To Insure Promptness In The Age Of Entitlement: Here's A Tip
After a pleasant meal at a nice, middle-of-the-road neighborhood grill & bar, a server will appear at your table and ask if you're ready to pay. If you answer in the affirmative he'll ask you to use the kiosk on the table to swipe your credit card, which will bring up a screen that prompts you to enter a gratuity, and gives you the options 18%, 20%, 22% or (in a much smaller font) other amount. It can be fairly awkward as the server watches, staringly pressuring you to give him a big tip - expecting a big tip.
A tip is something to consider, not to be rushed into. It is a reflection of the level of service provided by the waitperson - the customer's critique of the dining experience. A tip is a personal communication between the diner and the server and not computed in percentages, but in perfectly timed refills and extra napkins appearing just as things get messy. A tip is measured in knowing when to not interrupt and when to suggest dessert. A tip is determined by the way the bill is presented and taken care of. A tip is subjective, otherwise it isn't a tip.
There are of course, all kinds of servers working in pursuit of tips. There's the too-frequent-checker, who either needs more tables to wait on or less espresso. Conversely, the where-is-my-server? server, can only be seen far across the restaurant, and then only for a second before disappearing again. Will someone please get me some ranch?!?
The I-need-some-money-so-I'm-trying-too-hard-today server almost always seems to end up wondering why they made less than usual this shift, while the only-asks-questions-when-your-mouth-is-full server somehow never notices that her questions are only ever answered in grunts and clicks. Some call everyone honey or dear and some call everyone sir and ma'am. Some hard-sell the booze and desserts and some let you eat in peace. Some truly enjoy waiting tables and some are dreaming of the day they can quit. It's the little things that dictate a tip.
Still contemplating the kiosk's gratuity screen, you may reflect on your current adventure, and realize that a hostess seated you, a busser brought you chips and soda, the expeditor delivered your food and the busser cleared your table. Since the server that took your order was only there for less than two minutes almost a half hour ago, you're not even sure that the server standing in front of you is the same one that took your order! Dinner for two without alcohol was about forty dollars, which means your server expects a tip of about eight dollars; for two minutes' interaction. Wow!
The root of the problem is something inherent to the restaurant business: out of every twenty-four hours, there are only nine during which you can make any money - the three hours that comprise each normal mealtime. Servers don't like to work during the in-between hours because you "can't make any money" and no one likes to works split shifts because it takes the better part of nine or ten hours out of the day to get paid for only six or seven. The server's solution, and the little secret that's kept in the back by the dishwasher, that no one will say out loud, is that servers believe they are entitled to make eight hours' wages in four hours. The thing is that many of them do it.
If we go back to the grill & bar, your server probably had eight or ten tables in his section. When his section is full, even if they are all two-tops (a table for two) and they all stay for the entire hour, at about eight bucks per table the server will bring in sixty-some dollars in tips plus his hourly wage. Much more likely, half his tables were two-tops and half were four-tops. Assuming none turned the table (ate & left and the table became occupied again), that's (stay with us here - almost done):
4 two-tops @ $8 = $32
4 four-tops @ $16 = $64
or about $96 in tips in an hour, assuming none of the checks included alcohol, apps or desserts. Add to that the hourly wage (which varies from state to state), and a good server in a moderately priced, busy family restaurant can bring in between three and four hundred dollars per dinner shift.
Three hundred dollars times five days times fifty weeks (two for vacation) is seventy-five thousand dollars per year. Of course not every server in every diner in every town in America is hauling in more than fifty grand, and many of the faithful still serving pie and coffee at midnight are only somehow scraping by.
Back at the table, your server is still waiting for you to enter his tip, and by now you may have drawn a few conclusions.
Having your server stand and watch as you tip him is about as much fun as having blood drawn!
Taking care of the bill in an unhurried, discreet manner is one of the server's primary functions and part of what differentiates a 'nice place' from a burger shack. Asking customers to do this part of the server's job is like asking cows to carry the buckets of milk into the cooler.
We would all like to make eight hours' worth of wages in four hours. Servers are not entitled.
Restaurants that so strongly feel their employee's wages should be subsidized that they list suggested tip amounts on the bill, can instead raise prices and raise wages and let us choose if we wish to continue to patronize. Please understand that it is not our responsibly to subsidize your payroll.
Tipping is a custom, a tradition, a nice way to say, "good job." Tipping is optional at the patron's discretion. Restaurants that attempt to pose tipping as mandatory or expected can instead include a preset gratuity in every bill for every customer and let us choose if we wish to continue to patronize.
Three dollars' worth of service is worth three dollars, no matter how big or small the bill is and you realize that's what you just got.
So, now what? Do you succumb to the pressure of the statuette server's stare and touch 20%? Do you silently revolt and enter zero? Do you enter the three dollars you believe is right? Or, upon reflection, do you ask the server to take the kiosk off the table and take care of the check correctly?
Waiting tables, though not difficult, can be very hard work - work worth getting paid well to do. But as far as hard work goes, it is not as hard as washing dishes, bussing tables or cooking, yet servers expect to make eight to ten times as much as their coworkers. Somewhere along the line the system got out of whack, with servers always making more than their managers and often making more than the owners.
Tipping, though not required, can be a very nice gesture - something worth doing extravagantly when warranted. If the service is good and the food is exceptional, tip the server well and find a way to sneak a few bucks into the kitchen too! Tip, tip, tip. But do it because you want to and not because you are expected to or because it is being demanded or presumed.
Your favorite restaurant's bottom line is not your obligation. Assuring that your server brings in more than school teachers make is not your duty. Tipping the couple bucks you felt the service was worth instead of a percentage of the bill is not something you need to feel badly about! Remember that it is jewelers promoting the notion that men should spend three months' salary on an engagement ring, and restauranteurs and servers who are promoting 22% as being a reasonable tip!
PS - The next time you're in the mood for pie at midnight, and the server in your late-night spot is working hard just to make those ends, remember then that five dollars' worth of service is worth five dollars, even if the bill is only $4.75.