Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Great Tip Debate

I have been on both sides of the table, so I know (and understand) the arguments from each position. As a patron, I expect to be greeted politely and taken care of. You do not have to be overly animated or have a sparkling personality. All you have to do is be respectful, attempt to get my order correct and bring my food/drinks in a timely manner. If those needs are met, I have no problem with tipping. And I do understand when things don’t quite go right or when the kitchen is backed up and it takes longer to get my food. However, I also take into consideration how busy the restaurant is, how busy my server is and other factors that might come into play. Essentially, I’m a pretty easygoing customer. Having said all of that, I can be a pain in the rear if these simple expectations cannot be met or are returned with a snide attitude. After all, I was once a server too. I take that into account each time I go out to eat. It does not excuse you from acting in a professional manner, as would be expected in any other job. From the customer standpoint, I can understand why some feel they shouldn’t have to tip. I’ve read all of the arguments and I do agree that what it boils down to a lot is the attitude of the server, whether it is an existing attitude or an attitude that resulted from something going wrong. Servers: please understand that if I get upset, it isn’t necessarily an affront to your character. I’m likely just irritated for having to wait for an excessive amount of time, upset that I have to wait for food to be sent back after being incorrect or angry that you aren’t being attentive. Please don’t try to place the blame on anyone, just remedy the situation, period. That’s really all I want, unless I happen to specifically mention your attitude towards me.
            Now, let’s visit the other side of the table. When I was waiting tables, I always went to work with a fresh, positive attitude when I first began my shift. Sadly, by the end of my shift, I was ready to drink myself under the table. Yes patrons, it really is that bad and it’s usually only a four hour shift (that feels like eight after being on your feet the entire time without a break)! Whatever your feelings are about tipping (and I am personally not a fan of it), doesn't change that this is just the reality (a reality servers didn’t choose). Yes, I did choose to wait tables, but it doesn’t mean that I chose to put up with the constant stream of bull that I endure, table after table. As a server, I was yelled at, cussed at, accused of all types of things, talked down to and then stiffed at the end. Maybe people who work in the higher-end restaurants are more satisfied, but there is a reason for high turnover rates in the industry. Let me give you all a breakdown of how a shift might go: You must arrive an hour or two earlier than the restaurant’s opening time (perhaps earlier in some) and begin prepping your tables and getting the restaurant ready for service (i.e. brewing tea, pouring salt/pepper into shakers, stocking fridges, etc…). When the restaurant first opens, there are usually only a couple of servers staffed. Servers usually continue to stream in as the lunch shift really gets underway and this is when the chaos starts. Lunch is particularly bad because everyone is in such a rush to get back to work (although I’ve never understood going to lunch at a busy restaurant when you’re in a time crunch). You might have 3-4 tables who all want something at the same time and each one gets angry when you don’t attend to them that very second (I once had a customer who asked for a side of dressing and got upset with me for not producing it when I hadn’t even left the table yet). You are asked inane questions about the menu, asked to order things that aren’t even on the menu at all and when the bill comes, they want it split four ways and everyone hands you a $20 bill, which you don’t have change for (servers are usually only required to carry a small amount of change). That means you must go to the bar for change, wait on the bartender (who is usually slammed) and by the time you get back with the change, patrons are angry they had to wait so long that they leave you a crummy tip or not one at all! People seem to get into this line of thinking that servers make a ton of money because they add up what a server “should” make and assume that everyone is tipping that well. Trust me, they’re not. Just because people should tip 15-20% doesn’t mean they do. Many people (at least at the establishment I worked at) would leave 10% or less! I would have to kiss major ass to make my 15% (maybe sometimes 20). And I have no problem working hard in order to accomplish this. But I know that there are some people who do not tip based on the service, they tip based on attractiveness, race and other things that are completely out of the server’s control. Where else do people get to determine your pay based on factors that don’t even pertain to the job? I’m not saying this is right, but it is the reality. And yes, I could get another job, but most jobs are not usually as flexible and when I was in college, that’s exactly what I needed. In addition, yes servers really do have to tip share with other people who work in the restaurant. At the place I worked for, we had to tip out the bussers and bartenders (some places you even tip out the hostess). And yes, my base pay was $2.15 an hour. And yes, the restaurant is “supposed” to make up the difference if you do not make minimum wage. Want to know something funny about that? At the end of your shift, the computer asks you how much you made in tips. If you put in a number that the computer determines is too low, you either have to change the number or get a manager to override it for you. Do you how many nights that happened to me? And even though I could’ve waited for a manager to override it, most nights it wasn’t worth tracking down a manager to do that. After the day I just had, I’d rather just lie and say I made enough for the night. I can guarantee that I wasn’t the only one to do that. Is that the patron’s fault? Certainly not, but patrons need to understand exactly what a server goes through to placate the most finicky people. I’ve run around the restaurant like a mad woman, getting things for my tables to cater to them and still got left with a sucky tip (or again, no tip at all). I’ve given roses to moms on Mother’s Day, candy and small toys to children, been as friendly and polite as I can (after being stiffed by the last two tables) and tried to accommodate my customers as much as I can only to be insulted, yelled at and not given a tip. It was a good thing that my wait job was only meant to supplement my income because I wouldn’t have made it otherwise. I walked out of a shift once with $14! Fourteen! I might as well have stayed home for that. The thing is that people claim they tip based on service, but a lot of times they don’t. They take things out on the server that isn’t their fault and treat them like servants in the process. The managers in a restaurant tell their servers constantly that a bigger check means a bigger tip; this is such a falsehood. I found that most times when the check was bigger, my tip would be smaller.  Oh and did I mention the people who completely run out on their tabs? The management tends to assume that if this happens consistently, the server must be allowing it to happen. There was a policy instituted at the restaurant I worked for where if someone ran out on their tab, you either had to pay for it or you had to be written up. There was an incident that happened many years back at a local restaurant. A young waitress had a couple of people run out on their tab. Fearing she might have to pay the tab herself or get into trouble, she followed them out of the restaurant and they ran her over! She died because someone decided they didn’t want to pay for their food and management places the responsibility for that onto the server.  For something that is no fault of the servers, they have to face this penalty; it’s ridiculous.
            Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed serving food to people. There were many friendly patrons who were easy to take care of and didn’t go ballistic when something went wrong. But we also had patrons who had obnoxious children running around, people who made messes that they likely wouldn’t make in their own homes, people who complained on such a consistent basis we knew who they were, people who snapped their fingers and hurled insults at the wait staff and many other ugly things. Yes, we should provide your meal hot, correct and with a smile, but we do not owe you our souls for bringing your food. Do I wish it could be different? Most definitely; I hated going to a job where I wasn’t ever sure how much money I would be bringing home. There would’ve been no way to make a decent living waiting tables unless each patron did their due diligence and ponied up their tip. Be kind to your server; they are attempting to do their job as I’m sure you do as well (and you’ve had bad days at work too). I would like to abolish tipping too as to be fair to both patrons and servers, but until that happens, please have a little respect for the people who bring you your food. It’s not as easy of a job as you might think it is.