Etiquette for Today's San Franciscan: Using Groupons and Tipping Mixologists

Categories: SF Etiquette
Groupon seems to bring out the T. rex diner whose arms are too short to reach his wallet.
Today, we're launching SF Etiquette, a weekly column in which I field your questions about dining out in 21st-century Bay Area restaurants. My somewhat specious qualifications: A) I go out to eat, professionally, somewhere between six and 12 meals a week. B) In my 20s I read every etiquette guide Miss Manners ever published. Hey, they don't teach you about things like dessert spoons and trousseaux in small Mennonite communities.

We lead with two questions, both from actual live humans, not voices in my head I made up because I was too lazy to poll my coworkers and friends before starting this column.

L.S.:  If you buy a Groupon for a restaurant and invite your friends to share the meal, when you're splitting the check, do you still have to pay your part or should the others divide the bill? When I buy the Groupon, I end up paying more than I actually would have, while everyone else benefits. It sucks.

Divvying up a bill after a group dinner is always a fumble unless you own Facebook and are clearly treating everyone around you. In this situation, by rights, everyone at the table who's benefiting from the discount you purchased should count your purchase into their calculations. But you can see how, if you didn't say anything outright, they might treat your Groupon as a group gift.

So I'd recommend cultivating a ringer. Before the dinner, call up your closest friend in the party and explain how you've gotten stuck paying double for a so-called discount. Ask him or her, when the check arrives, to holler out something like, "Hey, L.S. bought that Groupon, so we shouldn't make her pay for the cost of it," and then push if anyone balks. Trust me, no one will balk, unless they're the kind of diner who always gives himself or herself a secret groupon at big outings. Those aren't your real friends. They're people you should just meet for coffee.

If that fails, don't buy any more Groupons.

M. M.: Should you tip the bartender a different amount for opening a beer than for making you a mixed drink?

It depends. If your bartender is just pouring a slug of vodka into a glass and then pressing a button to spritz some cranberry juice over top, I'd say you're good with the same tip you'd give for a pint of beer: a dollar a drink. Never tip less than that, and tip more if you need to butter up the bartender for future drinks. Amazing how quickly he can pick you out of the crowd at the bar after that.

If your bartender is carefully measuring out the ingredients for a cocktail and doing things like vigorous shaking, straining, or tasting with that little straw, I'd tip 20 percent. Personally, I also tip 20 percent for beer or wine if a server has spent a lot of time talking to me about the brews on tap or has brought over samples of wine for me to try before ordering.

Have another dining etiquette question for SFoodie? Leave a comment or drop me a line.

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Keith Chenoweth
Keith Chenoweth

Just curious: does the 'dollar a beer' rule still apply if you're at a happy hour or other promotion where the beer is like $2 a pull?  A 50% tip seems excessive- not for 1 or 2, but if I'm buying 20 for the table over the course of 2-3 hours!

John Davies
John Davies

Good article. I would suggest if you really want to know about waiters and tipping and restaurants... then check out YourDailyTip on Youtube. It's my fave video blog right now. He's this waiter who teaches people how to be better customers. Behind the anger, sarcasm, and satire are funny - truthful - anecdotes/lessons. I've seen his page grow from 20 subscribers to over 2,000! He deservers more, I think.

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