Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Rant - You are working for tips, aren't you?

I understand that many people who serve tables (especially in such academic areas as Harvard, Porter, or Kendall Squares) are students working part-time. It's not a career choice, it's just a way to pay their way through the school year.

I know, I've been there. And honestly, I wasn't a very good waitress. I'd forget things (ooh, you mean you wanted silverware?), or I'd spill things (all over someone's head, on one memorable occasion). My heart wasn't in it, because while I enjoy being social and talking to people, it's just not quite as fun when you're trying to fit being personable into 8 tables ordering at different times and wanting refills and going through napkins like there's no tomorrow. And trying to keep the kitchen happy on top of that. Then when the table leaves, you hope and pray for that 15-20%, which you sometimes get, and sometimes you get 10% or less. And I found that I'd start judging people once they sat down - "this'll be a good tipping table" "this'll be a bad tipping table," based on whatever subconscious trends I thought I'd noticed with past tables. And then if I thought they'd not tip well, it'd make it that much harder to provide them good service, because why bother, right?

So as I said, I understand. But honestly, would it kill some servers to smile sometimes? Take last night, for example. I went to a pub-style restaurant in Harvard Sq. We had a sprawling group of maybe 15 people, milling around the (tiny) back area where there are a few tables, but mostly they just store their backup kegs and the entrance to the back store room. A social gathering that's basically a nightmare for a waitress, because you know that not everyone's eating, people aren't going to drink that much, and you're going to be running back and forth. On top of that, not everyone's going to be there at the end to decide on a concrete 20% tip, so it really depends on what people throw in. So I understand her lack of enthusiasm.

But I got there earlier than the group and was chatting with two other people who were there earlier and we ordered beers from her. And she seemed so put upon by the whole thing. Even the process of making change for us to pay for the beers seemed like a cross to bear. No smile, nope nope nope.

My reasoning is this. You may not expect much from a table (or big amoeba-like gathering) in the way of tips. You may be right. But if you frown the whole time, act like you don't want to be there, and in general look entirely put-upon, then you're confirming that expectation. You're creating the very result you feared. That said, honestly, I have no idea how much we left for a tip, so I don't know if her fears were realized (I threw in mine with some tip included and headed out). Put on a smile, hope for the best, do your best, and who knows, you might just get it!

(Oh, and if any of you are the "don't give tips just leave a card saying you disagree with the tip system" types, I'm going to shoot you down right here. Servers make about $2.50 an hour, and those little cards don't change anything, other than the server's ability to pay rent. If you want to change something, then petition your representative to get the minimum wage for servers changed)


Crabby McSlacker said...

I hate when people are grouchy and take it out on me!

Have had reasonably good luck with servers in restaurants, but our grocery store has some of the most disgruntled cashiers I've ever seen.

And there's no tipping involved so they don't give a crap what you might think about their attitude.

I will definitely adjust downward for surly service when tips are involved.

Romny said...

I've done my fair share of schlepping after people so I always tip; I probably tip more than I should. Sometimes if I get a grumpy waiter/waitress I hope that the extra cash might make them a little bit happier.

One aspect of tipping that I do not tip as much is for delivery service. I ordered a pizza once and the guy was 30 min late and was mean about it so I didn't tip him. I gave him what was due for the pizza and shut the door. He actually knocked on my door and complained that I didn't give him a tip then threatened me! Ummm by you knocking on my door and threatening me justifies a tip, because?? I gave him like 50 cents then closed the door and locked it. I then called his supervisor.

I know that sometimes it may look like I'm pissed off or upset when in actuality I'm not I'm either concentrating really hard on what I'm doing or my mind is on something else.

JavaChick said...

Could be she was having a bad day, not feeling well, or something like that. Or, some people are just not cut out to be servers. I know I'm not. I did it for a while (during college) and it was really stressful for me.

I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt, everyone has bad days. Then again...There is a restaurant that we often go to with friends, and we tend to brace ourselves when we get a certain waiter. I'm sure he's trying, but he's just not very good at it. Still, not the end of the world - we still enjoy our meal and socializing together.

Charlotte said...

Man, I waitressed for 5 years and this brought back all kinds of memories! Seriously, I wasn't much of a smiler when I started that job but boy-howdy I learned to plaster one on quick! Tips are def. better that way.

justjenn said...

One time my family ate with another family and the other family was responsible for the tip. I didn't pay attention. We both parked in different areas of the parking lot. The waitress and her "manager" confronted us in the parking lot and asked us if there was something wrong with the service because we left less than 15%. I was aghast and horrified because #1, I didn't leave the tip and #2, how dare you chase me down in the parking lot to ask for more money.

My Dad always tips $2 - $5 no matter the cost of the meal. Here is his rationale: it takes the same amount of energy to bring a $2.50 meal to our table as a $16.50 meal to the table. Why should I tip you more because the food on the plate is more expensive?

Ah, where is Oprah when we need her?

The Lethological Gourmet said...

Crabby, I'm sometimes not quite as generous with tips when they're surly, though having been a server I know how hard it can be, so I s'pose I'm a softy sometimes.

Romny, that's a good way to think about it, maybe the nice tip will help them be nicer to the next person! Or, at least, maybe they'll be nicer to you the next time they're there...

Java, you're right, she could've just been having a bad day, who knows?

Charlotte, I think that's how the French get such a bad reputation, they don't plaster on the smile. I think a smile in our culture is like gold, major social lubricant.

Jenn, totally not cool of the waitress to follow you into the parking lot to ask you about the tip! On the other hand, if it were done in a non-confrontational way, I could see how it could help - if her service had been bad it might have helped her get better, right?