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"...besides love, independence of thought is the greatest gift an adult can give a child." - Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Denny's Chronicles - Tales From the Other Side of the Tray

Tipping is part of service. The standard tip changes as the economy does - I remember when a regular tip for average service was five percent. Now, it's fifteen percent. That's for average, run-of-the-mill, not awful but not spectacular service from your waitron. Poor service should garner no less than five percent (even if the waitron dump scalding coffee in your lap), stellar service should be rewarded as much as you think the waitron deserves - after all, you want to encourage that amazing behavior every time, right?? Heck, I've been known to double a tab with the tip, just because the server was spectacular and deserved it (I'm not wealthy, either, but I never forgot the generosity some folks showed me when I was a 'tron, and I want to pass it along when I can).

Some folks don't understand about tipping. They seem to think that tips are a reward for extraordinary behavior. They aren't. A tip is calculated as part of that waitron's labor. Often, they have to share a percentage of the sale (not the tip, the sale) with the bartender, the busboys, the maitre 'd. Did you know they pay taxes on tips? And those taxes are calculated by the waitron's sales and not what you actually give them? A really rancid tip can actually cost your server more money than they made from your table. If the service was that bad, speak to a manager, but don't take money from the server's pocket!! They have to pay rent, make car payments, pay the power and phone bills. Like you, they are trying to make ends meet. No one waits tables because that's what they wanted to do when they grew up, or it's their hobby - they do it because they are in school, they are struggling, they have kids or odd hours elsewhere, and waiting tables is the only job with the flexibility they need.

I don't know what the base pay for a server is today, but when I was at the job, it was about $2.12 an hour, which just about covered taxes and benefits - if I'd had benefits, which I didn't. My pay check would be a few dollars every two weeks, so everything I actually made came from tips. I had to claim a minimum percentage of my sales for taxes - at the time, it was seven percent of sales, so if I sold a hundred dollars in food/beverages in a night, I had to claim seven dollars in tips whether I made that or not. I was supposed to claim all my tips, but I was a rogue and I didn't. I would have to pay an exorbitant tax rate on them (* edit - thirty percent on whatever I claimed, so three out of every ten dollars I claimed in tips went to taxes - and I never got it back), and I needed that money for trifling things like rent, groceries, and fuel. I was listed as a part time employee (despite working in excess of forty hours a week) so I didn't get insurance or other benefits. I needed to try and stockpile a bit of money for medical emergencies, and regular check-ups, dental work, and exams were out of the question unless my mum was paying for them. I wasn't the odd one out, either - most of the people I worked with were in the same boat, only some of them also had children to worry about.

On the other side of tipping is service. Some servers just don't get it - they actually need to do a decent job to get decent tips. Some servers think they should get twenty percent just for getting food or drinks to the table, and they get angry or flustered when you ask for things like separate checks (at the beginning of the meal, before you order, this isn't unreasonable) or expect the occasional refill of your water. I've had servers roll their eyes when I ask them for dressing on the side of my salad, or send back a dish that wasn't prepared correctly. I am not high-maintenance, but I am precise in ordering. I find that most places over-dress a salad, which makes it unpalatable. They also over-sauce many dishes, or put sauces on things when you ordered them plain. It is not unreasonable to return the dish and ask that it be made as you ordered it, and a server shouldn't have an issue with that if you are in the right.

Ordering a dish one way, then continually complaining and sending it back because you decide you don't like it that way after all, that is worthy of an eye roll (out of your sight line, of course). Constantly asking for one condiment or another, extra napkins, another straw, lemon slices, and the like, one thing at a time...that is justification for a server smacking you upside the head, but they won't. Nope. They'll want to, but they'll grin and bear it, and you should recognize your bad behavior and tip them like the sun shines out their ass for their service.

