Three Questions About Money and Ethics

Lady Kemma recently wrote with a question about money and ethics:

Last week I went out with my work department. After feeding 30 people, all with individual checks, I left the harried waitress a generous tip. My colleague said, “You're leaving too much tip.” I said, “The poor lady earned it.” I left the money on the cash tray and got up to leave. My colleague proceeded to take some of the money off my cash tray and put it in her pocket. Since I only have to deal with this lady once a year, I let it go. Thoughts?

Dilemmas like this fascinate me. There are so many things going on at once, it's difficult to make a smart decision on the spot. I like to think I would have challenged my colleague — I've waited tables, and if I leave a tip for someone, nobody had better touch it. On the other hand, I'm often afraid to make a scene, so maybe I would have kept my mouth shut. I don't know. Just two hours after Lady Kemma sent her question, Kris and I faced a similar situation, but in reverse.

I took Kris to lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant last Saturday. The bill was $10.25. I left a $1.75 tip. “That's not enough,” Kris said. “Why not?” I asked. “There's a certain minimum you need to leave, no matter what the bill,” she told me. “That's crazy,” I said. “I usually leave $6 when I order a $4.50 lunch on my own. That's 33%!” When we got up to leave, she put an extra $2 on the table. Is there a minimum tip amount? What is it? (I'm not asking about 10%, 15%, 20% — I'm asking about actual dollars and cents.)

Finally, from the September 2005 Boston Review, here's one of my favorite money dilemmas:

Mike is supposed to be the best man at a friend's wedding in Maine this afternoon. He is carrying the wedding rings with him in New Hampshire, where he has been staying on business. One bus a day goes directly to the coast. Mike is on his way to the bus station with 15 minutes to spare when he realizes that his wallet has been stolen, and with it his bus tickets, his credit cards, and all his forms of ID.

At the bus station Mike tries to persuade the officials, and then a couple of fellow travelers, to lend him the money to buy a new ticket, but no one will do it. He's a stranger, and it's a significant sum. With five minutes to go before the bus's departure, he is sitting on a bench trying desperately to think of a plan. Just then, a well-dressed man gets up for a walk, leaving his jacket, with a bus ticket to Maine in the pocket, lying unattended on the bench. In a flash, Mike realizes that the only way he will make it to the wedding on time is if he takes that ticket. The man is clearly well off and could easily buy himself another one.

Should Mike take the ticket?

The “correct” answer to this final moral dilemma varies from culture-to-culture. In the U.S., most people would say, “No, Mike should not take the ticket.” But, as the article explains, in other parts of the world, an overwhelming majority of people believe the right thing to do is for Mike to take the ticket — personal relationships and contractual obligations are more important. (The Boston Review article isn't about personal finance, but it's absolutely fascinating — read it if you have a chance.)

More about...Psychology

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ryan
ryan
12 years ago

#1. i would have asked the lady for the money back. if i decide to give it to the waiter, thats my decision. i did not decide to give the colleague the money. if i wanted to , i would have handed it to her. 2. there is no minimum, it runs by %. otherwise why wouldnt you go out for a nicer lunch all of the time, you will be paying for it anyways. 3. i might take the ticket, but i dont say that this is the right thing. this is just how i am, and it wouldnt… Read more »

Susy
Susy
12 years ago

My husband and I always tip generously. We usually share meals at restaurants and drink water. So our bill is usually aroudn $10 or $15, but we usually tip as if we ordered separate meals. Granted we only eat out once a month or so.

I feel that being generous is part of good money management. Often when we start being frugal we can go too far and saving money becomes too important to us. I want to save money so I can be generous when an opportunity comes up.

tuesday
tuesday
12 years ago

Outrageous that the colleague stole the money! She might as well have pinched it straight from LK’s wallet!

