Venting About Ethics

A friend runs a discussion group at a restaurant once a month. He’s a friendly, intelligent, and interesting guy. He chooses the place and calls everyone to let them know where. He always has a coupon, which is a plus. He tends to hand out magazines and clippings halfway through the evening. When we get the bill, everyone puts in what they owe with an honor system, and our leader collects the money. If the server is good, my SO and I tend to over-tip a bit.

Last time, I noticed him counting, recounting, and going through the bills as usual, but this time I saw him abstract a $20 bill and a $1 bill from the total, and start to put it in his pocket. I called him on it, and he said, “but I’m broke!” Eventually, he said “I’ll put the $20 back.” He’s a consultant of sorts, and I know he doesn’t earn a lucrative living; on the other hand, if you can’t afford a restaurant, maybe you shouldn’t go to one. Seems to me taking what we all intended for the waiter isn’t right.

The money is not the issue; I’d be happy to loan him a bit if he was desperate, even knowing I might not get it back. It’s this surreptitious . . . well, thievery that bothers me.

This is the second time I’ve seen him do this. We’re considering not going anymore, which is disappointing – on the other hand he may not invite us again.

What would you do?



He runs the group - why can’t he just be transparent about his needs?

Ugh. People are so weird about money issues.

It’s not ok to stiff the waitstaff IMHO, especially because presumably you folks spend a lot of time there and probably monopolize more than one table?

I suppose you could request separate bills as an alternative to deciding not to attend, or perhaps depending on how close a friend your friend is, tell him directly that his behaviour makes you uncomfortable enough not to want to attend?


I think it really depends on what your goals are.

Do you want to fix your friend’s behaviour? Then you’re going to want to sit him down and have a discussion about why he thinks this is appropriate, and how the person he’s hurting/stealing from (the server) is probably not any better off than he is.

Do you just want to stop enabling it? Then you can do separate checks, or try to move the discussion away from a place that this can happen, e.g. by having people host it in their own places. Or you can offer to take some of the responsibility off of the friend’s lap by rotating the task of organizing the get-togethers within the group, removing the opportunity to sneak off with the money.

Really, I’d have to ask you, what is your ideal end scenario for this? What solution to this problem would make you the happiest? Once you figure that out, you can start figuring out how to accomplish it.


I’m big on separate bills. With today’s restaurant software, even small businesses have little to no trouble splitting the bill. In fact, I’ve had the server insist upon it a few times because a) people in large parties tend to leave at different times and b) people are shite at splitting bills. I’ve dropped $80 on a $30 meal because a couple who left early “forgot” they ordered a bottle of wine, or to include tax and tip, or some other BS.

Further to your friend’s behaviour: has Meetup owners pay a fee every year; some choose to pass the hat to get participants to contribute. So long as they’re up-front about it, I think this is totally cool. What’s not cool is skimming, as here.

I’m with @SylvariValiant on this one – nothing wrong with claiming an organisational fee and passing the hat at the start of the event, especially if you tell people in the invitation you will be doing this. Amanda Palmer has based her entire career on this concept.


My suggestions:

  • Separate checks
  • If not, then have the person responsible for collecting the money rotate from meeting to meeting
  • Be up-front about organizational costs/suggested donations/etc, and pass the hat separately for these
  • Tell him you’re concerned about his behavior, and that skimming specifically is wrong, to the point where you are reluctant to attend his meetings anymore

Any, all, or none of these ought to work.


Embarrassment? But indeed, money seems to be a taboo subject, when it’s personal and a lack of it.

Definitely yeah. Actually we rotate restaurants, but we do take up a lot of space and 1 1/2 hours or so.

There’s the coupon issue. And last time (when this happened) we used our city “rewards” card, and we agreed ahead of time that the club could collectively use the 15% off! Other times we could do that, but I think we’d stand out. Probably worth it.

That’s what I’m trying to figure out. I’m not sure that changing this guy’s behavior is 1) doable; 2) my problem to solve; 3) something he’d be willing to talk about in the first place.

That works really well where everyone has a credit card. In this group I’m not sure everyone does, or would want to use it. And the coupon thing probably wouldn’t work. Many in the group really want to get the coupon deal. I think once or twice we’ve asked for a separate check – at a pizza place where we didn’t get pizza. Haven’t been there in a long time.

The club is definitely his baby. He talks about it a lot, and the fact it’s been going on a while. I suppose we could grab the check and make sure we’re the last to count it, and the ones to hand it to the server. But then I get annoyed when someone else shortchanges their share!

I don’t think there really are any – he chooses restaurant and calls everyone, we show up, eat, and talk, then we pay and leave.

Probably the best thing to do at this point. Or be a wuss and just not attend anymore. I hate confrontation.

Thanks for the replies everyone. It really helps to talk about such things.


If you’re really loyal to the group, take it over or fork it. If you don’t care enough about the group to take on the extra work, drop it like a hot rock.

I hate thieves, especially thieves who steal from waitstaff and/or their “friends.”


