Ask the Refugee – Sure Why Not?

My dearest Refugee,

Please help.

I am a regular at my local bar. It is a place where everyone knows your name, and, in most cases, your drink. As a result of my friendships with the bartenders, my tab is never what my tab should be. In fact, my tab is normally $7. I might have 3 glasses of wine, 4 rum and cokes. Doesn’t matter. My tab is normally $7. As a rule of thumb, I leave a $20 tip.

My problem arises when friends join me for a drink. Well, one friend in particular. One night this week, we met for a drink. He had 2 rounds, I had 3. When the tab came, he offered to pick it up. It was $11. He tipped $5. FIVE DOLLARS! Our tab easily should have been $35, which means that at 20% the bartender would have walked away with $7. And my friend tipped $5. Even if he had tipped $20, the charge still would have been under what the tab should have been.

I’m so embarrassed that he’s shafting my bartenders, my friends! What’s a girl to do?

Dear Girl with a Cheap Friend,

Your issue isn’t so much a question of tipping etiquette as it is a friend etiquette quandary.

Some explanations for those who aren’t serious bar regulars.

GCF’s tab is so preposterously low because the bartender(s) has decided that she’s good for the bar.  She’s the kind of guest who brings other people into the bar, and makes people who are already there want to stay a little longer.  That and/or he’s trying to sleep with her (subsequent conversations with GCF via gChat eliminated that option.)

Further gChat conversation indicated that GCF’s CF has done this on more than one occasion, and knows that he is being “taken care of.”

GCF, I feel for you – I’ve been in your situation and the bartender’s situation as well.  I can assure you that your bartender knows exactly what happened and is not assigning blame to you for the low tip.  There are a few options for you.

  • Don’t drink with cheap people once you’ve learned that s/he is cheap.
  • Have a difficult conversation with your friend to alert him to your discomfort with this tooltastic behavior.
  • Don’t let him get any tabs and eventually have a difficult conversation when he asks you why.
  • Find a way to slip back into the bar – “I forgot to tell my bartender something” – and slip him some extra cash.

I am inclined to think that the first two are the best of the available options as the last two are incredibly passive responses.  Assuming you don’t wish to get rid of this friend over this issue, how do you have that conversation?

With any awkward discussion, I am a fan of having a script in my head if not on paper.  The script need be no more formal than a rough outline of the points you need to make.  No one wants to have to revisit this issue because you forgot something and writing them down will help crystallize the points and maybe illuminate new ones.

Just like you would never talk your partner about a sexual issue right before you were about to have sex, find a non-related moment to talk with him, and no accusations, just conversation, and never have these talks in front of others – ever*.

I would refer you to the Refugee Guide to Fighting Fairly for more information.



p.s. I am looking forward to writing a general tipping guide, and frankly cannot believe that I haven’t written one already.  Expect it soon.

* interventions are an obvious exception.


13 Responses to Ask the Refugee – Sure Why Not?

  1. Would it be too passive aggressive to send a link to this posting in an email to any offending parties?

    Just a bit, but because I can be an attention whore, absolutely not too much.

  2. titania says:

    I would add another option, which is a variation of the last one. Instead of sneaking back, do it right there in front of the friend, tell him that you are covering “part” of the tip since you know you are being taken care of. If you do that in a normal, non accusatory tone, maybe the friend is going to take a hint for next time?

    I agree your idea is another, and valid, option. However, I think that most people would be off-put by such a display no matter how well intentioned and non-accusatory one’s tone.

  3. k8 says:

    This makes me even more glad that I no longer drink. I hate the conflict this presents.

    Some of the worst arguments I ever witnessed in restaurants were about the check.

  4. Jean says:

    To add to Titania – my very wise bartender friend once pointed out that, if one person pays the tab, it’s gracious of the other to offer to pay the tip. It seems like a, “Since you got the drinks, let me take care of the tip,” would be an easy way to go.

    I would disagree with this. If I am paying a tab, it’s because I wish to host my friends, colleagues, etc. I wouldn’t be offended if someone made the offer, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider it gracious.

  5. Brando says:

    This is why among friends sometimes it’s better for everyone to have separate checks. If one person chooses to be cheap it shouldn’t reflect on everyone else.

    I would disagree on this point, too. Separate checks are a pain in the arse for servers and bartenders, and for my friends and me this has never been a problem.

  6. Alice says:

    uuurggh i found myself in a similar situation, except the other party was my old boss/mentor, so there was no good way for me to say something or correct the error at the time. i think i ended up going back to the bar the next day and re-tipping. 😛

    That is an awkward situation and I you handled it about as well as could be expected.

  7. brad says:

    I like door #1. Door #2 is ideal, but cheap people like being told they’re being cheap about as much as they like tipping well.


  8. LiLu says:

    I’m with brad. Avoidance is, unfortunately, more effective than education in this instance.

    You and I share an industry perspective on this which is, I think, why cheap people offend us more than most.

  9. lacochran says:

    I’ve found people that insist on always dramatically overtipping just as annoying as the people who insist on cheaping out.

    I agree that people who make a show out of it are incredibly annoying.

  10. Ugh to cheap and clueless people.

    The plank I say, the plank!

  11. Uhg! I’d do the conversation. Definitely. Shafting the staff pisses me OFF!!!!

    I have to say that I wouldn’t bother only because I consider deliberate cheapness to be a substantive character flaw.

  12. Rule One on any tipping guide: if you can’t afford a tip, you probably should’ve gone to McDonalds.


  13. Fast50 says:

    As much as I’d like to see an RR tipping guide, I’d hope there wouldn’t be a need for more than a few words. How complicated is this?
    – Tip 20%. That’s $1 for every $5, or $2 for every $10.
    – Every check
    – $1 per drink is an acceptable alternative in most bars
    – Exception: there was a grievous error in service. Go as low as 5%
    – Exception: things were great and/or drinks were free. Commence showering twenties upon the staff in question.

    I would caution that $1/drink or 20% of the tab whichever is greater is the standard for bars… and water is a drink.

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