Brett McKay
Brett McKay
12 years ago

#1- I would have told the lady off. It’s not her business how much I tip. #2. I think it depends. When I worked as a waiter in undergrad, our restaurante would have .99 draw happy hour. People would come in and order tons of beer but no food. I had to work my butt of pouring and bringing their brew to them. If there was a table of 4 and each one ordered 10 beers, that’s 50 beers I had to serve. On top of that they always stayed a long time, thus holding up a table I could… Read more »

Sam
Sam
12 years ago

(1) I would absolutely tell my co-worker to put the tip money back on the table. She certainly has no right to the money and I would be kind but very firm on that point. (2) I’m with your wife on this. I do think there is a “minimum” amount that one should tip on a lunch or dinner. The amount of work for the wait staff for a $5 meal and $10 meal is the same. (3) I don’t know. Anyway to take the ticket but then send the ‘rich’ man the money at a later date. I wouldn’t… Read more »

Cheap Like Me
Cheap Like Me
12 years ago

My husband’s (former waiter) comment on #1 was that some people will do anything — even steal from a colleague! — to make sure the server doesn’t get “too much” of a tip! We usually tip 20%. On #2, I don’t think there’s a minimum amount, except speaking to Brett’s comment, I do think it’s common wisdom that you should give a bartender about $1 a drink or at least $1.50 for two. And I think etiquette (and kindness) says you should tip a server what you would tip on the full price if you get a good deal. Otherwise,… Read more »

docah
docah
12 years ago

I guess my opinion on tipping varies. My friend group has always left a minimum of $1 per person and goes up from there based on service and meal price. I’d say we average out to 20% most of the time, and we generally spend too much money when we do go out.

On taking the ticket, I couldn’t do it.

SoldierGrrrl
SoldierGrrrl
12 years ago

#1- Settling checks for 30 people is damned hard work, and so, I think the colleague is a thief. How horribly presumptuous of this person to assume to take the money out of the tray and pocket it.

Shame shame shame.

Andrew
Andrew
12 years ago

1. Wow. This redefines my definition of CHEAP. To *steal* a portion of a tip *someone else* gave because she thought it was too much. Just, WOW. If I was LK, I’d have very publicly announced what she was doing and made her put the money back for the waitress. 2. It’s a personal choice. For me I don’t tip less than $5 even if the meal was only $6. They way I see it, they’re doing the same job whether it’s $6 of food or $60 (which isn’t to say I only tip $5; I typically tip 20-50% of… Read more »

tamaracks
tamaracks
12 years ago

Certainly it makes sense to leave extra tip for a larger party like that, but the colleague is a thief, no matter whether the tip was deserved or not. It wasn’t her money to take! How rude. I would like to say I’d have called her on it, but like J.D., I’m not sure if I’d be willing to make a scene. Interesting comment from #6 about how that is not an uncommon sort of thing for people to do. It’s bad enough to leave an insufficient tip oneself, but to steal money that someone else left, how crazy can… Read more »

Wendy
Wendy
12 years ago

The colleague is a thief. She voiced her opinion and should have left it at that. She wasn’t the one leaving the tip, it wasn’t up to her to decide how much was left. And to have the gall put the money in her own pocket is outright theft.

dong
dong
12 years ago

#1 – Yeah that wouldn’t fly with me, I would tell the colleague to put the money back – that just aint cool on so many leveles #2 While I do think there is a minimum amount, it’s personal decision that I think is pretty justifiable ither way #3 It’s not just question of culture, it’s also a reflection of means. I think it’s easy for those who have plenty to get on a moral high horse, but many people are “forced” to morally difficult decision. Like the classic philosophy question posed about stealing to pay for drugs to save… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
12 years ago

1. I’d inform the woman that she has no business telling me how to spend my money, nor to help herself to it if she disagrees with me. I’d avoid going out with her in the future, if at all possible. 2. I tend to tip a higher percent if it’s a smaller bill, or, if I know I’m a lot of work. If I go out with friends & only get a cup of coffee, I may leave 2-3 dollars tip. The waitress refilled my coffee all night & we were probably not exactly easy customers. I think the… Read more »

