Bad Tippers

Posted on November 25th, 2002 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

No, I’m not talking about those unfortunates who somehow can’t compute 15% of the check. I’m talking about those folks who regularly under-tip. Did you know that employers are not required to pay minimum wage to waiters and waitresses, with the understanding being that the restaurant makes up the difference if tips don’t get them there? Did you also know that while this is the law that few, if any, restaurants actually adhere to this rule? Ask any waiter or waitress what would happen to them if they went hat-in-hand to an owner/manager and said, “Please, sir, can you pay me more because I had a lousy tip night? It’s the law, you know.” The first is that the owner/manager would laugh, thinking it was a joke. Then they would rant and rave at the server for being such a lousy waitperson that they couldn’t make enough tips. Then if the server pushed the issue they would be summarily fired for some trumped up reason. Now, there may be that rare owner/manager who complies with the law, but guess what the result of their largesse is? Their servers are guaranteed to make minimum wage. Wow, how wonderful for them. Oh, and they also don’t get any benefits, unless you count free meals, which is a benefit only if the restaurant has a good selection of decent food.

The person waiting your table is making their income from your tips. I personally use 15% as the minimum, meaning if the waitperson did a minimally acceptable job, they get the minimally acceptable tip. An average server gets a 20% tip from me, and it goes up from there for better service. However, there are those who regularly tip much less than that, and much less than the IRS is assuming (and asking your servers to pay taxes on). Why do people undertip?

I’m Not Gonna Pay A Lot For My Muffalata

First, there are those who harrumph about being blackmailed into “paying extra” for something, just because society says they should. This is some of the most lunkheaded logic I have ever heard. If tipping were not standard, then restaurants would have to pay their servers a fair wage, and the cost of those increased wages would be reflected in higher food costs. And then, all servers would basically be hourly drones with no motivation to do more than necessary to not get fired. Is that what you want at your restaurant, some surly server with the attitude of a government clerk slinging food at you along with healthy doses of apathy and attitude? Aren’t you, in fact, glad that servers have merit-based compensation, and that you, as the consumer, directly control that compensation? Aren’t you grateful that your servers, who do one of the most physically and psychologically draining jobs on the planet, manage to project a positive attitude in part because they know that their attitude directly impacts their tips from a given table? Merit-based tipping is a great system, but it depends on one thing…everybody plays along, which brings us to the next topic.

Social Remoras

A remora is the fish that attaches itself to a shark, and then feeds on the scraps left over by the shark. The remora lets the shark do the swimming, the hunting, the killing, and the first round of chewing, leaving edible morsels hanging around that the remora can eat with little or no effort or risk. If you see the remora as a smart animal who has a sweet situation, then you are also probably a bad tipper. However, if you see the remora as a pathetic parasite, then you’re probably the kind of person who regularly has to leave extra tip money to cover for the social remoras who swim in the human gene pool.

I really and truly don’t understand social remoras…these are people who *understand* the whole tipping system, and may even agree with it, in a detached, intellectual way, but they also figure, what the hell, it’s my money, and what’s going to happen if I don’t tip enough? Some waitron will be pissed at me? So what? Let the suckers tip, I don’t see any downside to just keeping my money in my pocket, thank you very much. And you know what, they’re essentially correct, as far as that logic goes. One person undertipping will not destroy the capitalist system, or bring ruin to a server’s life, or cause a restaurant to fail. In fact, a person who has chronically undertipped may have never been aware of any negative results of their behavior. However, that doesn’t make it right, nor does it mean that nothing negative is happening.

For example, in my professional life, I have regularly gone out to team lunches, client dinners, and all manner of business-related drinking and dining. And one of the things that quickly becomes apparent is who is a fair tipper, and who is a cheapskate. And the cheapskates actually become marginalized professionally, to a certain degree. Do you want some cheapskate, non-tipper to take potential clients out? Hell no. You know why? Because people who tip (the majority) usually see it when other people tip poorly (the non-trivial minority), and they tend to hold these low tippers in very low esteem. Listen, if you are a chronic low tipper, I *assure* you that it is well known in your circle of friends and business associates, and I *assure* you that it has been a topic of conversation (out of your earshot), and I’d *bet money* that you have been marginalized to some degree because of your cheapskate-ness. All to save $1 on lunch. Adam Smith you ain’t.

Wrestling Outside of One’s Weight Class

And then there are those who truly cannot afford to tip appropriate amounts. Their budgets are tight, and eating out is a luxury with costs that must be tightly controlled. I have enormous empathy and sympathy for this situation, having been there many times. Even today, my budget does not allow me to dine whenever and wherever I want. However, when I select my dining destination, I allow for the fact that I will be tipping. This may mean that I select a destination that is 15-20% cheaper than another, to leave room for the tip. But I would not be able to enjoy a meal knowing that, at the end of it, I was going to stiff the waitstaff on the tip.

Shooting the Messenger

When I get sick of the programs available on TV, I don’t think that my television itself is substandard. If I drive to the beach, but then it rains, I don’t blame my car. If my phone rings, and it’s bad news, I don’t hate my telephone. And when I get food that I don’t care for, I don’t blame my server. Remember, you are tipping your server based on their *service*. If your steak was overseasoned or your fish had a bone, that is certainly regrettable, but it is not the fault of your server. If you sat for 15 minutes with an empty glass waiting for a requested refill, *that’s* the fault of your server. Remember, tip on the service, not on the food. If the food was actually substandard, be sure and tell you server, too. Trust me, they will do all they can to make it right *and* they will be sure the kitchen knows, because they know that bad food will kill their tips for the night.

Walk A Mile In Their Shoes (that’s about an hour of their 10 hour shift)

I think that the world would be a better place if every single person had to work in a service job for a couple of years before entering the rest of the job market. I think everyone should have to wait tables, or work at a mall, or take movie theater tickets, or man the McDonald’s drive-thru. I *know* that the tipping situation would be better if this were the case. If you’ve never waited tables, then you truly have no idea how hard that job is. Do you know those times that you don’t even notice your server? Not that they’re hiding, but that your meal progresses smoothly and you never really notice that your server is being overly intrusive nor are you spending time looking around for them? *That* is the definition of excellent service. And, unfortunately, most folks don’t notice that they haven’t been noticing their server. I mean, after all, they didn’t really do anything special, did they?

Oh yes they did. During your meal, they juggled 10 tables that ordered 30 different meals, they ran back and forth to the kitchen about 100 times during your meal, they noticed your coffee was getting cold, and that your dining companion’s soft drink needed refilling, and that you needed more bread, and that you were done with your salads, etc, etc, etc. And they did all this without making a fuss or appearing frazzled, both of which you would have noticed, right? And they did it for you and 29 other people at the same time. And every time they walked through the dining room they got 10 requests (more butter, extra dressing on the side, another glass of wine, change my salad to a soup, etc, etc, etc) that they remembered and fulfilled. If you didn’t notice your server, then you have just been given miraculous service. Tip appropriately.


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