The subject of tipping sells papers. The mere mention of gratuities – whether it’s about how to, why or who should get them – elicits passionate responses from both Che Guevara t-shirt wearing income redistribution guerillas and “Fuck the poor” Ayn Randian lunatics alike. And this debate has been raging for years. If you look at old newspaper clippings you’ll find heated rhetoric about tipping as far back as the end of the 19th Century. But two tipping dramas in the media recently caught my eye.
The first story exploded all over the web last week. A waitress in Seattle by the name of Victoria Liss served what she termed a “yuppie scum” couple and got a big fat zero for a tip. But in addition to the lack of gratuity someone wrote on the credit card slip, “P.S. You could stand to loose (sic) a few pounds.” Ouch.
Ms. Liss, understandably angry, posted not only a picture of the credit card slip on her Facebook page, but provided the name of the credit card holder – Andrew Meyer. The story spread like the Ebola virus and Ms. Liss later reported she had tracked down Mr. Meyer on the web and soon his picture and information about where he worked and went to school was up on websites like Crushable and The Stranger. Small problem though, Ms. Liss got the wrong Andrew Meyer.
Ms. Liss apologized writing, “I need glasses, I put up the picture of the wrong guy. I’m a douche for that. SO SORRY. Blinded by rage.” Crushable took down the page with this lame retraction, “We’re sorry, man—hope you didn’t get too much hate mail from this mistake!” And Dan Savage over at The Stranger snarked, “In my defense: I didn’t finger the guy—he he, finger the guy—I accepted the eye witness/stiffee’s ID and blogged and linked. . . And I’m sorry for that—but only for that.” So much for journalistic fact-checking! Last I heard, Ms. Liss was so overcome with remorse that she hid in bed for two days. “So sorry to the wrong guy,” she wrote, “Everyone please just drop it?”
I hope the Andrew Meyers of the Northwest aren’t screwed. I can just see some young woman doing pre-date Google recon on a poor guy with the same name and wrinkling her nose in disgust. Maybe a potential employer will have the same reaction too. Now the pre-guilt ridden Ms. Liss initially had no problems with her Internet expose stating, “We live in a social networking hub, don’t shit where you eat.” But I take issue with that. What Ms. Liss did was wrong.
I’m on record as being against the lynch mob mentality of the Internet. We all act like assholes from time to time – but we do not deserve to have our transgressions blasted all over the blogosphere. I’ve written a blog and books about being a waiter and I never identified an obnoxious customer or bad tipper by name. My thinking was that just describing the bad behavior was sufficient. Worked pretty well for me actually. Don’t get me wrong. The zero tip and offending weight loss advice was insulting in the extreme. Ms. Liss deserved to be pissed. If she had just Facebooked the check without any identifying information, that would have been a good and illuminating story. But she went overboard. For example, how did she know that the man actually wrote the message on the check? It could have been his female dining companion. How many of us let our significant other sign our name on credit card slips? Liss should have thought before she hit “send.”
I suffered greater insults during my time in restaurant serfdom. I got called fat, that I “sounded too gay,” and even had things thrown at me. It sucked. So I can sympathize with Ms. Liss’ feelings. Whoever wrote that comment is another example of the entitled, narcissistic and over inflated self-esteem junkies who patronize restaurants and make waiting a living hell. Now some might think Ms. Liss’ use of the Internet will discourage such offenses in the future. They won’t. People like that don’t care. They never will. But let me be on record saying that whoever wrote that fat comment is a miserable asshole.
The second story comes from San Francisco. It seems some local waiters want to make the standard restaurant tip 25 percent. Currently the standard tip for dining out is between 15-20 percent. Of course blogs like the Huffington Post were all over this. BBC radio even called me today to comment. So what do I think?
I don’t think 25 percent should become the standard tip. I’d keep the current system. Now I’d love to see all waiters get 20 percent every time. They work hard for their money and often have to contend with jerks like Ms. Liss encountered. But the economy sucks. People are eating out less and/or ordering less expensive items. Customers are still tipping in the 15-20 percent range, but their smaller checks are yielding less tip income that in days past. That means waiters have to work longer hours for the same amount of money. As I described in my book Keep the Change, most people do not tip to reward the quality of service. They tip for psychological reasons like fear, guilt, empathy or acting out a personality disorder. But raising the tip standard today is like raising taxes on the middle class during the recession. If you ate 100 bucks worth of food at a Manhattan eatery and tipped 20 percent, after you factor in the sales tax, you’re looking at shelling out $128.90. If that tip were 25 percent, the bill would come to $133.00.
Now some people might say, “Hey, it’s only four bucks difference.” True. That figure will never bother rich people. But for average struggling middle class folks who sees dining out as a treat, upping the tip norm might become a deterrent to eating out. Remember the old waiter saying, “If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out?” They might just do that! And that will hurt every waiter and every restaurant. So lets keep the percentages as they are. Besides, the IRS will only take more anyway. But if you feel like you must tip 25 percent? Then God bless you.
And you know what would be better than increasing the tip rate? Helping restaurant workers have access to affordable health insurance! How about that!!!!!!