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Miss Manners: Friends quibble over breakfast bill

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Two friends go out for breakfast, each ordering eggs, toast and coffee. The total bill is $20. They agree to leave a 20 percent tip ($4) for the fast and friendly service.

The following week, the same two friends go across the street to a comparable restaurant and again order eggs, toast and coffee for breakfast. This time, the total bill is $22.

When it comes to deciding the tip, one friend suggests that the tip should be the same as last week, 20 percent ($4.40). The other friend reasons that because the food, the service and the dining experience were essentially the same, the total amount paid, $24, should be the same, meaning a $2 tip. This friend further reasons that if the restaurant owner is charging 10 percent more for the same meal, the staff should be compensated accordingly higher.

When all other factors are essentially equal, should comparative meal costs factor into tip consideration?

GENTLE READER: Although she dislikes any business system that makes tipping necessary by underpaying staff, Miss Manners recognizes that tips are, by custom, based on a fraction of the bill. They therefore rise in step with the price of the meal.

This is not, however, your problem. Your problem is that the fraction to be paid is not fixed, and your friend and you disagree on how strictly to apply the percentage you nominally agree upon.

The simple answer is for each of you to exercise your own judgment in setting your portion of the tip, which, if Miss Manners’ math is correct, would have been $1 plus $2.20, which she is reasonably confident comes to $3.20.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m not wealthy, but I’m quite well off and need nothing. Rather than give me gifts, several members of my family observe milestones in my life by donating to charities of their choice in my name.

I appreciate the thoughts and always thank them appropriately. In recent years, however, one couple has begun donating to charities that are anti-gay, to say the least, and they know that I am gay.

Am I under any obligation to thank them? Would it be considered rude to tell them I find such a donation in my name to be very inconsiderate?

GENTLE READER: Although she has always disliked substituting cash or donations for genuine gift-giving, Miss Manners is growing especially weary of the recent rash of criticism-disguised-as-a-present.

Whether her weariness manifests as hostility or irritation – and what response she recommends to you, the recipient – depends on the giver’s intent. Was it to insult? Or were they unaware of, or indifferent to, yet one more company that pairs a good product with bad corporate citizenship?

The former may deserve the note you suggest; but the latter requires a more moderate tone, tempering thanks for the (good) intention with a compassionate explanation of your concern.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.


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