Image by Matthew Olyphant.
“That fucker,” I muttered under my breath, stuffing the signed credit card slip in with the others and pocketing the $0.43 tip.
Mr. Felcher was a regular at BD’s Mongolian Barbecue. He often came in at lunch with his wife, ordering the beer and a bowl special (which got you a beer and one trip through for eight bucks, which is a pretty sweet deal) and left the paltriest of tips if he chose to tip at all. He was surly, rude and demanding and every waiter who worked a day shift got his table at least once. And all of us hated it.
There were other culprits of the bad tip besides Mr. Felcher. Sometimes, I’d work my ass off, covering a table 20 demanding patrons during peak hours to find just a couple dollars tip. Other times, I’d have customers complain to get free deserts and then not tip at all because my manager didn’t cave. The worst, however, was getting tip when the customer forgot to pay the bill, since their full tab would often come out of my tips or paycheck.
If there was one lesson I learned waiting tables, it was the importance of tipping. No matter how much of a Jew I am, I’m not willing to skimp when it comes to tipping.
My grandfather and I eat out at least once a week. Since I’m jobless and a voracious mooch, he’s very nice to pick up the tab.
The first time we went to Red Lobster, we had a bottle of wine and an appetizer and two moderately priced entrees that added up to a $70 tab for the pair of us. As a tip, he left a little more than $4. That’s the same amount he left on a $25 tab another place (which isn’t a great tip, but at least it’s reasonable). I’m not sure if it’s his age and the convention of his generation to tip the same across the board, but it irked me.
As he stood up and slipped on his jacket, I slipped the last $5 from my wallet and slyly dropped it on the table as he walked past me. If I had had a few more dollars, I would’ve left it, but I was out. He may not tip well, but I refuse to let us tip poorly.
At BD’s, I made $2.25 an hour. On a good shift, I could make nearly $300 in tips, though that was rare. On a bad one, I made less than $10 for 4-6 hours of work. All the other positions were paid minimum wage or better, and the grillers generally got a dollar or two for each bowl they grilled, performing tricks for the patrons as they waited. It’s why I preferred being at the grill to waiting on the average night.
At the end of each shift, good or bad, we were expected to “tip out” by giving a few dollars to the dishwasher, the kitchen staff and the grillers, meaning that on a bad shift, I might actually lose money if I weren’t excused from the practice. We were dependent on tips to make enough money to live, and each night we were working hard to make sure we made enough, just in case the economy tanked.
There are lots of different perspectives on tipping. After all, it’s been a heartfelt topic for well over a century, as is exhibited by this 1937 Time Magazine article. Some people defend it as necessary (especially the ones doing the waiting for a paltry hourly wage that’s below the standard minimum wage and the delivery guys). Some claim it’s outrageous to tip at all and that the restaurant should pay a fair wage instead, especially in the UK where tips are often already added. And there are even those who wonder why we tip one type of person, but not another (link from egwenesvg).
Sometimes a bad tip is called for. If the service is really bad, I have no problem not tipping. When service is good or fair, however, a reasonable tip should be a requirement. I’m certainly not the only person who’s had to deal with a bad tipper.
That’s just in the US. One of the most difficult things about traveling is figuring out the various tipping conventions. Where Americans expect to tip, the Japanese consider it an insult, the Indians expect to get American dollars, and a greater value of them than rupees, and the Germans want you to hand them their tip personally (though this is changing slowly). In many places gratuity is included in the bill, while in others tipping is actually used to realize the origin of the word (To Insure Promptitude). How much you tip, when you tip, and why you tip all change from country to country, and sometimes from city to city. It’s hard to keep up with.
Image from SuperAmazingComics.
Last night, my grandfather took me out for ribs at the average Rib City Grill. Service was solid, food was satisfactory, and when the bill came for $37, I watched as my grandfather scribbled the tip. My hand immediately slid into my pocket and I began to covertly pull cash out to augment the tip.
As I realized I only had twenties, I resigned myself to watching a $5 tip sit on a nearly $40 bill. I cringed as I walked out the door. I guess that’s just the way things are going to be.