Publically being The Hero can sometimes be a thankless task. The bad guys know where to find you, your loved ones can get Stuffed in The Fridge, and the only solace sometimes is that you know What You Are in the Dark. On top of that, it's generally just stressful work.
Even for a normal person, similar things can apply. No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, or you simply don't come out on top on karma. After you spent your pocket money replacing something for a kid who just got robbed, you don't have cash for the place you were going to have your only meal of the day at while you contemplated what to give up to pay the late rent.
It could even be All a Part of the Job. Being a social worker or the subjectively "mean", but effective teacher can be thankless, and often doesn't even pay well.
Fortunately, there's another rare soul who's also good, and does what they can to help. This soul is also a business person, and at explicit cost to herself, provides the good with a good. Need a shopkeeper to show gratitude to the hero who saved the town from the villain? The hero will not be allowed to pay for goods/food/drink. Want to show someone who does the good deed for a living is also exceedingly honest? Have them decline such an offer.
To some extent, they can get away with this, because the economic impact of losing a customer or two may not be that large, or the personal impact of making sure the "customer" has had their deed paid forward. They may also believe it's important that the good guy has one less stressor or burden to deal with due to their good deeds, whether they know it or not.
If others know this to be an occasional offer for good deeds, the morale boost and customer loyalty this causes can be effective for business, and for the general well-being of everyone around.
Anime and Manga
- Naruto often gets this treatment from the guy who runs his favorite ramen shop. After he saves the whole town, in addition to finally being respected by everyone else, the owner (who already respected him, and knew him to be a Shonen Hero Big Eater) goes above and beyond them by giving Naruto a free buffet.
- In Harry Potter and the Amulet of the Moon by "semprini", Harry mentioned in a Daily Prophet article that he "couldn't and wouldn't accept free service or merchandise from any business, much as he appreciated the intentions of those who made such offers."
- Cowboys and Aliens: The bartender's wife lets Jake have a drink for free after he stood up to the town bully.
- Discworld has this with respect to the often heroic Witches. Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg often offer to pay for something, but they nearly always get it for free. This is because the Lancrastrians both love and fear witches.
- In the early Harry Potter books, Harry's reputation as "the boy who lived" has gotten him this treatment. Particularly in the third book, while he's staying in Diagon Ally until the new term (e.g. the local icecream vendor both helped him with his homework and gave him free Sundaes, the minister for magic basically let him off the hook for blowing up his aunt, etc)...although the fact that everyone was relieved he hadn't been killed by Sirius Black helped.
- The novelization of the Dirty Harry movie Sudden Impact mentions that Harry received his unusual .44 Automag pistol as a gift from a custom gunsmith after he had saved the man's wife... probably by killing those endangering her, knowing Harry. It's suggested that he is often offered free stuff, because the text states that the pistol is the only such gift he ever accepted.
- Jack McKinney's Novelization of Robotech includes a chapter-opening quote about how the Air-Sea Rescue crews who pulled shot-down pilots out of the ocean were NOT permitted to pay for their own drinks when visiting the bars where pilots drank.
- The original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers weren't charged by Ernie for their juices and smoothies. Word of God states that it was because he figured out they were the Power Rangers. Some WMG states that it was because it was about the least he could do for the child labor of teenagers teaching martial arts classes for free in his gym.
- In one episode of Dragnet—Friday and Gannon had just busted a perp before he could go after a restaurant owner. Immediately afterwards, a line of dialogue reveals that the cops haven't had lunch yet. The restaurant owner immediately offers a free lunch; when they refuse she tells them to sit down and order anyway, there's nothing controlling the size of the portions she serves them.
- On Fringe, a bartender in the alternate universe refuses to let Agent Broyles pay for his drink. This is because he recognizes Broyles as one of the law enforcement officials who helped deal with a major disaster (a gigantic vortex) years before; he tells Broyles that his money is no good there, because the world needs more heroes like him.
- In the Disgaea series, you get free rewards from the Healer when you reach certain milestones of total damage healed. This may only partially count because it encourages you to get hurt more so you can buy more healing, thus possibly resulting in a profit.
- Invoked in Mass Effect 2: Shepherd can convince a bar-tender to throw a round of drinks on the house to get another character's attention.
- In Final Fantasy X, the shopkeeper O'aka actually would give you a discount, but in his case only if you had donated a large sum of money to him when he was struggling to get his business off the ground. That point in time was at the beginning of the game, and you were likewise probably low on funds. Otherwise, he charges almost double what any other shop would. He also seems to suspiciously follow you around, to make sure you're prepared for upcoming fights.
- The reward for one of the quests in Diablo II is that shopkeepers in that town give you a discount.
- In Breath of Death VII, innkeepers never charge you, because you're a hero. Merchants, on the other hand, lower their prices for nobody.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, many merchants will reduce their prices (down to, with enough barter skill, selling at cost) if you do good deeds for their faction. The Kings regularily give you free stuff if yo've helped out the people of Freeside, and the Brotherhood of Steel provide you with surplus ammo if you've helped them. Likewise in Fallout 3, settlers in Megaton would give gifts to a hero protagonist, while slavers in Paradise Falls would reward a villain.
- This is generally agreed to be the mechanism behind the "Influence" currency in City of Heroes. Earned by catching criminals and performing other heroic deeds, Influence can be exchanged for a variety of in-game resources in different shops and venues. Its City of Villains counterpart, Infamy, works similarly but is based on your reputation for violent and/or criminal acts and appears to represent threatening or intimidating vendors into handing over what you want; in Praetoria it's "Information", which seems to represent leverage you have over others.
- Girl Genius: after Gil was wounded during single-handedly defending Mechanicsburg from a mechanized army, to show Wulfenbachs are still scary and in control while his father was seriously injured. He had to be healed in hidden part of a local bar so that no one would notice he isn't in best shape too, but then was identified and caught in a cheering crowd when leaving.
- In Girlchan in Paradise, the heroes temporarily defeat a villain, and the restaurant manager gives them a free meal. Kotomaru shoots him, correctly reasoning that the owner would never give out anything for free. They find the real owner tied up in a closet, and free him. As thanks, he gives them a free meal. He gets shot too.
- As an aversion, Spider-Man complains in The Randomverse that they're being charged exorbitant prices in a heroes' bar, though this is the response to the lack of Hero Insurance.
- On SpongeBob SquarePants, Mr. Krabs offers SpongeBob, his own employee, a Krabby Patty "on me... well, maybe at a discount."
- In an episode of the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Leonardo and Michelangelo are grocery shopping when two goons try to hold up the store. They respond and catch the crooks, but they have to split before the cops show up, so they ask the cashier if she can ring them up quickly. Seeing as they just saved her life, she tells them it's on the house.
- In real life: It's common for soldiers, cops, firefighters et al. to get free drinks from bartenders. American Airlines lets military traveling on orders use their Admiral's Club lounges for free (they still have to pay for meals but they waive the other fees).
- Happens in convenience stores as well. Some chains even have it as store policy that police get free coffee and fountain drinks, plus counter space to do their reports if they want it. Enlightened self interest; when your place of work is often seen as a very large free ATM, having police hanging around or known to commonly come in, at the cost of a few drinks is cheap insurance.
- At least one McDonald's in Australia lets police officers eat for free, for exactly that reason.