Tuesday 31 January 2012

do the right thing....

Here’s one for you:

You are in a café/restaurant, just finishing your meal. It’s been a nice meal; nothing too fancy but the staff have been really friendly and welcoming and you’ve enjoyed a nice bottle of wine. As you stand to leave, you glance at your receipt and realise that you’ve only been charged 20p for your £20 bottle of wine.

What do you do?

I ask because exactly this happened to the friends we were with on the mountain in Austria the other day. We had just enjoyed a lovely hearty meal in front of a roaring fire, and the staff of the mountaintop restaurant had been pretty good: chatty as we ordered our food, checking everything was okay, recommending the cheaper of their two bottles of red as being the better, spontaneously bringing over a jug of water… that kind of thing. As we were putting out coats on to get back out onto the slopes, one of our friends realised they had been charged 20c for the wine instead of 20 Euros. She looked over at her husband and they both shrugged their shoulders and continued getting ready to leave. I had a half-hearted attempt to prey on her conscience, but we all still drifted out towards our skis.

My friend shrugged: “My dad always taught me that life is quick enough to kick you in the teeth, so you should make the most of it when the luck goes your way”


I felt a bit uncomfortable. As I strapped into my skis, C approached me: she was feeling uncomfortable too. After a quick conflab (and as she speaks German), she agreed to discreetly pop back into the restaurant and hand 20 Euros over to the staff, explaining what had happened. After all, it was an honest mistake on their part, but we’d noticed it before leaving, so why should they suffer for it when they’d been so good to us?

I didn’t want to embarrass anyone though, so when my friend came over to me suspiciously to ask where C. had gone, I fluffed awkwardly about how she’d gone back to check she hadn’t left anything behind. My friend didn’t believe me and pushed me harder, suspecting the truth. So I told her. She was embarrassed (I think we’d pricked her conscience a little) and she rushed back -- too late -- to try and intercept my wife and hand over the money herself.

She insisted on giving us the 20 Euros back, of course.

I’m pretty sure we did the right thing, and I wouldn’t even have begrudged paying the 20 Euros myself for a good friend’s wine… but I still felt a bit awkward. Unusually for me, I wasn’t actually trying to claim any kind of moral high-ground, but I still felt lingeringly guilty about making a friend feel guilty and embarrassed. She’d already said that, once we’d left the restaurant without paying that extra money, we’d never be able to go back to that restaurant in case they realised what had happened, so I’m pretty sure that she essentially knew that what she was doing wasn’t right. I think her better self was hoping that someone would tell her off the moment she suggested leaving, but nobody challenged her hard enough or quickly enough and we all sort of drifted out of the restaurant.

Hmm. It wasn’t my intention to make anyone feel bad.  She's a great friend and a lovely person and I hope I didn't make her feel awkward.  That said, between us, I'm still pretty sure we did the right thing.


Still, what would you have done?


  1. Actually, I end up doing this quite a bit. My (lovely, lovely) mum tips, uh, like a lady on a pension who brought up two kids on her own by sticking to a strict budget. Which is what she is. I excuse myself to go to the bathroom, find our server and giver him/her the tip with the same explanation. You did the right thing, but you sound like an extraordinarily poor liar. Not that that's a bad thing...

  2. I would have probably done the same, or at best openly paid up before we left the restaurant.

    The real question is, what would have happened if the food had been terrible, the service awful and the wine rubbish? Would you still have corrected the mistake?

    I'm not so sure I would be committed to doing the right thing in that situation.

  3. You did the right thing, without a doubt.

  4. It's like giving a tip directly to the person who served you, rather than it being shared with the rest of the restaurant. Other than the chefs who made the food and the person who greets you and shows you to your table, the rest of the establishment couldn't care less about you.

    More to the point that you're making,even though this happened to you in Austria, would you do the same if it was in the UK?

  5. would I do the same in the UK? Absolutely. Would I do it if the service had been shitty? Hmm. Not so clear-cut. I might do. Shall we say that much?

  6. I think you absolutely did the right thing. I would do the same had the service been lousy, etc. It's the right thing no matter the circumstances. Doesn't mean you have to go back or recommend the place after, or even leave that tip, though. :0)

  7. I agree completely with Aravis.