Squirreling Gone Wild #33: The Phantom Tip

What a devilish thing to do!

Having lunch with coworkers can be a worthwhile use of your time, depending on the circumstances. It’s often fun to get to know people just for the sake of meeting new people, and sometimes friendships can be forged over time spent having lunch together. Other times, you might choose to have lunch for networking purposes. Yet other times, you might go because you simply have to and have no real choice in the matter.

The latter was a situation I faced when I was just starting out working after college. Now, I did make some friends there that I’m still in touch with many years later. We had lots of laughs through our times as new, entry level people.  Of course, that was balanced by dealing with a higher than average number of interesting characters as well, who we just had to deal with. This type of person played a role in what I’ll share as another Squirreling Gone Wild story.

The Lunch

This was back in the late 1990s, which seems like it might as well be the stone ages. I say that because when a group of people was going to lunch, there wasn’t an email sent to the group. Rather, people walked from one cube/office to another to spread the word about a Friday departmental lunch. Well, since it was Friday already, that meant that you pretty much had to drop whatever lunch plans you had (including a lunch you may have brought) because there were some senior people going. You just had to show up – at least that was the strong feeling that many of us seemed to have.

So, I went with the group. We went to some local restaurant, probably a chain restaurant, and had a long lunch together as a group. There must have been at least 12 to 15 people, possibly more. It’s been a while so I don’t recall exact numbers, but suffice to say the group was large.

The group was a mix of people at different levels of responsibility, as I alluded to earlier. This meant entry level people, some experienced people, as well as some more senior people.

How Everyone Usually Paid

Usually, there were not individual bills for each person. Restaurants didn’t seem to like to do that, which makes sense as it makes it time consuming and a hassle for them (and other customers too). So typically, one bill would come to the group, and the most senior person would manage the process. This might mean that she (or he) would either:

  1. Go through and tell each person what they owed; or
  2. Just take the bill and divide it by the number of people there.

Either way, as I said, one senior management member handled it. Everything was done via cash.

How Everyone Paid This Time

This particular time, there was one senior person there who had a negative reputation. I never worked for her, but had been told that she was not a particularly nice individual. People spoke about her being selfish, taking credit for others’ work, ill tempered, and things of the like. Like I said, I never worked with her or interacted with her much at all, but saw her walking the hallways with a sneer permanently affixed to her face.

Anyway, at this particular lunch, she told everyone to give her the cash for their share, and then she would take care of it. Okay, nothing unusual there. However, she said she would just take the cash and pay by credit card. She never really asked if anyone cared.

And frankly, it shouldn’t be a big deal to do it that way. I’ve done that with a group that before, where I handled the bill, so I certainly didn’t have an issue with it. However, I do have an issue with what she actually did.

She had told everyone to add extra for the tip – but asked for only about 10%. It’s been a number of years, but I recall her then saying that the waitress was making enough as it is with a big group, so why pay a high percentage when we didn’t have to. I thought that was weird and unfair, and assumed that a tip would be the same. In some places, in fact, a mandatory percentage is applied to large groups.

Anyway, once she actually collected everyone’s share – including tip – she paid by credit card.

Here’s the problem: she never paid a tip.

That’s right – she collected everyone’s money, asked for enough to cover a tip, and then charged the amount on the bill while neglecting to add a tip.

The way I see it, that’s simply ice cold.

Now, I didn’t actually see her sign the bill and put zero or a dash on the tip line. Rather, I was told this by someone who sat next to her and was a reliable person who also didn’t work with that lady. In other words, she was credible with axe to grind with that lady.

Can you imagine? With a lunch group that size, she pocketed enough to get a free meal of her own. As I think of it, her behavior totally reminds of me of these infamous people I ran into years later, and ceased to dine with again. Yuck!

I have to say, it made me believe all the negatives that were said about her!

My Questions for You:

How do you handle paying the bill when having lunch with coworkers?

Have you ever seen anyone play any games when it comes to tipping at restaurants?

What’s the shadiest thing you’ve seen or heard of someone doing when it comes to paying a restaurant bill or leaving a tip?



  1. says

    That’s just horrible!
    Personally, I hate paying as a group because there is always the possibility of something like that happening.. When we go out for group lunches, we usually go to a buffet due to time constraints. This makes it easy since we all pay the same.

