Ask The Salty Waitress: Do Servers Treat Me Differently When I'm Using A Coupon?

Dear Salty,

Our family doesn't eat out much, but—when we do—we tend to eat at establishments where we can use coupons. We also order waters with our meals, since none of us much care for carbonated or hard beverages. It may be my imagination, but—because of these two facts—I can't help but feel like the server considers us to be cheap. Nearly all of them tend to be polite enough to our faces, but if they're pokey with our bill, slow with refills on our water, or "forget" a request, I worry that they're less-than-stellar because they think we're cheap in all ways.

But, in reality, we're good tippers! We know that the restaurant biz is tough and we have nothing but respect for folks who work there, so we tend to tip at least in the 30 percent range, since I figure that's fairly close to what they'd get if we DID order drinks or the like. And we tip based on the pre-coupon amount. So it's not unusual for us to (say) tip $10 on a bill that only came to $15-20 for the food. (If we're using a $5 coupon, I'd rather the server get the five bucks!)

Is there a way not to feel guilty, or to somehow convey that—no, really—we're probably worth your time? I've considered giving the coupon and then saying, "Don't worry; we try to be a force for good," but it feels weird. Or am I somehow a problem and just not realizing it?

Sincerely,Coupon-Hoarding Eaters Always Pained About Seeming Stingy


It's hard to speculate about servers' thought processes when I'm not there to observe the interaction, but I guess that's the point of this column, huh? Okay, I'll quit being lazy and get to speculating.

Servers make assumptions, like we all do. That doesn't make it okay for them to treat you differently because they assume you might not be, as the kids say, a baller. Being a server or working in retail is a job every person should have at some point, I think, because it teaches you that you have to treat each customer with respect, no matter what you might privately assume about them. It also teaches you—fast—that people can surprise you. The dude with the Rolex and $2,000 shoes? Shitty tipper. The retiree counting pennies? 30 percent. You really never know.

That said, yeah, maybe your servers assume that the coupon-and-water routine means your bill will be lower than other tables. Is there a way you can save the coupon and only present it at the end? I know some coupons—Groupons and the like—require that you slap it down right away, but if you could save it until the end, maybe you could test your theory about being treated differently. But you shouldn't feel compelled not to use the coupon just to get better service. As long as you're tipping on the pre-coupon amount, you're in the clear in my book.

I don't see much you could do here to change the servers' anti-coupon bias, unfortunately. Just be the nice people that you seem to be, and don't hesitate to ask for waters, a replacement fork if you drop yours, or to get the sandwich with no pickles. You don't need to feel guilty for using a coupon that the restaurant itself issued, and you shouldn't have to lower your expectations for service because of it either. Hospitality is hospitality, discounts or not, and it sounds like you're rewarding your server handsomely anyway.

Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: