Do The Right Thing
By Jeanne Fleming, Ph.D., and Leonard Schwarz

(MONEY Magazine) – Is It Okay to Slip a Maître d' a Few Bucks for Better Service?

Q. To celebrate the birthday of the woman I've been dating, I arranged to take her to a popular new restaurant and then a concert. Unfortunately, she got held up at work. By the time we arrived at the restaurant, our reservation had been canceled, and the wait for a table was half an hour. We needed to eat promptly because of the concert, so I explained our situation to the maître d' and slipped him a twenty-dollar bill. He had a table for us in minutes. I thought tipping the maître d' was a resourceful way of keeping a special evening alive. But several friends have since told me that my behavior was unethical. Was it?

ANSWER True, you were resourceful, but your friends have a more pressing point. Your table, after all, came at the expense of every other person ahead of you in line. How can that be ethical?

If you grease the palm of a pool attendant to bring you baseball updates from the bar while you relax in the sun, you've done nothing wrong because no one loses. But if you grease a palm in order to benefit at the expense of others, you've crossed over to the dark side.

You might argue that most patrons know that the restaurant where you dined is a place where a tip buys a table, so you just played by the rules of the game. But that doesn't mean that the game itself is ethical, only that it is widely accepted by people who conveniently ignore the first come, first served rule that is a basic tenet of ethics in our society--a rule the restaurant ostensibly observes by accepting reservations.

As for its being a "special evening," look: If you need a cab for a woman in labor, then you can go to the head of the line. But a couple out for a night of celebration don't get to play the special-circumstances card just because they happen to be running late.

Do I Have to Patronize a Pal's Business?

Q. My good friend Carolyn recently left the large law firm where she was a partner to open a clothing boutique with her own designs. Now every time I see her, Carolyn twists my arm to shop there. Is she wrong to press me to buy her expensive creations, which happen to look hideous on me?

ANSWER There is nothing unethical about trying to enlist support from friends by selling something to them, whether it's a charity ticket, Tupperware or professional services. So it is not unreasonable for Carolyn to urge you to visit her shop--or even to ask you to encourage your friends to shop there too. What isn't right is for her to push her designs at you so relentlessly that you feel uncomfortable saying no. Putting you in that position--whether she's flogging a $500 sweater or a $5 raffle ticket--is not just rude, it's cheating on the friendship.

For your part, ethics do require you to help your friends within reason. That, however, doesn't mean you're obligated to buy something you neither need nor want from a prosperous pal. Unless there's a quid pro quo involved--say, you've leaned on Carolyn for a donation to your favorite charity--you aren't obligated to get out your checkbook.