Brandon Barkley
Brandon Barkley
12 years ago

#1. Unless the person was someone that I had a large stake in impressing (such as a potential business client), I would not only take back the money, but I would leave an additional tip if I could spare it just to spite the person. #2. I don’t think there is a minimum that you should feel you have to tip. That said, I think tipping is a function of the service that you receive for your meal amount. For example, if the Chinese restaurant in question were a buffet and all the waiter did was refill drinks, I’d only… Read more »

That Guy
That Guy
12 years ago

1. That lady should definitely be confronted. Seriously, that is basically stealing from the waitress or you.

2. I think there is a minimum and I always round up to the nearest dollar for typical restaurant style dining.

3. It is wrong to steal. Seriously. Call your friends, relatives, etc… Stealing a loaf of bread to eat might be dismissed but anything beyond that is a moral lapse.

radiantmatrix
radiantmatrix
12 years ago

Ok, as a former server and certified server-trainer, here are my answers. On #1: a tip is, at its most basic, a gift from a customer to a service person; the person who “skimmed” the tip you left stole that money from the server every bit as much as if they took your kid’s allowance (which is also a gift from you to your kid). On #2: no, there is no “minimum amount” to leave. The current etiquette is to leave about 18% as gratuity, but this is a *guideline*. If you do not get acceptable service, then it is… Read more »

Matt
Matt
12 years ago

Wow, #1 is really bad. That’s just flat out stealing. I may have let it slip if the colleague was your superior, otherwise I would have given them a piece of my mind. #2 is a little more tricky. I do think there is a minimum that you should tip as long as the service is good. I think it really depends on the situation, how many people were being served, what kind of food was ordered, etc… However, I don’t think it’s $6 in most cases. I usually won’t go below $2 in most cases. For number 3 I… Read more »

Matt
Matt
12 years ago

Brandon said: “The only way that they will learn to perform better is by recognizing that their service was bad and that they need to improve.” Unfortunately I don’t think this is true. The problem is that there are a lot of people who leave crappy tips regardless of how good the service was. So if a customer leaves a bad tip most waiters aren’t going to blame themselves, they just think the customer was a jackass. Like radiantmatrix said, a tip is basically a gift from the customer to the server, so just give them what you think they… Read more »

Charles
Charles
12 years ago

Ha.. There’s an old movie, “My Blue Heaven,” where Steve Martin’s character tips everyone, he says, “I don’t believe in tipping, I believe in overtipping.” At one point, he tips $100 to the FBI guy who arrests him.

Sabrina
Sabrina
12 years ago

Wow. I’m stuck on #1! Yeah I would have confronted the woman. I might even have threatened bodily harm if she didn’t immediately rectify the situation. So very not cool.

r
r
12 years ago

1. I agree with the herd. It’s stealing, and it’s stealing from the waitress. 2. Reading the discussion here has been interesting. First, I do tend to tip higher on smaller bills, sometimes substantially higher. On alcohol, though… I was actually taught that you were not supposed to include the price of alcohol when calculating your tip, if you ordered it with a dinner. I see almost noone do this, however. It comes up most often in professional situations, for me, eg when taking a company guest out to a nice dinner where a not-cheap bottle of wine is ordered.… Read more »

BillinDetroit
BillinDetroit
12 years ago

Lady Kemmas ‘colleague’ is a thief. That money CLEARLY belonged to the waitress. In any event, the money did NOT come from the colleagues purse and should never have ended up there. Moreover, the domineering ‘colleague’ was out of line for passing judgment on how much LK should tip. Management should be quietly informed of this, as it is revelatory of the other womans’ character. There is NO minimum gratuity. It is a voluntary reward for service rendered and not an automatic part of the tab. Look up the word gratuity in a dictionary. When I get lousy service, the… Read more »

