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A Little Something Extra 

The tip, the gift, the cane -- treading politely around each

Wednesday, Dec 21 2005
Dear Social Grace,

I recently attended a large dinner party in an Irish pub and restaurant. When our bill arrived, some of the guests insisted that we shouldn't include the tax [when calculating the] tip. The no-tax people prevailed.

I've always tipped on the total bill. I spoke up during the discussion, but decided to let it go in favor of a pleasant evening. We subtracted the tax from the total and left 20 percent of the result. As we were preparing to leave, the waitress returned to our table, very upset. She asked if her service had been bad. One of the tax people said no, it was fine, and then we left. I feel terrible about this. I think we were wrong. Plus, our service was excellent: She handled our big group with grace and good humor, got all of our orders right, was kind to the children, and made several good recommendations.

Is it proper to subtract the tax from a restaurant bill before paying the tip?

Via the Internet

Dear Reader,

It's not unusual or wrong to deduct the tax when figuring out a restaurant tip. Taxes vary from state to state; appropriate gratuity amounts don't. But in most situations, the difference is not enough to worry about. Let's say that your bill, before tax, was $500 -- a fairly hefty restaurant tab. Pre-tax, your tip would be $100; with tax, the tip isn't much more -- about $108. With a smaller bill, the difference between tipping on tax and not tipping on tax dwindles to mere coins. It sounds as though your waitress overreacted (if you did indeed tip 20 percent).

However, because the amount involved is usually negligible, why not err on the safe side and tip a buck or so "too much" when the service has been exceptionally good? That course of action seems less likely to result in ill feeling.

Dear Social Grace,

I have a problem, but I'm actually not sure if it is really one. I tend to overanalyze things. I am a postgrad student, and I needed a bit of old German text translated for my thesis. I've also recently met two exchange students from Germany, so I asked them to translate small sections for me as a favor. I haven't spoken to them about payment or anything like that, and they didn't ask for anything back. I would really like to give them gifts in return. What would be the perfect gift? It wouldn't seem appropriate if I got them something too cheap or too expensive. Is it still appropriate to find out whether they want to get paid?


Dear Anon,

I don't think you have a problem, really -- let's call it a "situation."

It's probably too late to broach the subject of payment now. With any business transaction, the terms should be understood at the outset. If you had offered to pay your German friends at the start, you could have worked out an agreement (or confirmed that a friendly favor was in the offing). Now that they've already done the favor (and didn't seem to approach this as a job they were taking on -- in which case they might have explained what they'd charge), there is a risk that a late offer of money will be mildly hurtful or insulting.

A thank-you present (and note) is definitely in order, though. A standard, all-purpose gratitude gift -- a bottle of fine wine, a basket of fruit, something sweet (and perhaps homemade, if your talents run in that direction) -- would certainly suit a European student living away from home, and would also be a nice token of friendship. Or perhaps, given that you know a little bit about these two, you could personalize the gift -- a certain book, for instance. (And don't forget to credit your translators in your thesis' back matter.)

Dear Social Grace,

I have a cane I use to aid in walking. What do I do with it when I sit in a client's office, when dining in a restaurant, etc.? It needs to be within easy reach, but I don't want people tripping over it or made overly conscious of it. I am sure people with crutches face the same dilemmas, as do people with oxygen tanks.

What in the world does one do with an extra something one must have?


Dear Ellen,

In the main, I would suggest that you trust other people to watch where they are going, as we all must, to some extent. But if someone does trip over your cane, simply excuse yourself, just as if he or she had accidentally jostled you. This sort of thing happens to everyone.

I certainly don't think that you need to make an announcement every time you take a seat and position your cane; however, if you would like, for instance, to alert a food server to its presence, you could say something such as, "I'll just set my cane against my chair here."

About The Author

Social Grace


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