Month: December 2011

Eating in public #3
The tipping point

I was once informed that the word “tip” was an acronym that stood for “To Improve Performance.”  I suppose we, in the dining public, would leave funds on the table to induce the individual to perform well. They know that if they don’t do a good job they won’t get much, or maybe nothing at all.

Perhaps it’s okay to look at it that way. But I prefer to look at a tip as payment for service.

I’ve never waited a table in my life. That’s not counting the occasional family gathering when mom’s evil eye and swift kick to the knee indicated that it was my turn to clear the table. I have, however, known many a food service professional. They all have a story to tell but the one common thread is that they don’t get paid squat. As of this writing, the federal minimum wage for wait staff is $2.13 per hour. You didn’t know that, did you? But it’s true. Not that the “regular” federal minimum wage of around $7.00 an hour would keep any single person’s cupboard stocked with steak and Starbucks.

That couple of bucks an hour that they get paid by the establishment scarcely pays for their toothpaste and People magazine bills. When you leave a tip you aren’t doing them any favors – you’re compensating them for the work that they’ve done on your behalf. Stiff them or be stingy and, in my book anyway, you’d better have a good reason. You can disagree with the system, but that’s just the way it works.

Whenever I set my size 13s in a sit-down public eating establishment, I mentally give the service person a 20% tip. If they do a good job, they’re getting the 20% (and it probably will be rounded up just a bit to save myself the mathematical tension).

Notice that I said a good job. They don’t have to go above and beyond the call of duty — they just have to do a good job. Before they introduce themselves, they’re getting 20%.

I start to deduct from the 20% for deficiencies. I don’t keep a spreadsheet going and the deductions aren’t scientific but, for example, if my beverage is not regularly re-filled, I’m going down to 15%. That’s quite a big drop I admit.  But there isn’t much work involved in keeping a glass of water filled. And in my experience if the beverage isn’t attended to, then not much else is, either.

After food is delivered, whether it be the opening salad or soup, the main course or dessert, I expect my server to check back with me. They should make sure I got what I ordered, that the food is acceptable and that there’s not a large piece of asphalt in my mashed potatoes. Failure to check back will result in a reduction.

I’m also looking for friendly service. It’s a bonus if I’m entertained and leave the public place happier than when I entered.  Make me laugh out loud and you’re destined for extra tippage. I want some semblance of a smile and to be treated nicely. This is important because on nearly any given shift the service folks are putting up with rude customers like you. Customers who can’t make up their minds, customers who complain about everything and colleagues in the kitchen who aim to make life as miserable as possible. Plus they’re on their feet all day. So we shouldn’t expect refrains of “Happy-Happy, Joy-Joy”,  but I do expect a nice disposition.

The server always should offer dessert. Even if I’ve just had a hot-dog. Even if I’ve just consumed inhuman quantities of chow. Offer me dessert. If they don’t, I’m going to feel like I’m  being herded like a bovine on my way to the next pasture. So they’ll take a deduction on the tip. Plus they’ll lose the addition of the dessert to the tip calculating base.

Finally, the dirty dishes need to be removed regularly. Dirty dishes piling up is not appetizing and it also restricts freedom of movement whilst trying to ingest foodage. On one hand I will argue that it isn’t the job of the server to deal with the dirties, but in establishments where it is, their performance in this area will be reflected in the tip.

All of that said, it’s very rare that I tip below 10%.

I try to take the atmosphere into account. If it’s clear a bad day is being had by all, I’m not going to add to it by withholding coin. We’re all human and none of us is on the top of our game all the time.

When I was a single dude I took full advantage of the tipping process in order to arrive at the the“getting to know you” department. Some might liken it to prostitution but I was simply rewarding a fine-looking young lady for  being so. I mean, if I can’t express that I’m a decent, up-standing citizen by leaving a 200% tip, then what’s the point of living in a free-market economy? I don’t know.

Now don’t think for a moment that female service professionals don’t understand that this goes on. They pander to it, believe me. The staged casualness of their hand on your shoulder? The endearing phrases such as “Can I get you a refill on that honey?” when she’s not talking about bee-juice? The revealing and evocotive garments? The questions to which the answers hold to meaning? They’re all there to distract the male customer from his wallet.

Of course it’s all fake and just meant to provide a pleasant atmopshere. One that will have us men leaving a decent tip even though the order destined for table 17 ended up in front of us in error. And even though we didn’t complain as we ate the liver, onions and wind chime casserole.

Standing around and waiting on us is hard work.  Even in the simplest of joints, just watch what goes on.  Dealing with the public is horrendous on a good day.  If you can’t afford or are unwilling to offer up the 20%, get a candy bar at the gas station and keep on down the road.

These folks work hard.

Their wages are low.

They put up with a lot of crap.

They put up with you.

Pay ’em.