Too Many Gifts?

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

19 thoughts on “Too Many Gifts?”

  1. You are an awesome person. It is refreshing to read about how you want to reward people for doing their best at providing a great experience. It seems to be a trend to shamelessly rip people off these days..

    I wish I knew where I could find more grounded people like you to hang out with. Don’t change!

      1. Dear sir,

        The love between you and your wife is amazing an inspiration :D! The world needs more love like this. It is beautiful! Don’t change :))!


    Miss Susan, Here in the South we have a tradition of “lagniappe” (Definition of lagniappe. : a small gift given to a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase; broadly : something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure The waiter added a cup of lobster bisque as a lagniappe to the meal.” The term is from our Creole/Cajun friends in Louisiana , but is found in small and large stores everywhere down here. If you buy Garden plants the salesman might throw in a few extra seedlings or a pair of gloves. The chef might send you a special dessert. The Hot Dog place down the street keeps small bags of candy for the children who come in. Many establishments keep a bowl of mints at the counter. It is not an expected extra, but a friendly gesture, a thank you for being a good customer. It is the same as a baker’s dozen, ordering 12 doughnuts and getting 13. You say, “Thank you,” and but a little more next time. It is one of the nice things about living in the South. Than you and Rabbi Lapin for all of your wisdom.
    Bill Brower

    1. I love discovering a new word – lagniappe. What a lovely idea and thanks for sharing it. I’ve never thought of the bowl of mints at the counter in that way, William.

  3. I loved this question and great advice as always Rabbi and Susan!

    It reminds me of what Rabbi always teaches about how through personal connections you can both win. Elsa is getting occasionally free treats, saving her money and encouraging loyalty to the business. The business owners are feeling generous and possibly benefiting from Elsa’s word of mouth which in turn can really increase their sales or other benefit in other ways Elsa chooses to show her appreciation.

    I have a similar situation with the local sandwhich shop in town. I get the occasional discount and in turn I do their optional customer opinion surveys and encourage everyone who visits to do the same. (They get bonuses every few months when a certain number of people do the surveys.) We both win.

    1. The best businesses are win/win, as you say, Brian. Big companies can do this as well. Allowing employees to make personal connections with customers, with all the variety that entailed, without needing to go through a string of paperwork for approval is what built Nordstrom’s reputation in Seattle.

  4. Elsa’s dilemma says a lot about what a pleasant person she must be and what a pleasure she must be for the shop proprietors who must obviously look forward to seeing her.

  5. Rabbi,
    Wonderful ideas!
    I briefly thought about giving you some ideas for future topics, but then I thought No, I’d better read the rest of their stuff, first!
    Don’t want to re-invent the wheel, do we?

    1. Tim, we love receiving questions. You can always do a keyword search to see if a similar question has been asked before.

  6. Surely there must be an article at some time in your future about the art of cultivating loyal, happy customers. In a town where I once lived, my neighbor and friend owned the local deli/wine and beer store. As I was a faithful customer even when his competition was selling the same product for less, from time to time he would comp me with such little gifts such as described by Elsa that he knew I would enjoy. I should also add that he stocked the best quality deli meats in town. Once, when I ordered a corned beef sandwich, he advised me to go with the pastrami. He told me the corned beef wasn’t up to his standards and was on its way back to the distributer.

    1. Henry, where we used to live, the fish and produce people also would tell me sometimes not to get something. You bet that builds loyalty and I would go to them even when items were on sale elsewhere.

  7. David Altschuler

    Sometimes the most generous thing you can do for somebody is to let them feel like a giver.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Which you have done for us for many years David,
      And we deeply appreciate it as we have deeply appreciated you for over two decades.

  8. Elsa might (occasionally) present the coffee house with a bouquet of flowers that could be divided up to decorate the tables. I’m sure the owners would appreciate the gesture. It sounds like she lives in a lovely community. Lucky Elsa!

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