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When it comes to tipping, my father-in-law is Scrooge Add to ...

The question

Last weekend, my in-laws took us out for dinner to a nice restaurant. The food was plentiful, the wine was flowing. But I noticed they left a pretty small tip: 10 per cent. And the wait staff really hustled. So I put a few more bills on the table when I thought my father-in-law wasn't noticing. But outside the restaurant, he whispered, "I guess you think I'm cheap, huh?" I stammered something and we ducked home. I didn't tell my wife. We'll be spending the holidays with them. Can I pretend it never happened?

The answer

Before I answer, please allow me, in the spirit of the season, to share a moment from Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.

Ebenezer Scrooge is approached by two gentlemen soliciting a charitable contribution from either him or his partner, Jacob Marley. When Scrooge informs them Marley is dead, one of them says: "We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner."

What follows is priceless, methinks: "At the ominous word 'liberality,' Scrooge frowned, and shook his head." When they press him further, he dismisses them by saying: "Good afternoon, gentlemen!"

Now, I'm the first to admit that my inner Scrooge clenches his coins all the tighter in fingerless gloves and rails at the prices, especially the wine markups, in restaurants - particularly at this time of the year, when all you seem to do is push out the dough like a bank machine.

But I've also been a waiter. The base pay is execrable, because restaurant owners expect you'll make most of your money in tips. If you don't, you have to eat ramen noodles and the only Christmas present you can afford to give your children is a dollar-store bag of plastic green army men.

Now, some might say that, since your father-in-law was paying, a) you should be awash in gratitude and silence, and b) the transaction should be between him and the staff of the restaurant.

I don't agree. A lousy tip reflects on everyone at the table. By offering to pay, your father-in-law implicitly takes on all obligations and appurtenances attached thereunto (sorry, it's the Dickens influence), including leaving a decent gratuity.

It would be one thing if the service were poor. But sounds like it was excellent.

And you'd have to build a pretty expensive time machine (and don't forget to tip the time-machine operator!) to travel back to an era when 10 per cent was the norm. I dimly remember my Dad whipping out a calculator and calculating a 15-per-cent tip and it all seeming normal (including the calculator - it might be my imagination, but a lot of fathers whipped out calculators in restaurants in those Ye Olden Days).

But 10 per cent? The last time 10 per cent was the norm, I think people were riding in horse-drawn buggies and reading A Christmas Carol in serialized form.

Basically, I think you did the right thing. If no one else saw your little tip bump, then you didn't rebuke or publicly shame him in any way. But you got your message across.

To answer your question, I would not "pretend it never happened." But in the interests of keeping peace on earth in general, I would allude to this incident no further. Just drop it, sir, and I'm sure he will too.

(I would tell your wife, though: One should tell one's wife almost everything, IMHO - it's just a smarter long-term strategy.)

And if The Ghost of This Lousy Tip Past haunts your father-in-law and gives him night sweats for a while, maybe it'll change his Scrooge-like ways and his future tips will be more likely to be characterized by their (ahem) "liberality."

Good afternoon, gentlemen!

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control, the book, was released in March.

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