I’d definitely speak to him again about it. “Look, Sparky, we all chip in for what we believe to be our fair share of the check, plus a tip for the waitrons. Nobody ever mentioned a little organizational fee for you, so it looks like you’re cutting into what we intend to go to the waitstaff. Those folks are working hard at a minimum-wage job, and tips are their bread and butter. I don’t wanna sound like a dick about this, but if you skim off the tab again, I’m gonna have to see what everyone else thinks about it, and my guess is they’re not gonna be too happy. We like you and we like your meetings, but if you need an extra few bucks, this is definitely not the way to go about getting them. If you disagree, then let’s ask the consensus of the meeting group together.”


is he definitely stiffing the waitstaff? it’s not super clear to me that he was. my impression was that he was counting and re-counting to make sure a “reasonable” amount was in there for a tip, and then he was pocketing the extra. i certainly get why you would be put off by it, especially if he didn’t make this all clear beforehand. i’m one of those people who would probably let it slide (unless he’s pocketing the money intended as a tip!), because he seems to clearly put a lot of time and energy into organizing the meetup. maybe a little compensation would be acceptable for him. but yes, i agree he should’ve talked to everyone about it before.


I’m not sure I get the distinction between “counting the money and pocketing the extra” and “taking money intended for the waitstaff.”

My expectation when doing this kind of thing is that everyone is going to put in at least the after-tax cost of their meal. If my meal is $22 and I put in $30, any extra is obviously supposed to go to the waitstaff, no matter if the person counting thinks that 36% is an excessive tip. I don’t care what the guy thinks is a reasonable amount (unless he thinks we’re short of it).


because if he’s at least making an effort to leave a reasonable tip and pocketing the extra in compensation for his time and energy in organizing and running the group, that seems a bit more understandable to me. if he’s just flat-out taking the extra and leaving nothing as a tip, then that’s definitely wrong.

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Well, we have been going less often, mainly due to lack of desire to drive (sometimes it’s a fair piece away). And I guess we’ve not missed it too much! We do see some of our favorite people in the group outside of the meetings sometimes (one even more often).

Wow your quote is perfect. Maybe I’ll memorize it. On the other hand the next move is up to him. If we get invited, something has to be done (even if “oh I think we’re busy this month”). If he’s too pissed/embarrassed/“well, screw them” then to heck with it.

Yes, I think @nimelennar’s analysis right after yours is correct.

I wouldn’t mind that if we agreed to it, but I wonder how much buy in we’d get (uh, we’ve got some people who aren’t too flush with money). And the idea of saying “Sparky’s been sneaking some of the tip; what say we all agree to pay him $x per month for his time and effort?” sort of repels me. I suppose I could raise the issue without telling why . . .

I’m pretty sure he’s not giving 20% which is what seems to me to be fair nowadays, but I think he leaves a minimal tip.


I still don’t really see the difference – or rather, it’s one of scale and not of type.

Unless there’s an agreement otherwise, he’s taking money that’s intended for (probably) underpaid service staff and keeping it for himself. Yes, taking all of that money would be worse, but that doesn’t mean taking some of it is understandable.

If he wants to be compensated for the time and effort he’s putting into this group, that’s fair. Heck, I’d say it’s even a fair trade if the group offers to pay for his meal in exchange for all the hard work he’s doing. But there are lots of words for taking money that’s not yours, and none of them are nice ones.


i can imagine if someone was skimming off cash in the first place, this is pretty much what i would expect, too. as someone who has very little cash myself, but who also always leaves at least 20% tip, i understand the feelings this situation would cause.


I think what bothers me most is that he’s “that guy” who doesn’t intrinsically understand the need to tip, and to tip well, even if service is average or even mediocre (if it’s actually bad I suppose that’s another matter, depending on what one considers to be “bad”).

Like, we already went over this in Reservoir Dogs. And the plight of food service workers has only gotten more and more widely known in recent years. It’s known that in many parts of the US servers are still legally paid well below minimum wage - tips are their primary source of income.

We don’t really know the nature of the group or what the typical topics of discussion are, but if it’s anything like the forum here, a discussion about tipping culture (and ideas to move society towards paying people a decent wage as the default…) would be interesting. That’d be a way to bring up the thinking of the group with regards to how everyone pays the bill, without having to directly call him out. Problem there I guess is you’d inadvertently end up shaming people who simply can’t afford to tip as much.

To that end I do wonder why it wouldn’t be better to turn it into a potluck type thing - everyone pitches in whatever they’re able to, which may be nothing sometimes, and the organizer doesn’t have to provide anything if the group is ok with that. If for some people it’s more about going out to a restaurant with friends, which maybe they can’t justify the expense of otherwise, then maybe that wouldn’t work.


I agree – not without some prior agreement that he gets a compensation his meal free or something. Which would be an adequate solution.


Yep, it’s definitely going to stay a restaurant thing, I think.

Let go of the idea that you’re in control. You can’t fix this.

I think this is the conclusion I gotta make. So if we’re invited again, we may just not go, and then try to see the other folks we like a lot outside of the group.

This has been really therapeutic and helpful, Elsewhere Folks. Thank you!


Oh, and whenever you sort this out, this would be an excellent candidate for Off the Menu on Bitter Empire1.

1Formerly on Thrillist.2
2Formerly on Wonkette.3
3Formerly known as Behind Closed Ovens on Kitchenette/Jezebel.


Or #ethicallychallengedfriend or something. Except I’m not on Twitter.

I don’t know; I guess I’m not so invested that I want to take it further. I’d not seen that blog before. It looks really interesting – thanks for pointing it out.

Behind Closed Ovens – :joy:


Holy shit, it lives!


BTW, a friend has a foodie podcast, with SF authors: