a practical one, focused on things). , I apologize-- it was a fantastic meal and the kid did a five star job of taking care of me and my wife. He made an already great night really special, I would have felt like an ass to not acknowledge that. The tip was for the kid and other staff who helped, not for anyone else. If I made myself look foolish (translation: if I made the two of you look bad in front of your staff) tell them I got my numbers mixed up and had a little too much wine. Again, I feel dumb. Thanks for telling me about it and not just sitting on my goof up. (translation: you value their respect and would be hurt to have them be condescending to you, also you're putting them in a position of authority by asking for their "forgiveness", which will help repair their sense of wounded pride)."
3) Don't Deviate from the Narrative. If they keep giving you static (and if I were in your shoes), I'd just keep saying, "Bobby, I know. This kid did [example], [example], and [example], he was *phenomenal*-- you would've done the same thing in my place."
"But you tipped him too much bitteroldman ."
"I know. I was dumb. But he was excellent, I had to take care of him. You would have done the same thing. I know I tipped him too much. But he was so good."

Wash, rinse, repeat. Done properly, you're not shifting blame onto the waitstaff, you're transforming your "vice" into virtue by redefining it (in your relatives eyes) as a response to something everyone can agree is positive. Your apology is now reframed-- you're asking forgiveness for being kind to their waitstaff (and doing bad math). Boom!

That should be enough to at least help your family feel comfortable communicating to you what they need to have their pride assuaged (if, somehow, that hasn't already happened). Next time, maybe tell your waiter that whatever you leave is between "you, me, and the guys you tip out, okay?"

This kind of social massage is not for everyone, but at the same time, I've never had it fail me. Do with it as you will.
posted by Poppa Bear at 7:08 AM on July 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: thanks, everyone for the input - it's clear that the relative and I looked at things with a different perspective which is why an act of generosity on my end was seen as a act of rejection on their end.

i'm fine with that, and I definitely regret hurting anyone's feelings, but I had hoped that it could have been handled differently. and in time, I hope they can see my perspective too!

then you left a 75% tip, which is close enough to the 100% total that it's not unreasonable for the owner to think you were trying to pay for a meal that was being offered for free.

here's the funny thing - i've never walked out of that place paying as little as the amount that was quoted to me; and I discreetly placed the tip in the waiter's hands. it's not like I left the cash on the table, or told the waiter to give it to the owner.


when i've known these people for 16 years, have graciously accepted other gifts from them in the past and have generously tipped their waitstaff in the past (on paid meals), i'm not sure why the combination of free meal and over-tipping led to such a reaction.

whatever - that's life - I screwed up - and what's done is done.
thanks again! it's going to be very weird going there again. i think i'll just order tap water next time.
posted by bitteroldman at 9:19 AM on July 9, 2015

I am not in any way condoning the owner/his wife for being total dramaqueen weirdos about this whole situation. The lashing of you was fucking rude, period. But, I will say that tipping SUPER-DUPER extravagantly on a fairly pricey meal -- like 50% or more -- is socially a little weird and awkward without some sort of explanation.

Examples of Explanations:
- I'm a celebrity.
- I'm ridiculously touched by something you said or did, for utterly personal reasons; you may or may not have quite picked up on the fact that you redeemed my faith in humanity just when I REALLY needed it.
- You did some sort of unusual favor/pulled some strings for me.
- There was some sort of unpleasant or awkward personal drama at my table and you weathered the situation incredibly graciously.

If the server really has NO idea why you would tip crazy high, it seems like it might be a mistake, and that really is horribly awkward.
posted by desuetude at 12:00 AM on July 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

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