There was a recent article in the New York Times entitled “Hey Waiter! Just How Much Extra Do You Really Expect?” In it the author, David Sax, just regurgitates the ignorant and curmudgeonly responses certain people have always had towards tipping. So read the article, come back here, and I’ll examine Sax’s ideas point by point.
1. Hey Waiter! Just how much extra do you really expect? – Well Dave, unless you’ve been living under a rock since the Eisenhower administration, the standard gratuity for a waiter is between fifteen and twenty percent.
2. Do you need change? – I’m in agreement with Dave on this one. Let’s say you’re a waiter and a customer gives you a fifty-dollar bill to pay a forty-dollar check. A server should never ask if you want change. You should just bring the ten back to the table – broken down into convenient tipping denominations like a five and five ones. To do otherwise is called “begging for change” which is unseemly and unprofessional. Even if the customer gives you twenty bucks on a $19.53 bill – you bring them change. But let’s say you hand a waiter a 100-dollar bill on a 95-dollar check and say, “Keep the change.” That’s a 5.2 percent tip Diamond Jim! So if the waiter brings your change anyway that’s waiterspeak for “Your tip sucks.”
3. And you, my dear bartender, who cracked open a $4 beer bottle, and handed me back my change entirely in a stack of one-dollar notes. Very subtle. As though the sheer bulk of that paper would deter me from putting it back in my wallet, and, defeated, I’d simply leave it there for you like a burnt offering on your sticky altar
After this article, something tells me Dave’s going to have trouble ever “catching a bartender’s eye” ever again. And what kind of bar are you going to where they tip only in ones? Probably a strip club. And yes, the bar tops in those places can get very sticky. Now if you’re just grabbing a beer at your local pub a dollar per drink is an acceptable gratuity. But if you warm that barstool for three hours and swill 100 dollars worth of booze the bartender’s looking for 15 to 20 percent.
4. As much as I think you’re pleasing to look at, and you do magical things with frothy milk, I just don’t see your services commanding a 70-plus percent premium over the market rate for my breakfast.
Even a barista’s not going to tip another barista 70 percent for breakfast. As a former waiter my default tip is 20 percent. Twenty-five if the service is outstanding. Some servers will tip heavier. But 70 percent? Unless I’m high as kite and the waitress is offering me a blowjob, no way. And having worked as a barista in Portland, Oregon I can tell you that “doing magical things with frothy milk” is a lot harder than it looks. Besides, baristas often don’t keep all the money customers stuff into that tip jar. Depending on the establishment, how those gratuities get divvied up can result is a byzantine formulation that would make an account stroke out. And yes Dave, some of those baristas are cute pieces of eye candy. But just because you have a snowball’s chance in hell of scoring with one of them doesn’t mean you should punish them with a bad tip.
5. “…parties of six or more will be charged a 20 percent gratuity.” Because there’s simply no way that six adults can gauge the service of a meal (one of hundreds in their lives)
As I will examine in my upcoming book Keep the Change, service quality has very little do with the gratuities customers leave. So that whole “gauging the service” thing is bullshit. How many restaurant customers out there say, “I’m leaving you a bad tip because your service sucked?” Most people don’t have the balls. How a customer tips is often a diagnostic indicator of their personality. I’d love to run a personality inventory on you Dave. The results could be very interesting.
And I’ve explained ad nauseam on this blog why “auto-grats” are slapped on to parties of six or more. Large parties eat slower than tables with two for four customers. The way waiters and restaurants make their money is by “turning and burning” tables. I can make a lot more money serving several two-tops that take 1.5 hours to eat than getting my section clogged up with an eight-top that lingers over coffee until the busboys start swabbing the floors with bleach. (That’s restaurant speak for, “It’s time for you to go.”) And if you’ve tied up my section the entire night and leave me a bad tip? Well then I’ve worked for nothing. Auto-grats are designed to protect waiters from cheap tippers like you, Dave.
6. Yes, I know you’re all underpaid. But guess what? So am I. When I get $500 for an article that I think is worth $1,000, you won’t see me e-mail the editor, saying, “Just so you know, service isn’t included.” Do I ask you to come into my workplace and supplement my meager income? No, I don’t.
Well Dave, judging from this piece of flotsam you wrote it’s entirely possible your articles aren’t worth $1000.
