Q. What should you tip for a service that you signed up for through Groupon or some similar discount program? Do you add a gratuity based on the full retail value or the discounted price?
Name withheld by request
A. The short answer is: Tip on the full retail value. The longer answer is one of my family’s mantras: It’s good to be thrifty, but it’s bad to be cheap. The ideal response to deep savings is expansiveness, a sharing of the open hand rather than an extension of the tight fist. It’s even what Groupon recommends on its vouchers: “Remember—there’s no discount on great service. Please be sure to tip on the total bill.” Alas, people don’t always follow suit. After Michael offered a coupon deal at his massage-therapy business, he sometimes came home grumbling about “cheap Grouponers”—folks who didn’t tip even though they were getting a half-price ticket to heaven. But at least he’s the sole proprietor, who made the decision to offer a coupon in the first place.
That’s quite different from the housekeeper dusting your tchotchkes or the waiter serving your schnitzel, who isn’t reaping any of the complicated long-term rewards of such a deal, and who counts on your tips to pay the rent. So pay a gratuity on the full price, especially if your coupon is for a free something-or-other. As even my kids could tell you, 20 percent of nothing is nothing.
— Catherine Newman