Dear Carolyn: My daughter and son-in-law live an hour from us, and we meet once a month or so at a midpoint restaurant for dinner. I always enjoyed this time and thought it was a nice custom.
Recently I caught my son-in-law talking to our waiter, giving him an extra tip and saying something about how sorry he was for the table. The next day I called my daughter to see what that was all about, because my husband and I have very hurt feelings over the exchange.
She told me she doesn’t think my husband and I realize it, but our restaurant habits are not very thoughtful. I demanded specifics, and she told me that we split an entree and order water only, so the bill is really low. She also said we are demanding of the wait staff, which is especially bad because we aren’t giving the establishment much money to make up for it.
I am insulted by this. I don’t see how splitting an entree is rude. I also don’t see why I shouldn’t do what I want, that’s the entire point of a restaurant, to serve their customers. The customer is always right.
She also told me 20 percent is a standard tip. My husband and I tip 10 percent for normal service and 15 percent for good, maybe 20 percent if they washed our car while we were eating or something.
My daughter said she is sorry I overheard the exchange, but they didn’t know what else to do.
My husband and I don’t feel like we are dining incorrectly and that it’s rude for my daughter and son-in-law to correct our behavior behind our backs. I don’t want to meet up for dinner with them anymore and I can’t get over my bad feelings about all of this. Where do we go from here?
— Bad Restaurant Guest?
Bad Restaurant Guest?: Yes. You are bad restaurant guests. I’m sorry to have to redeliver an unwelcome message.
So, where do you go from here: You act like grown-ups and push through the awkwardness, go back to your once-a-month dinners, order as you see fit but leave a 20 percent tip for a skilled and friendly server. The wait staff makes next to nothing per hour and so the livelihood is in tips, and 10 percent is seriously — decades — outdated.
And, hereafter: Always be mindful of the price point and service level of a restaurant before making demands of the staff. You can send back an order that was botched somehow at any level, from Mickey D’s on up, but you don’t fuss over the garnish on a $7.99 entree.
And I suggest that, instead of harrumphing over this couple’s “rudeness,” you take a moment to appreciate their sensitivity both to the staff and to your feelings.
I think you would learn a lot from my colleague Tom Sietsema (washingtonpost.com/people/tom-sietsema), a restaurant critic and dining-out etiquette expert.
Please also give a hard think to the fact that you’re reacting so defensively. You just received kind, honest, constructive criticism from a daughter who lovingly spends time with you. Instead of looking inward, you’re looking to cut her off. Is that really the best you can do?