Waiters in New York State are paid $4.65 an hour. That’s what’s called the “tip allowance.” A restaurant owner is exempt from paying the full minimum wage of $7.25 an hour because the expectation is tips will bring a server’s income to or above the minimum wage. (If a waiter’s tips do not result in earning $7.25 an hour the owner’s supposed to make up the difference. But there’s as much chance of that happening as a mystical being exchanging legal tender for a tooth left under my pillow.) Simply put, waiters and other service personnel depend on tips to survive. Is that fair? Who knows? But Dave, if you have an idea how to change an economic reality that’s been operating in this country since the 1890’s let me know. And the last time I checked, no one can survive in the Big Apple on $4.65 an hour. When I was a waiter many customers told me, “If you don’t like the money you’re making get another job.” Well, that argument cuts both ways Dave. If you don’t like the money your editors are paying you then maybe you should consider another line of work.
7. Better to just slap us with a perfunctory tax and screw up our orders anyway. Once that tip is locked in, who cares if the fish is cold?
Restaurant owners care, that’s who. Serving cold fish is a bad way to ensure repeat customers and a good way to go out of business. And if customers stop coming to a restaurant because of shoddy food or bad service, neither the owners nor the waiters will make money. Oh sure, you’ll get servers who don’t give a damn once the tip is locked in because they’re lazy jerks. But sometimes we’ll be slow with our service because the table’s acting like a bunch of idiots.
8. Sure, you’re in the service industry. But doesn’t that mean that my gratuity should be a reward for better service, or at least an incentive?
Sure, servers are incentivized by money. But any waiter will tell you that they’ve given customers great service and gotten bad tips and given poor service and gotten great tips. At first glance there’s no rhyme of reason as to why customers tip or don’t. As I said above, service quality has very little to do with tipping. Shocker!
9. Oh, sure, I’m cheap – No shit, Dave.
10. But not as cheap as your boss, apparently, who figures he can pay you the minimum wage of $4.65 for servers, and the customer will just pick up the rest of your living expenses.
See the explanation above.
11. Imagine if everyone did that. As you file out of the airplane, there’s the pilot, standing with his palm outstretched like a doorman who just let you into the hotel: “Hope you enjoyed your flight. Ahem, bit of a rough landing there, ahem. Not too easy to pull off, you know. Oh, why thank you, sir. You shouldn’t have.”
Bad example. Commercial airline pilots and air stewards have historically never accepted gratuities. (Though private jet pilots do occasionally get tipped.) But let me tell you Dave, I’d have slipped Captain “Sully” a crisp 100-dollar bill after saving my ass.
12. I could elect not to tip, but that is as much an option as refusing to pay your income tax because you’re a member of the Tea Party
Yes, some Tea Party activists advocate the abolition of income tax but don’t they want to switch over to a consumption tax? (Correct me if I’m wrong.) But no matter how you slice their ideas, someone’s paying taxes somewhere.
13. So here’s the deal: I’ll keep forking over my change, you keep smiling….
Yes! We’ll keep smiling like service-industry lawn jockeys, Dave. Thank you massah!
14. …. and we’ll both lobby for an increase in the minimum wage.
Can’t wait to see you storming Capitol Hill to agitate for change Dave! The minimum wage can go up and up but, as the laws stand now, tipped employees in most states are subject to a tip allowance and will continue to make below the minimum. Can we change that law? It’s possible. But what you pay in tips will just get folded into restaurant prices and you’ll end up shelling out the same amount of money anyway. And since water always seeks it’s own level, unscrupulous restaurateurs will siphon off that money, pay their waiters a pittance and waiting tables will turn from an honorable profession that puts food on the tables of 2 million American workers into another wage slave job. Is that what you want Dave?
15. David Sax, a journalist and the author of “Save the Deli” (Houghton Mifflin), lives in Park Slope and always tips 15 percent.
I haven’t read your book Dave and after reading this crap I probably won’t. I’m glad to hear you’re still tipping 15% no matter what. That’s cool. But something tells me the guys at the deli murmur,” Oh no, that guy!” when you walk in the door.
Stephen Dublanica, the author of Waiter Rant – Thanks for the Tip: Confessions of a Cynical Waiter (Harper Collins, 2008) lives in in New Jersey (Got a problem with that?) and his next book, Keep the Change, will be published in late 2010. And yes, he knows how to tip.