A friend of mine owns a restaurant. Sometimes some of us will eat dinner in the bar area. Usually, but not always, the person handling those tables is my friend's wife / co-owner. Sometimes my friend will join us, and he'll often comp the meal for everybody when he does. (And sometimes even when he doesn't, although I get the sense that his generosity may occasionally be the subject of minor marital friction.)
When a regular server is handling our table, we always get good service and tip accordingly. Maybe even a little heavy, since our presence means that she has to deal with her boss(es) more than usual. When the co-owner is handling our orders, though, the level of service is somewhat, shall we say, relaxed. Forgotten drink orders, mistakes on the bill, long absences while she deals with a crisis in the kitchen, etc. But we're all friends, so no worries, right?
The question is, what to do about tipping in this situation? If the meal is comped, I'll tip the bartender, but leave it at that. Otherwise, it seems a little too much like somebody slipping me a $20 after dinner in my home. On the other hand, when I pay for the meal, the charge slip has a line for a tip. Then I throw on 20%, if for no other reason than to avoid seeming stingy after all the generosity we've been shown.
Is this the correct thing to do? We're in a weird kind of limbo between guest and customer, and she's in a similar no-man's-land between host and server. And I seem to recall having heard something a long time ago about tips being appropriate only for employees. But we're getting table service, so it seems cheap not to tip. Can my fellow Hounds help me figure out whether my current scheme is the best way to handle this situation?