look at how stressful this is!
look at how stressful this is!

I saw this article on HuffPo…and while I appreciate sarcasm and wanting to be a noble defense of what is indeed a thankless job in the service industry, I found myself a wee bit put off by the self-righteous and angry tone of this guy’s letter.

To me, it is like how any group of people with a different opinion tries to “educate others” and bring them to their way of thinking by insulting them: I just never see it working. (See Westboro Baptist “Church” for reference.)

If you don’t want to read the guy’s article, let me summarize his main points:

  1. People who don’t tip are bad people.
  2. If you can’t afford to eat at a nice restaurant and leave a tip, then don’t eat there. Learn how to budget.
  3. Tipping is a common courtesy and shouldn’t have to be explained.
  4. Bad tippers are looking for excuses not to tip. “She wasn’t smiley enough.” “It took 97 seconds to get my refill.”

I agree with most of that, but wanted to throw my two cents in there.

I don’t think people who don’t tip are bad people, per se. But they do usually fall into certain categories: old, teenagers, foreign, on a power trip, impossible to please. I could also list racial or occupational stereotypes I have heard in my work place.

ugh. church people. please just go to Round Table or something.
ugh. church people. please just go to Round Table or something.

Belonging to the Christian stereotype, I gotta say that servers think “church people” don’t tip. And it’s true. They just don’t. We all hate working Sundays, because we get huge crowds of people who think that smiling and leaving Jesus tracts in the bill fold is a tip. It makes me cringe to hear what my coworkers start to believe about Christian people as a whole, based on the tipping experience of church groups.

Old people don’t tip because they don’t get it. Whenever I went out to lunch with my great-grandma, she would think two hard-earned American dollars was somehow appropriate for a $40 bill at a Mexican restaurant. I would always carry cash to throw in there to make up for the 18 coffee refills and huge mess we made.

Teenagers don’t tip because they haven’t worked yet. They like to go to places like Cheesecake factory, order five diet cokes with lemon, demand 70 free refills and a to-go cup, split one pizza between 8 people, and stay for three hours crumpling up their straws and stuffing them in the booths for me to clean out. Making faces with ketchup on plates is also common. I’ve always thought the world would be a better place if everyone was required to work 6 months in a restaurant and 6 months in retail or some other customer service before being allowed to graduate high school.

Foreign people don’t tip because most countries pay their employees a living wage. Tipping isn’t something they think they have to do. Service in these countries is minimal, except for fine dining, where a tip would be expected.

Compare that to where I live. I am paid $2.13 an hour, BEFORE taxes, and then adjusted for any tips I claim. My average paycheck for two weeks of work is $8. EIGHT DOLLARS. So basically, servers are living off of tips. I get $16 a month from my job, and all of the rest of the money comes from tips.

Here are how tips work:

Say I make $120 in a night. 2% of that goes to food runners and bussers. %5 of all alcohol sales goes to the bar. So on an average night, I might take home $105. The work shift is from 4-10, serving tables, then usually side work until 11. So that is 7 hours, $15 an hour. Okay. Cool.

But what about when it is cold? Or raining? Or sunny, and so people are eating outside somewhere? What about a long weekend, when people travel out of town? People don’t come to the restaurant for various reasons.

So some days I come home with $30 for seven hours. The lowest I’ve brought home with this job is $7. Not an hour. Total. For five hours of work.

waitress1How many of your jobs are so affected by things you can’t control? When I was teaching, no matter how good or bad I looked, how much I smiled, how many children laughed or cried or did their homework, I was paid the same thing every day. Some days I knew I was an amazing teacher and thought I deserved more. Some days I was practically sleep-walking through lessons (like the morning after I discovered Homeland) and knew I should have been paid less. Didn’t matter. With serving, I need to be happy! smiling! makeup! smell good! never go pee! read your mind! Run-walk everywhere!

Plus, servers are mediating between the back of the house (usually filled with ex-cons and refugees, as restaurants get tax breaks for employing them. Which I’m all for…but they sometimes lack the language skills and social skills that make a positive work environment. Because oddly, I don’t like being called a “muthaf*)@&#$!” when I drop off dishes to be cleaned in the back to a man who has a tear-drop tattoo) and the chaos of the front of house, including managers, largely incompetent hostesses, and difficult customers.

Your server cannot control kitchen time or kitchen error. There have been times I have messed up, and apologized to the table, and gotten the manager to comp things. But lots of times it’s the kitchen’s error, and yet my tip is compromised. What you need to know is that the kitchen is paid hourly – they are completely unaffected by their errors (until they get fired, if it’s that bad) but the servers suffer their mistakes in tips. Managers are salaried, so they are unaffected. They will simply fire the servers if it happens too often.

What if a server is sick? I don’t get paid sick days. I don’t get health insurance. Every day I stay home I lose money, and I don’t have money to pay for a doctor. Servers are also exposed to the most germs of most occupations, next to probably only nurses and doctors, because we are with people all the time, and touching things that people put their mouths on all the time. I have had to clean up vomit, and even dirty baby diapers left on tables. Even when I was teaching, I didn’t get as sick as I do serving. And then I had paid sick days and health insurance.

610xIf you can’t afford to eat at a nice restaurant…don’t eat there. I struggle with this one, because I want everyone to be able to afford a nice meal with good service for a special occasion. But if I bust my butt to serve you, and you’re ordering out of your means, and then you loiter at the table for two plus hours so I can’t turn the table over, holding hands and not ordering anything, and then stiff me on a tip? I will hate you. Forever. I will tell all my friends about you. You will live in infamy. It might sound mean, but it’s my living. Don’t risk it.

Bad tippers are looking for excuses to not tip. Like I think I explained earlier – there is a lot that is in the hands of your server, but a lot that is not. And not every server is going to have a great day, or be a great person, or be aesthetically pleasing to you. And almost 100% of us are not waiting tables because we are passionate about serving – I applied to 42 different jobs in three months before I had to settle on this to pay some bills and wait it out here. But serving is easy for me – I love people, I love to smile, I love to tell my story and to listen to others. I don’t get too annoyed by guys staring at my rack while ordering. I like to run around and be busy. I rarely make mistakes. And yet sometimes, I’ll wait on a table of 8 for two hours and get a $3 tip on a $95 dollar tab…and I want to cry. Because honestly…I take it personally. We just laughed for two hours…I thought we were friends.

As a server, you deal with all kinds of bullshit (there is literally no other word for it, apologies for any offended readers). Just today, a man spoke to me like I was a dog he wanted to heel. I have to clean up used floss, aforementioned diapers, the bits of your napkin you nervously ripped on, the bandaids your child pulled off, the snot rag your grandpa left on the table. And I want people to enjoy their food,  I want them to enjoy the restaurant, I want them to enjoy me. So I work my ass off. But. Some people just don’t understand. So sometimes I have to write things like this.

So…that’s my two cents on the tipping debate.

My rule of thumb – tip the hell out of people. Even if it was awful. Sometimes people have bad days. Write a note – with your 20% – and say “hey, maybe you’re having a bad day, I hope this cheers you up.” Then I will remember you forever and ever – I will remember where you sat, what you ordered, what you were wearing. The next time you come in I will gush about you to all the servers, and you will be restaurant royalty. Doesn’t that sound nice? If your service was particularly awesome, ask for a manager. Let them know. This can go a long way for people. And again, you will be remembered fondly and treated well the next time you come in.

Doesn’t that sound GREAT?! Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. And you can make that everywhere you go.