Payback, payola, quid pro quo, freebies, gratuities - New York City is mired in the various forms of "free" or discounts. The small business owner should express gratitude to the regular customer in some way. In the world of restaurants, policy and practices span the gamut in New York City, from one extreme to another. I am currently experiencing both extremes. In one case, a restaurant I have frequented weekly for over ten years has never offered me anything free other than the requisite water. Nothing. At the other end, a new restaurant I am currently frequenting is offering me free appetizers and/or desserts at every visit for nearly a year. The owner is rolling out the red carpet and I am being treated like family.
Free, however, may not always be the best thing for either party. I have given a lot of thought to this because of a very poignant incident that happened when I was much younger. At the time, I was making handcrafted items and a close friend told me that he wanted to buy one of my products. I was pleased and in the conversation that ensued, I mentioned that I would, of course, give him some sort of discount. To which he replied that he wanted no discount, but insisted on paying full retail. I was very perplexed by this and asked why. Isn't a discount to be expected with business between friends? His answer still lingers in my mind today, decades later. No, he said, if you are truly a friend, then you want to see your friends do well and succeed. A friend should be the most willing to pay full price and refuse a discount. Of course, the individuals' affluence relative to one another needs to be taken into account also.
This philosophy was echoed many, many years later, when another friend, who was a consultant and on the board of directors for a small performance group, told me he paid for admission to all of the group's performances. This appeared to be insane to me. When I asked why, his reasoning was the same as my aforementioned friend - he was a patron of the arts and wanted them to succeed. He pointed out that the idea of refusing freebies also serves the customer or patron - helping a business survive provides a continued source of a product or service.
The issue of freebies in restaurants, however, poses a dilemma with regards to all these issues of showing customer appreciation and the customer's reciprocal support. Once an owner or staff member surprises with free food, such as an appetizer or dessert, it would be insulting (and perhaps wasteful) to refuse it. Insisting that it be added to the bill will most likely be met with refusal. And, leaving an unusually large tip does not compensate the ownership, where ultimately, the act of generosity lies. So, in the case of restaurant offerings, I follow the advice of a someone who once suggested: if someone offers you a gift, take it :)
Photo Note: This free piece of Tiramisu was offered to my dining companion and I last night at Boyd Thai, a great little place that I wrote about in 2007 - see it here.