Posts tagged " reciprocity "

Too Many Gifts?

August 2nd, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 18 comments

A small coffee shop recently opened in my town and I visit them every day for coffee and sometimes a pastry. Because I enjoy the food and I appreciate being able to have a friendly conversation with the owner, and occasionally get a free refill on coffee, I like to leave a tip in the jar. Sometimes I’m even given free pastries, which are wonderful fresh-baked creations by the owner’s wife, typically sold for a few dollars. I’ve even been given whole loaves of bread for free. 

Here is where my dilemma comes in. I don’t like to go around looking for hand-outs or expecting gifts; I prefer to pay for whatever I receive. However, I understand and respect that people like to give gifts without expecting anything in return. I’m the same way.

I understand that the coffee shop owner and his wife are likely allowing me their extra goods because it creates customer loyalty and it is also a sign of their appreciation for my patronage. I tend to feel guilty for receiving as much as I do from them because I feel like I’m not doing anything to really deserve it. I’m not sure how to adequately express my genuine thanks in return. 

I want to give them more tips, but is that not being respectful of their act of giving a gift? What might be the best way to show my thanks, in addition to continuing to purchase my usual coffee and treats? 

Thank you very much for your time and consideration!

Elsa S.

Dear Elsa,

While you may very well live downtown in a major metropolis, in our minds we’re conjuring up a rural small-town atmosphere. Either way, your dilemma is a wonderful one to have.

We want to be clear that had you told us that a friend of yours worked for a cafe and kept on giving you freebies, that would be a completely different question. However, in your case, the owners are the ones giving you gifts. We think you are right to recognize their appreciation of your patronage as well as their desire to foster customer loyalty.

As you note, while I’m sure any tips you leave are appreciated, attempting to ‘pay’ for your gifts in that way would be ungracious. They are making their own business/personal decision and you can pleasantly accept what they give you without feeling that it calls for a response. Indeed, as their clientele grows they may cut back on the gifts and it would be just as misplaced for you to resent that as to feel that you presently owe something in return.

However, you do want to support them and let them know how much you appreciate their business. One of the ways you can do that is by letting people know about them. This can include word-of-mouth as well as using social media such as leaving a review on Yelp or similar websites. (We would encourage you to talk about the pleasant surroundings and delicious coffee and food while staying quiet about the generosity. No need to set people up for disappointment when they have to pay for their pastries.) Let the proprietors know of your promotional efforts, not in a bragging way but because it will strengthen them as they cope with the inevitable difficulties that running a business entails.

You could also offer gift certificates to your friendly coffee shop when you want a way to thank someone local, for example a neighbor who takes in your mail while you’re away or as a ‘notice of appreciation’ to your mailman.

Some of us have more trouble giving than receiving while others of us lean in the opposite direction. Cultivating the ability to both give and to receive is desirable.

Enjoy a coffee for us,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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