Saturday, July 15, 2006


(News-Herald, July 13) My children have both worked around food.
My son has worked selling food to movie audiences. He likes it, though he lacks the killer sales instinct needed to coerce people into upgrading to the Giant Bucket O’Soda and House Full O’ Popcorn Combo. My daughter is in her second year as a waitress, or food server, or whatever we’re calling it these days.
It may be in their blood. When their mother was a struggling college student, she waited tables at the Reno Perkins (specializing in the late night crazy drunk guy shift). I myself never worked in the food biz—there’s a whole list of qualifications (starting with memory skills and neatness) that I lack.
But as a teacher of high school students, I’ve known many many people who worked on the front lines of commercial grub distribution.
Good waitpeople are worth their weight in gold. The best reason to eat at Leonardo’s is that the food is really good; the second best reason is that the service is pleasantly excellent as well.
Waitpeople are proof of Sam Walton’s rule: the way managers treat their employees is the way those employees will treat the customer. But the roughest thing that waitpeople face is not their managers—it’s their customers.
I have some single friends who restaurant first dates because they believe that you can tell a lot about someone by how that person treats waitpeople.
Some customers reveal just how condescending and snotty they can be. People who believe in democracy and the American Way and apple pie will suddenly start bossing The Help around as if they are both ugly stepsisters rolled into one demanding body. People who are kind to their mothers and pleasant to their churchmates will suddenly decide that A) only morons would ever work as waitpeople B) it’s okay to be mean to dumb people.
There’s a simple self-test. Watch how you behave in a restaurant. Imagine someone else treating your mother, sister or daughter that way. If that imaginary picture is unpleasant, you’re probably being a jerk and you should stop. (Note: if you just exempted yourself from the test with an excuse such as “well, my sister would never be a waitress,” then you’re definitely being a jerk. Knock it off.)
The beauty of the waiting biz is that it’s one of the few places where customers can set the price. The gas company, for instance, would like to tell us how much to pay them regardless of how we feel about their service, or even how much of their product we use. Not so with waiting.
Waitpeople, as everyone knows, are paid only slightly more than Chinese athletic shoe assemblers. The customer decides what the bulk of the wage will be. Unfortunately, many customers use that power to be stingy twits.
15-20% is simply a starting point for figuring the tip. Here are some other questions to ask when computing the amount.
Did your waitperson go above and beyond the call of duty? Did you ask them to make forty-seven different trips to the kitchen because you couldn’t quite get organized? Did you require them to listen to you whine endlessly? Did you leave them to babysit your children while you ran to the car? Did you insist that they convince the kitchen to create a new menu item just for you? If you made extra work, you owe your employee extra pay.
How long did you camp out at the table? Did you finish eating, then settle in to smoke an entire carton of cigarettes? In the time you sat, could two other sets of paying customers have occupied that table? If so, pay up.
The following factors do not have anything to do with how much you should tip.
Being a regular. A surprising number of people figure that the treat of seeing their face on a daily basis should be reward enough. Not so much.
“I’m on a fixed income.” Whether that income is fixed by your retirement fund or the amount of allowance your parents give you, neither excuses stiffing the waitperson. If you can’t afford to leave a respectable tip, then you can’t afford to eat out—just stay home.
Finally, no amount of tipping excuses the following.
Personal drama. You may not hash out your bitter divorce negotiations, nor provide graphic descriptions of recent sexual conquests.
Hitting on the waitress. She is your employee and it is her job to be nice to you. Hitting on her is as inappropriate as a supervisor telling his secretary that he’d like to discuss her raise at the Ri-Ge Motel. Yeah, I know. I’ve had crushes on cute waitresses, too. But this summer, one of those ladies is my daughter, so just back off, buddy.

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