Coat Check Tipping in the Recession

20090215-coatcheck.jpgSerious eaters, I have a question I want to pose to you about an issue I grapple with several times a week, namely whether I check my coat in restaurants. In these tough economic times even really small spending decisions of a dollar or two seem to take on new importance. Checking your coat in a restaurant is a perfect example.

Last week Robyn Lee and I went to the front room of the Gramercy Tavern for a very late lunch. I wanted her to photograph a couple of dishes that I thought were pretty special. We didn't get there until 2:30. The room by then was half full. The ever-gracious hostess at the restaurant asked us if we wanted to check our coats.

My first impulse these days is not to check my coat. Saving a buck or two seems like a no brainer in a rapidly deteriorating economy. The room wasn't full, so draping my coat over either my chair or an empty one would be an option that wouldn't inconvenience anyone. My coat wouldn't be in the way in a half-empty room, I reasoned to myself. And it wouldn't be unsightly in the less formal, much cheaper tavern area. In the fancier back dining room, maybe, but a bar is a beer-and-sandwich kind of a place.

Plus, I was in fact going to order the $14 soup and sandwich, the cheapest full lunch on the tavern menu, so a $2 coat check tip was going to add nearly 15 percent to the cost of my meal.

20090215-claimticket.jpgSo I didn't check my coat, but as I was leaving I glanced over at the woman standing in the coat closet. I began to feel guilty about not checking it. Doesn't this woman's living at least in large part depend on people checking their coats and giving her a buck or two to retrieve them? Aren't I just making things worse by contributing to and exacerbating both her financial and the entire economy's situation?

Erin Zimmer here told he she faced a similar situation a couple of days later having a burger and beer at the half-empty bar at Irving Mill. She had come for the $15 recession special, so she decided not to check her coat. She said she felt guilty but didn't feel like spending the extra $2 to check her coat to have a burger in a not-full room.

If you're eating in a restaurant where you're spending at least $50 for dinner, you check your coat. But if you're just having a sandwich or a burger or a couple of tapas or a pizza and you're spending less than $20, should you be under that same obligation? Shouldn't we be able to save those two bucks without feeling guilty?

What say you, serious eaters, about this pressing issue?