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Article Archive >> Featured Topics

Tipping! A Way of Life?

Tipping! A Way of Life?
by William L. Bulla

Waiters! Waitresses! Wait persons! Servers! Whatever they happen to be calling them this year - the job is all the same! And, it isn't always the greatest job in the world! I say this based on my own experiences over the years, plus my observations recently from the other end of the spectrum.
For some time I have been planning to write an article on the service of tipping. Everyone has different views on tipping! Some people don't believe in it - others do! While I am addressing the issue of tipping food servers, tipping affects anyone who gives service, such as hairdressers, delivery persons, bartenders, taxi drivers, etc.
Under most state laws, hospitality workers who make tips, such as bartenders and wait staff, make a substantially lower minimum wage than all other hourly workers. In Maryland it is $3.63 per hour, and neighboring Virginia has no tipped worker minimum wage and allows workers to be paid entirely in tips. Workers who are forced to rely mainly on tips see their paychecks fluctuate widely, often leaving them unable to pay their bills or provide for their families.
Let me ask you a question. Would you be willing to work for $3.63 per hour as these food servers do? Most of you would not! And along with that small salary they take abuse from tired, grumbling, grouchy, hungry people, or just naturally nasty ones like I have often observed. If you don't believe people are like that, then be more observant the next time you eat out.
Recently, one such occurrence took place at one of my favorite restaurants. It was a bizarre display of temper tantrums by a group of people. A party of five persons arrived at high noon on a Sunday. The church crowds had invaded the restaurants about that time of day and there was a waiting period to get a table. Five persons may take a little longer to seat because it often requires moving two tables together, as most of our restaurants seem to have booths and tables designed to seat up to four persons. They were seated at a table next to mine, so it was impossible for me to ignore their antics. They commented to their server about the delay in being seated. Even though they were grumpy, the server remained cheerful and gave them menus. When she returned to take their order they were not ready and told her to return later.
They didn't really seem to know what they wanted, but after some deliberation they all decided on spare ribs. When the waitress told them that the restaurant was out of ribs that day, they came apart at the seams! One would have thought that the entire day had been planned around a spare rib dinner from the angry reaction of the group. A few curse words were emitted and an obscenity was tossed in for good measure. I suppose they thought these unkind remarks to the waitress would produce a rack of ribs immediately. She left the table to allow them time to restudy the menu. Upon her return, they placed their order amid some caustic remarks about the possible unavailability of their new selections. As she made other trips to their table checking on beverage refills, the abuse continued because they were unhappy at the length of time since their order had been placed.
A rational person would realize that when one enters a restaurant at peak serving time it takes longer to be served. Food orders are prepared as they are received; food preparation cannot be rushed: and when the restaurant is full, there may be many orders ahead of yours. When the food was served, obscenity-laced remarks flavored the air, about the restaurant, but directed at the server. At this time, one of the managers passed by the table, and the waitress called him over and told him of the customer's unhappiness. They continued to air their feeling even when he told them they would not have to pay for the meal. Even with apologies and a free meal, they continued their unpleasant attitude until they left. One person at the table must have felt guilty about the abuse heaped upon the waitress, because as the table was cleared, a ten-dollar bill was found under a plate. He, or she, had surreptitiously stashed a tip, probably as an apology, so the rest of the party would not know. This waitress really deserved that tip, but it should have been based on the amount of the check she would have received had they actually paid for their meals.
Well, my friends, that is what is happening to the wait staff in our local restaurants. Many of you may say; "Let the restaurants pay them more and I won't be expected to tip." "I don't do that for other service people. It's included in the price of their service." "Let the restaurants raise the price by 15% and pass it on to the server."
Like it or not, it is the system we have in this country. So we must live with what we have. Or since there is no tipping in Europe, maybe you should pack your bags and go, but remember, those Red Caps and porters you meet on your trip will expect a tip for their service, also!
Let's face it! It's an accepted way of life. Food servers are paid only
$3.28 per hour but are expected to report tips that bring their pay up to at least minimum wage when paying their taxes.
So, I always leave a tip. If the service is really bad my tip will be smaller than I would leave for good service. And, if I get incredible service, my tip will reflect it. When I get that type of service, I ask for that server on my return visit to that restaurant. If you frequent a restaurant often and have the reputation of being a "good tipper" you will usually receive exceptional service. I am, of course, talking about the professional servers. They know their job, and treat you well. They recognize you when you visit the restaurant regularly, and often have your favorite beverage waiting for you when you are seated. They smile when they take your order, and really mean it. They remember what everyone in your party has ordered and place the proper meal in front of them, thus eliminating the need of shuffling plates to get the food to the proper person. They deliver the food piping hot, or cold as the case may be, and keep your water glasses filled. Then they remove the empty plates in a prompt manner.
These persons take pride in their job, and make sure you get the best service possible. And, while they are doing all of this for you, they are doing it for many others at the same time. Do you have any idea how hard it is? Probably not, if you have never experienced it. But I do! I worked at it to get through school.
How much should I leave? This question has many different answers.
Everyone knows that 15% of the bill is appropriate. My personal opinion is to leave 10% if the server did not do a good job. I give 15% to the server doing a good job, and jump it to 20% or more for exceptional service. Oh, yes! It is customary to leave a tip for your server at buffet restaurants as well. My opinion is, "If one can't afford to tip, then don't eat out!"
What reflects poor service or lack of professionalism in your server?
That could include rudeness from the server. Was there a mistake in your food order that was not corrected? Was your hot food served cold and your cold food served warm because it had been waiting in the kitchen for the server to bring it to your table? Does the server fail to get the condiments you ask for? Do you get refills on your beverages, or are you ignored after you were first served?
But let's not penalize your server for conditions over which they have no control. Your server should not be blamed for rudeness from other staff. They are not responsible for your food taking a long time being prepared on a busy night. Don't blame the server because the fan or air conditioner is blowing on your neck. And it certainly is not their fault if you order something you never had before and didn't like it. Or, the restaurant was out of what you wanted, such as spare ribs, as in the story above.
And if some person other than your server delivers the food to your table, don't think your server is not doing her job properly. That is a service the restaurant provides to assure that the food gets to you as soon as it has been prepared. When servers have several tables as their responsibility, they cannot be in the kitchen the moment your food is prepared. Rather than have it sit too long, the restaurant has a person to "run" food to the tables. Within minutes, a good server will be at your table checking to see that everything was served properly. Without servers, we would not be able to enjoy a night out for dinner.
The more attentive and courteous they are makes my meal a happier occasion. For that, I try to show my appreciation through a generous tip. Tips make a happy server and a happy server makes happy customers.
And when I leave that restaurant, I want to feel happy!

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