Rachel
Rachel
12 years ago

I think this is an interesting topic, but as far as the third situation goes –

What happens when the guy comes back for his coat and is trying to get on the bus? (“Rich” guys don’t ever take the bus! So he will definitly come back for his coat!)His ticket is obviously been stolen and you have been running around begging a ticket off people and there you are on the bus! Who do you think is the first person everyone is going to turn around and look at? 😉

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Rachel, that’s an interesting point. 🙂

Also, I’ve edited the post to add why other cultures might feel it’s okay to take the ticket. Like most people here, I think it’s stealing. But I can see how in other cultures it might be the lesser of the two evils…

elisabeth
elisabeth
12 years ago

We tip well when we go out to dinner, we know we’re going to, so we just budget that in to the price of dinner. But, I don’t tend to use the tip jar at the coffee shop where I get my daily tea (I used to throw in my change but now the cost is $2.00 and I usually have the two bills)–somehow, I think that being a regular customer should mean something to the shop and in that kind of situation there’s no relationship to service, what is going on is that I’m helping the owner pay for… Read more »

Bryan
Bryan
12 years ago

#1. I would be LIVID. I would promptly and as nice as possible to put the money back. If they didn’t I would lose it no doubt. I can’t believe someone has the gall to do that. They had ZERO claim to that money. It was either the person who left it or the waitress PERIOD. Like another person said that is no different than taking straight from their wallet/pocket. I would not be able to trust that person after that. I often do the same and sometimes people comment but nothing beyond that. I do wait until everyone else… Read more »

Ashley
Ashley
12 years ago

It blows my mind that her colleague would just take that money. I would have made a scene, just like I do for lazy people who can’t walk five feet from the elevator to the escalator when people with strollers or wheelchairs (who actually NEED the elevator) are waiting behind them. Or the people who jump in front of those with wheelchairs to get on an elevator. I would have said politely, please put that money back I did not give it to you. If that didn’t work I’d start talking very loudly about that person being a thief (or… Read more »

iarenoob
iarenoob
12 years ago

1 & 2 My tips are based off of the total performance of the waiter/waitress alone. The food can take forever to get to me but what I care most is if the waiter acknowledges it and keeps me up to date. I would like to get my water refilled when needed without asking. Checking up regularly is great. I do not like places that tack on gratuity for you so in that case I do not leave a tip since they are forcing it. If the service is great I will tip a minimum 15%. If not, you get… Read more »

Dreamcatcher
Dreamcatcher
12 years ago

1. My husband and I always start a waiter/waitress out at $15 when we go out to eat at a nice restaurant. (Our meals typically run in the $60 range but if it’s over $100 we start them out higher) If they “just meet our needs” they earn the $15. If they “go above and beyond” they earn an additional $5. If they are truly bad they lose money based on the level of bad. I have given as little as $1 and a note of explanation to a waitress that was exceptionally rude and have given the $20 twice… Read more »

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

#1 – I agree with the herd – the lady was WAY out of line! The moment is past now, but I would avoid associating with her as much as possible – at the next group lunch, wait for her to sit, then pick someplace far away from her! #2 – local taxes ar in the 7-8% range, so doubling the tax amount is an easy way to figure out how much 15% is. Then I adjust up or down based on how well they served me. I have no problems with cutting the tip severely if service is poor.… Read more »

Justin
Justin
12 years ago

#1 – I think that, since this was a business lunch, office politics came into play. Otherwise I would openly and loudly ask them what they were doing, and to put the money back. Being sure all 28 of the other people realized what just happened. But when the politics get involved, you have to ask whether confrontation is more important than the money. Despite how furious I’d be, I probably would not have said anything either just to keep the air clear when performance review time comes around. I would definitely have thrown in more money to raise the… Read more »

