Ask the Waiter – Tip Cooler!


I have a question for you. While it’s not in regards to the restaurant industry, it has to do with the bar business. And, you guessed it, tipping.

Within the last two years, I’ve developed some severe medical problems, mainly claustrophobia and agoraphobia, and I really can’t stand being around people. Or more precisely, people being too close to me. Yet, I still go out every single night. I choose bars that are generally dead, and I scope out a seat at the bar where I am least likely to be bothered. This means usually one seat away from a wall orthe seat right next to the service station. I am generally fine if there’s one person to the left or right of me, but not both, and definitely not if they are standing.

Usually everything’s fine. People usually respect my space. Until I get up to use the restroom. When I get back 2-3 minutes later, there’s ALWAYS either someone sitting in my seat or leaning on my seat or leaning next to my seat……. It doesn’t matter which bar or which part of town I’m at either anymore, or even how empty the bar is. This really is a recent occurrence. I always say “Excuse me” so I can sit back down but why should I have to do that? That’s not my question.

My question is in regards to when I sit by the service station and someone wants to close out their tab. Nine out of ten times they will lean right up against me and brush up against me. I always say “Excuse me” as well, but if they don’t move, I get mad and tell them to stop touching me. (I really hate being touched.) I’ve just found out in the last couple of days that I’m adversely affecting the bartender’s tips because I’m telling customers to respect my space and to stop touching me. And that instead of a standard, say, $5 credit card tip, they only leave $2 because “I” am an asshole and I somehow just ruined their evening because I told them to stop touching me.

Before you tell me to see a doctor or stop going out every night or start popping pills to control anxiety, that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to stop drinking and I’m not going to stop going out andI refuse to pop pills and doctors are evil price gouging bastards (but that’s another story for another time). The bars I frequent know me well, and dare I say it, they like me too. The bartenders know and understand I just want to be left alone and not be touched. But I don’t want to diminish their tips just because I had to tell some people to get out of my personal space.I have tried sitting one seat away from the service stat but the situation always ends up worse. (stool right by service station is pushed right up flat right against me, and one guy sits and brushes up against me while the others hover in the service station…)

Does any of this make sense? If so, please advise, because I don’t understand how people can take tips away from their bartender when they’re knowingly and intentionally invading my space


Dear Francis:

Customers view dining out holistically. You may be the best waiter in the world and give flawless service but if any one part of a customer’s dining experience gets screwed up, even if it’s beyond your control, you could still receive a poor gratuity. Whether it’s a rude hostess, clumsy bus boy, poorly made drink, wilted radicchio, chilly dining room, or lumpy mashed potatoes – any one of these things can spoil a patron’s night.

How a restaurant’s clientèle behaves is also a big part of the customer satisfaction equation. When people go out to dinner they want to have a good time. When their good time is spoiled by another patron’s behavior they’ll often signal their displeasure by leaving a bad tip. That seems to be what is happening in your case.

It is inevitable that people will brush against each other in a restaurant or a bar. It’s usually harmless and unintentional. While “excuse me” is an acceptable response, saying “Don’t touch me!” when the situation doesn’t warrant that level of reaction can make the customers around you uncomfortable. If they feel their “good time” has been damaged they may express their frustration by lowering the bartender or waiter’s tip. That’s unfair but that’s the way it is. I can’t tell you how many times a drunk customer or a fighting couple torpedoed my tip percentage. It seems you’ve been alerted that your behavior is negatively affecting the bartender’s revenue stream. If this situation persists it’s inevitable that they will stop liking you. The problem is not with the customers or the bartenders – it is with you.

There’s really no advice I can give you. You’re suffering from a serious set of anxiety disorders that require treatment. You seem to be trying to self treat your disorder by venturing into quasi-social settings in an effort to lessen your anxiety around people. That takes a certain amount of courage and you should be commended. Going it alone, however, will only lead to more situations like the one you described at the bar. People eventually won’t want you around them. That reaction will only serve to further your isolation and make you a more anxious and angry person. It’s a vicious circle. In everyday social situations you cannot expect people to be patient with your behavior or tolerate unrealistic demands for “space.” That’s why it’s important to see a therapist or doctor trained in the treatment of anxiety disorders. They get paid to be patient! If you don’t want get help you’re only making things harder on yourself and the bartenders and waitstaff at the establishments you patronize. I wish you luck. Also, watch the drinking, That can make matters worse.

Since I’m a big fan of exploiting life’s negatives, however, I would urge you, since you don’t want help, to try turning your pathology into ability. Did you ever see the movie “The Cooler?” In the film William H. Macy plays a man with such bad luck that he transmits it to every gambler in his physical vicinity and causes them to lose. An devious casino boss hires Macy’s character to stand next to casino patrons on a winning streak and change their luck for the worse. You could be the “Tip Cooler!” Unscrupulous restaurateurs could hire you to patronize a competitor’s restaurant and lower the waiters’ tips – causing rapid staff turnover, poor service, customer dissatisfaction, a bad review in The New York Times, and eventual bankruptcy. Set up an ad on the internet. Trust me, a legion of Manhattan restaurant owners would be eager to hire you.

