Month: March 2013

Eating in public #6
Tipping calculations

I recently gave serious consideration over how much to tip our waitress at one of our favorite sushi joints.

Most people, when thinking about tipping, are concerned with the percentages.

“How much should I tip?”  debates ensue over the quality of service, the accuracy of the order, the class of the joint and so on.

This time I had to figure the amount based on friendliness. That’s a hard one to compute. The waitress technically did what she needed to do, but she wasn’t friendly and appeared to detest being in that space and time vector.

I generally start out assuming that a server deserves 20%. I deduct based on problems encountered during the dining experience. But is apathy really a problem? We were going to eat there and enjoy great food regardless of this lady’s enthusiasm quotient. But each time she came to our table to inquire about the food or to refill our water glasses my wife and I exchanged the “What’s up with her?” glance.

Notice that she came back to make sure the food was good and made sure we never ran out of water. She did her job. But I think she would rather have been de-pilling her sweaters.

On the other side of the thought, if the server is really friendly and happy and smart, but the food is lousy and full of flies, they still might get the 20% out of me. A lot goes into the tipping calculation, but being a nice person can trump a lot of other ills.

But that doesn’t mean you can sneeze on my burger or drop ear wax into my soup. There are limits.

In my opinion most of the problems that take place in a public eating establishment are related to something that happened in the kitchen. Yes, I know, if the server doesn’t refill my drink, doesn’t come back to make sure I’m enjoying the meatloaf even though I ordered the fish-n-chips…those are things upon which the server might want to improve. But usually the fault lies elsewhere. That is important to consider when doing the tipping calculation. I think the tip is for the server (and this is often shared with the ancillary dining room staff) and should reflect the quality of their work. If the steak is raw or a box of Morton ended up in the soup, the fault lies with the white-smocked ones hanging out in the stainless steel forest, not the one with the order pad and apron.

I’ve always been a generous tipper. I grew up next to a restaurant and my family ate out often. So I’ve spent a lot of time around service personnel. But I think my tendency to tip on the high end comes from my appreciation for the work that goes into the job.

I have a lot of sympathy for wait staff. They’re on their feet for a long time. They’re constantly in motion. If they so much as sit down for a second, the clientele looks at them with accusations of lazy in their eyes. They have to be quick-minded, able to deal with all of the whackos that tend to inhabit the dining public and they have to know everything on the menu. And not just what’s on the menu, but what’s in the kitchen, what the cook on duty will or will not do for a customer and whether or not they turned the “OPEN” sign on.

Oh, and they’d better not get sick or plan to retire, because they’re probably not getting any benefits whatsoever. Apart from free cottage cheese. All they can eat. After the expiration date of course.

They are the front line of the business. Regardless of the source of the customer’s angst, it’s the server that gets both barrels. But how much pull do they have over how the business operates, how big the slice of cow is or how much mode is in the a la mode? I’m guessing not much.

They show up, they hussle, they keep track of orders, they work with computer terminals that always seem to have keys missing or mis-labeled, they have to smell dozens of kinds of food all day and clean up after your drippy-nose kids all while banking a sub-minimum wage. Oh, and they have to do side work like filling the salt and pepper shakers, making sure each of 29 kinds of sweetener packet is available at each table and spreading ice-melt on the sidewalk.

Being a server is hard work. Even when they just do the bare minimum, it’s more work than this desk-jockey code-writer is interested in doing. Call me lazy if you must, but I am in awe of how hard they work. Hard work they do to serve me. And you. Regardless of the type of day they’re having. Regardless of the type of day we’re having. Regardless of how ornery Mel is being toward them.

No, I’ve never been a waiter myself.

Nor a waitress.

I’m not biased.

“Miss, there’s a fly in my soup.”

Maybe I’ll make that 21%.