Tipping Point

waitress-dinner-served-13047398I mentioned to you recently that I had lunch downtown at an ever-so-hip restaurant. What I didn’t mention is that it was one of a couple of unpleasant dining experiences I have had recently – all resulting from bad service.

I have waited tables before, and my guess is many of my readers have also. The percentage of people who have waited tables at some point in their life is astounding, though apparently not astounding enough for me to remember what it is.

I say that so that you will know that I appreciate the difficulties involved in being a server. Hard work. A lot of smiling. Putting up with a lot of unpleasant people. I get it.

Many of my nieces and nephews have been or are currently food servers. By the way, apparently that’s the politically correct term for what we used to call waiters and waitresses. Personally, I’m not crazy about the term since I think those whatever-you-call-thems do more than just serve you food. But no one asked me.

So, at the risk of offending them and thereby losing the opportunity of receiving a Christmas present from them, I will tell you that I have very mixed feelings about tipping. On the one hand, it annoys me greatly that their financial security is dependent on me – me, who is not their employer.

On the other hand, I recognize that if I didn’t pay their salary via my tip, their employer would have to and since they are in the business to make money, they would pass that cost on to me anyhow.

So, do I want to tip or pay more for food?

In Europe, food servers (man, I really hate that term) make a solid living wage, paid for by their employer. Tipping, therefore, is much different. You leave a small amount on the table – enough for them to buy a beer after work, according to our son Allen who waited tables in Switzerland for a few years — but nothing even coming close to 20 percent.

But here’s my real point (you didn’t think I had one, did you?). For about a million years, I tipped 15 percent for good service. Over the course of the past few years, I’ve noticed that I now tend to tip 20 percent, no matter the service. Now, I recognize that waiters, er, food servers, experience inflation as do we all. However, the cost of food reflects that inflation, so their tips are higher anyway.

I have to tell you a story about a recent restaurant experience. We were at a very nice Italian restaurant last weekend. Our server introduced himself. “Buona sera,” he said in a heavily Italian accented voice. “I will be your server this evening.”

We ordered our food, and a lot of it. We ordered a bottle of wine, a couple of appetizers, a beet salad and a Caesar salad, a pasta dish to share, and each of the four of us ordered an entrée.

Our wine was nicely delivered. Our appetizers came promptly. And then we waited. And waited and waited. Probably 45 minutes. At first Georgio would come over and say, “Your tagliatelli will be up very soon.” Pretty soon he stopped coming by, or when he did, he would hurry past with his head down.

Finally it came. Now, in the meantime, we were having a lovely time, and were not in a hurry. We joked that it was kind of like eating in Italy, where food is served and eaten in an unhurried manner. So we didn’t complain despite the fact that we weren’t in Italy.

Now let me explain something else. This is a very genuinely Italian restaurant. Bill and I have dined extensively in Italy, where salads aren’t terribly common. They are often served at the end of the meal prior to dessert as sort of a finisher. So I wasn’t entirely sure at what point our salad would be served.

Back to my story. So after finishing our pasta, we waited a bit longer (though not 45 minutes), and he served us our entrées. Everything was absolutely delicious.

It wasn’t until he asked us about dessert that I fully realized our salads were not going to be served. That really was fine because we were all quite full. The problem presented itself when we got our bill, which included the two salads. I called the waiter over and told him, “Sir, you charged us for the salads that we never got.”

With genuine surprise, he said, “I didn’t serve you your salads?”

Seriously? He simply forgot to bring an entire COURSE?

But here’s what really gets to me. I tipped him 20 percent. In hindsight, I should not have done so. Should I have? It was his fault, not the kitchen’s, I expect. That probably accounted for the 45-minute wait between appetizers and our pasta. The kitchen presumed we were happily munching on our salads.

My experience at lunch wasn’t quite that bad. Our waiter just seemed disinterested in us. So disinterested, in fact, that as he took our order, he didn’t even look at us. He spent the entire time looking over at the table next to us.  Rude, no? But, between that experience and the Italian restaurant experience, I had had a firm talk with myself. NO MORE TIPPING 20 PERCENT FOR INFERIOR SERVICE. I promise Nieces and Nephews, I won’t punish a server for a bad kitchen. But it wasn’t the kitchen’s fault that my waiter, er, food server, forgot an ENTIRE COURSE. Mr. Disinterested only got 15 percent.

Twenty percent for exceptional service, 15 percent for average service, 10 percent for forgetting an entire course.

So much for Christmas this year.

5 thoughts on “Tipping Point

  1. Bj, who has been a server his entire adult life would NOT have tipped 20% to the server that missed the salad course. It was his fault. Grr. I would have tipped him 12%. The thing that tickles me when dining with B is if the service is outstanding and enhances the experience he will leave 25%. And if I’m tipping and I refuse to leave that much he will make up the difference. He always says, come on Mom, let’s make someone’s night.

    • I love BJ and would always overtip him! But here’s my other beef. Our bill was close to $200, so if he gave me really good service, his tip would be $40. But if I go to IHOP the next morning and get outstanding service at my breakfast, which only cost $20, (s)he only gets four bucks, and probably worked twice as hard. I almost always overtip at breakfast for that reason. Still seems somewhat unfair. I hate that tipping is based on the cost of the food. Wish there was another way to tip.

  2. Well don’t leave the verbal tip cause that doesn’t pay the bills:) I do agree that you should tip 20% for great service and 15% for ok service. I think people go into a restaurant and have a predetermined amount they always tip no matter the service. And if there are any Canadians reading your blog tell them that it is customary in the US to tip 15-20%. Servers only get paid $5.00 an hour.

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