Dear Salty: My wife and I and another couple recently completed our annual Christmas tradition of going to a nice, high-end steakhouse. Long story short, after a couple Manhattans and several glasses of Malbec, the bill came and I woefully under-tipped accidentally, thanks to my drunken math. I woke up the next morning and realized my mistake, and feel awful for stiffing the young lady who provided outstanding service the entire night.
What is the etiquette here? Go back and give her the rest of the tip? Send it in a Christmas card? Never show my face there again?
Bad At Math
Dear Bad At Math,
As far as waking up hungover after a double-date and realizing you’ve made a big mistake, yours isn’t the absolute worst-case scenario. But it definitely still sucks for that nice gal who gave your table “outstanding” service and got a, what, 5-percent tip in return? And around the holidays, no less?
I’m not trying to make you feel guiltier than you already do, I’m just pointing out that around the holidays especially, we servers are counting on every last dime of your generosity. Road-trip gas and nieces’ Barbie Dream Houses don’t buy themselves.
I do think you should try to make good by your kind server, so here’s what I—The Ghost Of Tipping Past—suggest: Get some cash from the ATM, stick it in an envelope, drive to the restaurant, and try to give that young lady the rest of her tip. (Hopefully you have her name from your receipt?) There’s a chance she won’t be working that night, of course, in which case you’ll have to take your chances and leave it with a manager, or try to come back again when she’s working. Explain your error, and you’ll absolved. Math mistakes happen, and she’ll be grateful that you righted the wrong.
You could also try returning to the restaurant, sitting at one of her tables, and leaving a fat tip in compensation for your earlier screw-up, but I think that’s riskier. 1) She might not be working on a certain night. 2) She might not get assigned your table. 3) She might remember your kiss-off tip and slack on her service. What then?
If you make your best effort to right your mistake, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t go back to the restaurant. Some people knowingly tip like assholes, and somehow they’re still allowed out in public.
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