    • Squirrelers says

      Dollar D – one would hope that thing like this don’t happen. Should be a safe assumption, but there are all kinds out there!

  2. says

    Generally, I ask for everyone to pay their share. In most cases, I keep it in cash. Over time, I stopped carrying cash and now use a credit card exclusively. I can’t believe she asked for the tip and did not pay it.

  3. says

    Wow, that is really shady. People like her are probably part of the reason restaurants started automatically adding tips to groups of a certain size.

    I typically go home for lunch or bring something, so I don’t go out that much. But when I do have meals with coworkers they’re often paid for by the company. So that’s nice!

    • Squirrelers says

      Jackie – paid for already? That’s a win-win all around. And yes, I agree that the situation I described was shady.

  4. says

    We eat out together all the time when we’re traveling – typically we just go ahead and just insist that the restaurant split the check for us – it’s not really that difficutl for them, compared to us trying to always reconcile things and carry cash, since they have a whole computer system handily set up to be able to do just that.

    When we go out as a large group, we usually try to entice one of the partners along, and then the firm pays ;).

    • Squirrelers says

      Kellen – again, a free meal works best! :) But yes, having the checks split alleviates any awkward situations or opportunities for a sneaky type to pull some stunt.

  5. says

    At most, if not all, of my group lunches, if one bill was presented, the tip was always pre-included for a certain sized group. Sometimes I got lucky and the boss, the company or the client paid for the whole deal!

    • Squirrelers says

      Marie – you added to the list of people mentioning having work lunches bought for them. As personal finance enthusiasts, that seems to resonate. As far as tips being included, that’s a good way to avoid sitautions.

  6. says

    That is awful. Thankfully, I’ve never met people like that!

    I would think restaurants would prefer to bill separately since it means a bigger tip overall.

    • Squirrelers says

      MoneyCone – that’s great that you havent’ had to deal with such people. Of course, as long as you don’t know them too well, they can make for good stories and examples of what not to do!

  7. says

    It doesn’t really surprising me since I’ve seen it happen too often. You can add people stealing tips off of other tables and the bar, stealing food, drinks, glassware, and then there’s the dine and dash. What surprises me is that those people think it’s okay.

    • Squirrelers says

      JP – stealing tips and other things? That’s absolutely horrible, no excuse for anyone to think that’s okay. Dine and dash is juvenile and flat out wrong.

  8. says

    How shameful! Servers generally bust their rear ends waiting on large groups. I must say, that is the upside of the European approach, a cover charge is automatically added to the bill, and no worrying about percentages. On the downside, you can never be sure if the restaurant shares this equitably with the wait staff.
    If I’m at lunch with some friends, I don’t mind picking up the entire bill, with the understanding that it’s someone else’s turn next time.

    • Squirrelers says

      101C – great point, I’m glad you brought that up. Sometimes, even when it’s domestic, I do wonder if that entire automatically added amount does go to the server.

  9. says

    Don’t really have a coworker story…but I do have a decent one about my father-in-law.

    When my wife & I first got married (still in college), I noticed her Dad would leave a very small tip. I always felt obligated to make up for it because we would usually have them join us at restaurants where my friends worked. He would make comments that I was wasting my money. I’d respond by pointing out the servers only get a little over $2 an hour & that the tips helped them (mostly college people) pay their bills.

    I thought he was just being stingy. Turns out he sincerely didn’t know any better. None of the other son-in-laws had the guts to say anything about it until I did. But, then again, subtlety isn’t really my thing.

    We got to talking about it and I learned that’s the way his family was raised- they never left a tip at all. He thought by leaving a 2%-5% tip he was actually being generous.

    After 13 years he’s come a long way. He now makes it a point to tip GOOD servers at least 15% if not more.

    I would have called out that manager on it…but again…I don’t have a good “keep your mouth shut” filter.

    • Squirrelers says

      Dave – well, I guess if he didn’t know, one can’t be too harsh on those actions, right? Good job in passing on some knowledge, and it’s nice that he’s now leaving the requisite type of tip for at least the good servers. Fascinating how we’re all brought up differently in one way or another.

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