Mariette
Mariette
12 years ago

1. It is clear that the woman was stealing, it’s not her business how much tip someone else decides to leave from their own pocket, nor was the money hers to take back. 2. It’s percentage as well as level of service. Relating to the above question – as everyone from the party had left individual checks for the waitress to process that is definitely worthy of a larger tip – anything that makes the waitress’ job more complicated should be factored in when you tip. 3. It would be interesting to know if this is a real or hypothetical… Read more »

Justin
Justin
12 years ago

@iarenoob (28): Waitstaff may legally get paid below minimum wage. It is assumed that they will receive tips to supplement their income. This is why in places like grocery stores, they baggers are not supposed to take tips. If they accept tips, their pay can be reduced to below minimum wage also. I also just thought of something for #3, probably the prime reason I would not just take the ticket. You have no idea why that person needs that ticket. What if he’s getting on the bus to see a dying relative, or some other important event same as… Read more »

G. G.
G. G.
12 years ago

I really dislike the tipping concept. I still tip at least 15%, but I would rather just pay 15% extra for the staff to get paid a living wage. I think it is the employer’s responsibility to pay their employees not the costumers. Plus tipping etiquette varies across professions. Wait staff, cab drivers, bell hops, and bar tenders all have different tipping standards and I don’t really care to keep up as I don’t go to bars, stay at hotels with bell hops, or use cabs.

Sakoro
Sakoro
12 years ago

On situation #1, I was invited out to lunch by a co-worker who was at a much higher pay grade than me (I was a intern at the time, I think). The bill for the two of us came to $50 and he left a ridiculously low tip (around $2). He didn’t say anything about being unhappy with the food or the service– I got the impression that he was either a) really cheap or b) very bad at math. So we went back to the office together and I snuck out later and left some more money for the… Read more »

Shadox
Shadox
12 years ago

I have had many experiences that were similar to situation number one. They most often happen when a group of folks go out together and then when you count out the money everybody left on the table you realize that there is a sizeable tip left. Typically, if people feel that they each left the right amount, even if the total is higher than a normal tip, I say leave it. However, often people will leave more than they would normally because they don’t want to appear stingy infront of their frieds. In such case, if they want some of… Read more »

SoldierGrrrl
SoldierGrrrl
12 years ago

What a lot of folx seem to be missing also is that in a lot of states, servers make about $2.20 an hour. In Texas, servers make $2.13 an hour and we are taxed on the tips the government assumes we’ll get.

Yes, tips are a “gift,” but I will tell you that most of the time, unless I knew I was having a bad night (and I’m pretty honest about it) most people who don’t tip are just cheap jerks.

r
r
12 years ago

@Shadox: Yeah, that’s a good point. I’ll often initially put in a bit over just to make sure we don’t collectively come out behind (or if I don’t have change), and then correct once we can see we’ve gotten enough… but, that’s pretty different from if it were all separate checks to begin with!

Maitresse
Maitresse
12 years ago

1. I would have said something immediately. I would have smiled and said, loudly enough to be heard, “Excuse me, but what are you doing?” I’d use a tone that suggests that she made a mistake of some kind, if at all possible. I might even say, “Oh, I think you picked up the tip I left for the waitress by mistake.” 2. If I get good service, I don’t like to leave less than $5. 3. You don’t need a bible to tell you that it’s stealing. The guy isn’t going to starve or be otherwise harmed if he… Read more »

Keith W. Twombley
Keith W. Twombley
12 years ago

Situation #1 is plain-old theft.

That is *your* money while it’s on the table. When the waitstaff picks it up it becomes *their* money.

It’s no different than lifting it right out of your wallet.

Matt
Matt
12 years ago

Maitresse (#38) makes a good point about the third question. Not making it to the wedding is just an inconvenience. The couple can still get married, you can still give them their rings later. It isn’t absolutely necessary that you be on that bus.

Kelvin
Kelvin
12 years ago

Hi folks, just wanted to share my thoughts and experiences on tipping. Considering how different things are here in the Philippines when it comes to tipping, I am not sure my comments will be entirely applicable. But just as an FYI, here, most people tip based on the money they have remaining. We would leave either a 20 pesos bill or a 50 peso bill (which is roughly 40-50 cents and 1.20 dollars respectively). There is generally no minimum customary tip in our culture, though there are those who do leave more, like 100 pesos or which is 2 dollars…… Read more »

Lawyer Dave
Lawyer Dave
12 years ago

#1- Is an act of theft. The money doesn’t belong to the co-worker. #2- There is no “minimum tip”. A tip is a gratuity to the server because you appreciated their level of service. If I don’t feel like leaving my server a gift I’m not going to. If I feel like tipping $100 on a $5 meal, I’m going to do that. (Keep in mind that thus far I’ve never tipped $100 on a $5 meal, but I suppose it’s possible). #3- Taking the ticket is an act of theft. Regardless of which culture you’re talking about I know… Read more »

Derek
Derek
12 years ago

Tradition (at least the way I was raised) where I live has would say good service gets 15% tip on the total ticket. Now, our sales tax here is 8.25%, so I usually double the tax and round to the nearest dollar. I definitely agree that generosity is a key to financial contentment, but if you get poor service…the tip (or lack thereof) is how you communicate it. Unfortunately there are those who tip very little as their norm, no matter what quality of service they get. However, if you will notice, many restaurants have begun ADDING 15% gratuity to… Read more »

Richard
Richard
12 years ago

I think what colleague did was wrong, she tipped the waitress what she thought she deserved, doesn’t give the colleague the right to take money off the tray like that.

In that situation I would have let your colleagues leave and put the same amount of money back which the colleague had taken back, then confront the colleague away from the restaurant.

Dar
Dar
12 years ago

Sheesh–the woman who took the tip money and put it in her pocket is a thief. Pure and simple. As for the moral “dilemma” regarding the bus ticket–stealing the ticket is wrong. We’ve all heard “two wrongs don’t make a right”. “Mike” is just passing off his own trouble to another person–that’s not a solution. Perhaps this “well-dressed” man is taking the bus to an interview, and he’s spent his savings to get his nice duds for the interview. I’ve been in similar situations myself when I was younger, but regardless no one has the right to steal from an… Read more »

freecia
freecia
12 years ago

#1 I find it very interesting the ways people might handle this, especially in a work setting. I believe tipping to be a personal thing, and whatever an individual decides to leave is their business. However, I don’t believe scolding colleagues, even those rarely seen, to be a positive thing in public. If the co-workers were all at the same level, I’d put more money back in (even though it costs me more) and just give the total to the waitress directly. If I’m splitting the bill with someone who is more senior than me who leaves a small tip,… Read more »

r
r
12 years ago

Wait, you’re supposed to tip for hotel rooms? This had never even crossed my mind! Oh, dear. I hate this system.

Anne
Anne
12 years ago

#1 That lady was way out of line. #2 My husband and I have both worked food service gigs and we have a lot of friends who are bartenders. As they like to say, “Keep your quarters.” Rude? Maybe. But neither am I going to waste any time debating how much change to leave them. We leave whole-dollar tips, and if we’re eating at a sit-down place we never leave less than $3. #3 I get that the situation is contrived exactly so that we feel conflicted, but this just wouldn’t happen – no way would the guy with the… Read more »

m.g.
m.g.
12 years ago

I do believe there is a minimum tip you should leave. There’s a rather fancy restaurant around here that runs about $12-15 a head at lunch (and dinner is outrageous). But they offer a special on Mondays and Wednesdays for $7.95 if you get there early enough before they run out. Whether I get the special or one of the regularly-priced meals, the waiter still has to take my order, bring my food, clear my plates, keep my drink filled and process my check. Why should he get half the tip he’s used to just because the food was half-price?… Read more »

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