If a server hasn't done a good job, I'll let them know. Not by stiffing them on the tip, but by telling them (gently, with compassion) where they went awry. A server should never use a bad day as an excuse for poor service - a waitress tried that with a group I was in, and we weren't having it. She never brought us silverware (we went and got our own), never refilled our water in a two-hour period (again, we got our own), didn't bring the couple of drinks from the bar that were ordered (the people who ordered them had to fetch them), either didn't write down or didn't check our orders (most of them were wrong when they eventually got to us - after over an hour waiting), brought us another table's order, largely ignored our table for the time we were there (over two hours from seating to finally getting our check), and didn't separate the check when we'd clearly asked her to at the beginning of the meal. She also added another table's tab to our check and added in the gratuity herself, even though we were below the number that usually prompts that action (in this particular establishment, eight people or more means an automatic gratuity of fifteen percent). When we pointed out the tab that wasn't ours, and that we were only seven people, she claimed she couldn't change the check and we should sort it out ourselves.

We sorted it out, all right. We spoke to the manager, explained what had gone wrong (almost everything) and what had gone right (because another server stepped in) and that we were very disappointed with our watress' service. Also, when one of our number spoke her mind to the waitress about the service, the waitress told us we were a difficult table, demanding and unreasonable, and that we had made her job impossible - and she was having a bad night because someone stole a hundred-dollar tab/tip off the bar because she had left it there too long, so her poor service wasn't her fault.

I might have felt sorry for her if she hadn't given the same level of non-service to three other tables near us, all two-tops. We were fetching their silverware along with our own, filling their water glasses, and even passing the improperly delivered food on to their table when it turned out it's what they ordered. Perhaps we should have asked for tips!

Her bad day wasn't our fault, and we shouldn't have suffered for it. If she couldn't manage to do the job, if she was so shaken, broken up, devastated by the earlier event, she should have gone somewhere to collect herself instead of taking it out on her customers. This holds true in any service industry job, by the way. Oh, and? We still tipped her ten percent.

The manager was horrified by her behavior - we were regular customers, there every week, and we always ordered carefully and tipped well, so he didn't for a moment believe that the confusion was on our part. I should be sorry that the woman was fired the next morning, but I'm not really. It turns out, we weren't the first or only table to complain about her. Not everyone's cut out to do that job - I was stunned that I lasted as long as I did without stabbing someone with a bent fork.

People have left tips in some fascinating places. I guess they find it funny, entertaining themselves by watching the server look for the tip. Interesting places people leave tips - I found them in water, iced tea, and soft drink glasses, at the bottom of a milkshake cup, thrown into a puddle of catsup and scrambled eggs, in the dregs of a coffee cup, and even in an ash tray that had been filled with creamer (as well as ashes and cigarette buts). They were placed in the leftovers of sandwiches, crammed into pie leavings, covered in syrup, and left as pennies scattered across the table and booth seats. And this was in a "nice" neighborhood where people lived in million dollar homes and drove big expensive cars. Just goes to show, money doesn't equal class. Shoot, the best tip I ever got was from a homeless guy! But that's another story...


chris said...

I'm proud to say that I tip very well because I do understand how the system plus waiting ans bussing is damn hard work!

I hate it when people hide tips. I just don't understand how people find it funny to denigrate another person.

Kyddryn said...

I don't know about why others do it, but the people hiding tips where I worked did it because they really thought they were better than the wait staff, that wealth equaled privilege. More than a few of them were high, or tripping or whatever the euphemism is for the assorted drugs they were on. Sigh.

Becky said...

You're so right. Years after I was a waitress, I still never sound upset even if I'm bawling my eyes out. Why? Because I learned to cover it up. No one cares about your bad day when you're a waitress, and why the hell should they?

foolery said...

I have to disagree with you about tipping for poor service. And your waitress nightmare story is the single worst service I have ever heard of! It surpasses even my over-dramatic waitress nightmare dreams, in which I sit down in the room I'm supposed to be serving and can't seem to figure out what to do.

If you and others give her any money at all, she'll continue to limp along, giving appalling service and ruining the reputation of the establishment. (If the manager doesn't notice he/she is an idiot before long.) I don't want to subsidize this kind of incompetence and arrogance. If the service was as bad as you got I think a talk with the manager is in order, tip-outs for any support staff (bartender/busser, etc.), and a PENNY for the waiter, with a civil note. Yes, I have hostessed, cashiered, bussed and waitressed, and I still feel this way.


I believe in tipping well. I can't afford to be exorbitant so I rarely go out. But if the service is fine I'll leave four dollars on a $15.00 tab, and five if the service is better than fine.

WHEW! Long-winded. Some day soon I'll write up one of my bad experiences. Thanks, K!