Archived Story

Erika Pickles: My tipping point

Published 10:29pm Wednesday, September 28, 2011

While out to dinner with my boyfriend a few weeks ago, we witnessed a situation that happens too often to the wonderful world of restaurant serving.
We had just been seated at our table, when a younger gentleman approached us. He stated it was his first day on the job without a trainer, and asked for our patience during the course of our visit, because he was still “learning the ropes.” Being a former server myself, I could completely relate to what he was asking. Serving is no easy job, even for veterans.
I asked him how the day was going, and he shrugged his shoulders, saying: “How do first days usually go? Some people understand when I tell them it’s my first day, others don’t.”
Again, I knew exactly where he was coming from.
After chit-chatting with us for a few more minutes, he ventured over to one of his other tables, where his guests were getting ready to leave. They handed over their check, and told him to keep the change. As the guests walked by our table on their way out the door, one laughed and said, “I can’t believe you left him $2 in change,” to which the other replied, “he’s lucky I had that left.”
I figured at that moment, this poor kid probably really screwed up their order, or forgot something important. Upon his return to our table, I had to ask what happened.
“Did they really leave you $2 in change?” I asked. He laughed, and shook his head in disbelief.
“Yes they did,” the served said. “And their bill was $55. Unbelievable.”
I continued to ask if everything went smooth at the table, and he said it did. Refills were brought out in time, food was all correct and, as far as he knew, he did everything right. I can’t tell you how bad I wanted to run out the door and throw pennies at their vehicle. Because that’s the same amount of respect they just showed this young man. Maybe something happened that I didn’t know about or maybe it didn’t. Either way, this was just downright disrespectful.
There is no excuse for tipping someone 4 percent of your bill. None. You’re better off leaving nothing. If a server completely ruined your entire dining experience, was extremely rude to you and your guests, or threw a drink on you purposely, then OK, I can see having a very harsh conversation with the manager and not tipping your server. But if they forgot one minor thing, or maybe were a little slow getting to you, or they did nothing wrong at all, you need to add at least 15-20 percent for a tip, or more. No questions.
Being a server is by far the hardest of jobs I’ve had. I don’t miss it one bit and I wouldn’t go back to doing it. There are too many cons that go along with the restaurant industry, and one of them is customers who don’t properly tip their servers. And it happens more than you may think, not only to new servers, but also to the best of them.
Servers rely on their tips for income because they don’t receive a solid, guaranteed paycheck each week. Some weeks, they could do great and make $400 to $600 or more. Other weeks, they may not be so lucky and will only make $100. Yes, $100 a week. Can you live off that? Me neither.
I’m not discouraging people away from serving, because it did pay the bills and overall I enjoyed my serving experience. It taught me very valuable keys like time management and customer service.  It’s just not something I can rely on as I get older, especially as the bills are constantly adding up.
What about their hourly wage? In most cases, the hourly wage of a server is anywhere from $2.12 to $2.95 an hour, but that doesn’t mean they get a paycheck. After all of the tips have been entered, and taxes taken out, they’re lucky if they get a check that doesn’t say “VOID” written across it. If they do get a check, it’s probably less than $50.
Further more, this doesn’t include the money they have to tip out at the end of their shift. Most of the time, servers have to tip out multiple members of the staff, including bartenders, busboys and hostesses. So if you opt out of tipping, you’re not only stiffing your server, you’re also penalizing people who did nothing wrong.
Let me also add that servers don’t forget people who stiff them. Trust me. They don’t. And this, in turn, can possibly hurt your next visit to the establishment. Other servers will fear they won’t be tipped by you either; therefore, your service probably won’t be the best. It might not sound fair, but it also wasn’t fair that you choose not to tip.
Bottom line, if you feel a server wasn’t worthy of a tip, speak with the manager privately. They will handle the situation properly. If your server did everything right, and on time, and provided you with a great experience, there is no reason that you shouldn’t pay them for serving you. After all, you did choose to go to a restaurant so you could be waited on, correct?
The social contract in this country is that patrons tip wait staff. It is not about whether or not you agree with this policy. It is not about whether or not you can afford it. It’s the social obligation you’re agreeing to when you enter a restaurant. If it’s something you don’t understand or agree with, then stick with fast food, or revert to the old saying, “If you can’t afford to tip, or don’t want to tip, stay home.”
As for the younger server I mentioned earlier, we tipped him 50 percent of our bill that evening, which is something I’ve only done a handful of times. We did it because we wanted him to know that there are people out there who care about, and appreciate, what he does. We both understand what it’s like to be a server and rely on your tips to make a living and we also wanted to make up for the rude guests he had before us. This young man did a great job taking care of us, and we knew he had a rough experience, so there was no reason he shouldn’t have been rewarded for it. Hopefully, that made his day a little brighter.

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