Now you can see why I’m no longer work in the mental health field

10 thoughts on “Ask the Waiter – Tip Cooler!”

  1. barb says:

    Awesome reply waiter! You are a master at psychology, I’m not kidding. If every therapist had had to work as a wait person at some point, they would probably have literally “seen it all”. I found the guy’s letter interesting, & your answer rocked.

  2. Faye says:

    I doubt Francis will ever read it, but one suggestion I have, if it’s possible, is to bring a friend as a “buffer”. Have that person stand on the side with the most activity and hopefully they would be able to keep the crowd at bay.

    Of course, I’m sure he’s thought of that, but just figured I’d add my two cents.

  3. anonymous says:

    Francis, I think it’s great that you are making an effort to go out in public even though it’s uncomfortable. I suggest you go to the bar at odd hours in the afternoon (just not lunchtime). This will help you avoid seeing a lot of people, and the bartender won’t care as much if it’s slow (he’ll be losing less money).

  4. Anonymous says:

    Service question:
    Table for 7 at an Indian restaurant in NJ. It’s Diwali [the Hindu version of Christmas] and we’re at a family dinner. On time for reservation, whole party seated at table for 8. There are only 6 settings. We asked for a setting and were sternly told that it was a table for 8 [as if we were trying to get an extra setting that we did not deserve]. Pointed out that while it was a table for 8, 7 were seated and there were only 6 settings. Suffice it to say that only after being prompted again, did the 7th setting appear- AFTER apps and before dinner. The lady to my left was reduced to helping herself from the app platter. Apps came with no chutneys/dipping sauce [always the norm with this app]. When requested, chutneys came w/ no spoons. When questioned, we were told that “normally we get a lot of couples and they don’t need spoons… they just dip.” Not only were we not a table for two, there were NO clients in two’s that night. 70% capacity and all were tables of 4 or more. The same lady [poor thing] also did not have a water glass and none was served, even though dinner had been served. When she requested water, the waiter pointed to her drink and walked away as if he’d satisfied the issue. She asked again and 30 min later, no water had materialized. By now, the husband was irate at her horrible experience through the night and spoke to the maitre d’. The waiter came back and slammed the glass of water in front of her [actual splash onto tablecloth.] When dinner came, it was not served. They just left the platters on the table and we all served ourselves.

    At the end of the meal, we asked for the check and noticed an 18% gratuity added on. I spoke to the maitre d’ and after listing our complaints, stated that we wanted the auto-gratuity removed. The waiter was irate and actually came to our table to indicate his displeasure at our request in fairly loud tones. I suggested that we move to a quiet part of the restaurant so that I could discretely explain, but he refused and kept saying in an increasingly loud tone “So what, you just want me to remove this? Just take it off?”

    We’d intended leaving 10% cash, but after he made a scene [claimed to also be the manager; but he was the one in the apron, running around – not managing anything], we left $0. Were we completely wrong?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Oh my god. My apologies. I did not mean to post the above here. It’s the wrong forum for this query.Please disregard.

  6. Lee says:

    “If this situation persists it’s inevitable that they will stop liking you. The problem is not with the customers or the bartenders – it is with you.”

    It’s a harsh reality, but sometimes it takes someone to actually state the above before it’s possible to fully absorb the situation. It’s all about making little steps towards where you want to be, and with patience, practice and time you will develop and grow. Just don’t give up, although sometimes you need to give up before you can kick yourself and get back on your feet again. Although I am not sure Francis actually understands that he does have a problem that makes him appear un-accepting of other people, it’s not his fault but he needs to fix it, possibly hypnotherapy or counselling could be an option.

  7. Thea says:

    Francis – see a doctor. And leave your opinions about them being a bunch of price-gougers at the door. I’ve been on both sides of the psychological treatment process and can tell you for a fact that it’s worth trying – and certainly a lot easier than this process of quasi-torture you’re putting yourself through.

  8. Finnegan says:


  9. Glass of whiskey half full says:

    I just don’t understand why you would sit next to the service bar. Yes, you have room on one side but that area will always be where customers will go to pay the tab. You know what kind of bar you like; Try new areas in the bar. Perhaps even play a game, video or darts, by yourself that, once in play, no one can interact with you. Good luck, be nice!

  10. Rob says:

    You know what it is?

    if your own large bubble of personal space, all the time, is that important to you, New York, let alone restaurants and bars there, are not for you. Restaurants are social spaces. Nobody is forcing you to go there.

    Also, remember that manhattan is an island 2.5 miles wide where over 3 million people call home. Your “entitlement” to personal space ends the minute you cross that bridge or tunnel.

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