True story: as a teenage waiter, I once spit-shined the silverware.
February 1, 2005 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Revenge is a dish best served cold. The NY Times [bugmenot ] tables a tasty selection of vindictive waitstaff blogs. MeFi (ahem) servers, past and present, who were your worst customers? And did they get their just desserts?
posted by stonerose (102 comments total)
 
I've been reading Waiter Rant for a while and have been enjoying it, if nothing else for the good writing.
posted by mcwetboy at 6:43 PM on February 1, 2005


Waiter Rant is good, it resonates alot with how pissed off I used to be when I worked in bars and restaurants.

I don't envy the work and I tip well.

Please don't masturbate into my chowder.
posted by fenriq at 7:15 PM on February 1, 2005


When I worked at a "crazy crap on the walls" style restaurant, I made sure to know which of the objects bolted to the walls would make good weapons, and which I was closest to at any given point in the dining room. Just so that if I really did go completely insane and decided to kill a customer I'd be able to do it quickly and effectively.
posted by baphomet at 7:16 PM on February 1, 2005


The Stained Apron is a terrible read. "How to Sue Your Restaurant" and stories of patrons mispronouncing dish names -told in the most condescending manner possible. The contributors here are some mean-spirited people.

It makes me happy to know that these hateful souls dislike their jobs so damn much. Yaay Karma!!
posted by MotorNeuron at 7:28 PM on February 1, 2005


Earlier thread featuring both sides of the waitstaff equation.
posted by Eideteker at 7:35 PM on February 1, 2005


We've done this before; it never goes very well. Waiter-MeFites: "Customers suck!" Customer-MeFites: "Oh yeah? Fuck you then!"

But maybe this will go differently.
posted by languagehat at 7:35 PM on February 1, 2005


MotorNeuron: I thought it was a great read. Asshole customers trying to get a free meal only to find that no one takes their lying side makes me all warm and fuzzy. There is bad karma flying around, but not sure if it's in the direction of the servers.
posted by melt away at 7:36 PM on February 1, 2005


languagehat, look at the tags - this thread isn't for the customers!
/rueful former waiter
posted by stonerose at 7:48 PM on February 1, 2005


Melt Away: I missed the story about the customers trying to scam a free meal. If they got their comeuppance, I'm all for it.

However, reading sections like "A Rant from the Bar", I stand by my earlier comment.
posted by MotorNeuron at 7:51 PM on February 1, 2005


For many years, I waited tables at a restaurant in San Francisco that was a block from the Opera House and Davies Symphony Hall. An hour and fifteen minutes before the curtain on performance nights, the restaurant would fill up with people wanting three-course meals in a hurry, everyone trying to synchronize their eating with the curtain time, which meant that the entire turnover happened in a single wave.

One night, six lavishly dressed folks crowded around a table for five. When I took their order, they made a million special requests -- vinaigrette on the side, extra sauce, hold the capers, rice instead of pommes frites, etc. They also ordered plenty of booze.

The first course proceeded without incident. When I brought the main courses, because of all the special orders, there were about a million plates to somehow squeeze onto this suddenly tiny table. The group was also, by this point, more than a little intoxicated. I finally got all the little plates down, and breathed a sigh of relief. Then the gentleman at the head of the table stood up in his tuxedo, staggered several steps, and fell flat on his face.

I looked up at the man's wife, who glanced down at her husband on the rug and said calmly, "We're going to have to have this whole thing to go."
posted by digaman at 7:54 PM on February 1, 2005


languagehat: Hey, we don't think all customers suck. The ones who work or have worked as servers are usually great people.
posted by baphomet at 7:55 PM on February 1, 2005


At the risk of modding my own thread - during my summers in high school and university, I worked as a waiter in a beer garden / restaurant overlooking Niagara Falls. I had people ask "what country is this?" "when do they turn off the falls?" "where do they put the dye in?" (this one was seeking an explanation for the changing colors in the nightly illumination of the falls). I had a 6-year old Italian child snap his fingers at me, demanding service. I had an enormous Jamaican woman throw her Glenlivet-on-the-rocks at me, screaming "Why have you put sodium in my scotch?"

The best, though, was the Californian who - with bemused innocence - said to nobody in particular "Damn. It's so freaky to think that people grow up their whole lives outside the U.S."
posted by stonerose at 8:13 PM on February 1, 2005


Last year a server at a Sizzler steakhouse in Norco, Calif., was arrested after a fight with Atkins-dieting customers over whether vegetables could be substituted for potatoes....the server, had gone too far in following the customers and covering their house with maple syrup, flour and instant mashed potatoes

Hilarious. And don't we all want to throw mashed potatoes as Atkins dieters? Sometimes?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:17 PM on February 1, 2005


I love these kinds of stories, having worked in bookstores for a long time, both of which were specialty stores, and quite obviously so. I couldn't help but get mad at people standing under a huge cutout of the Starship Enterprise, asking me for the "Kama Sutra"--for a friend.

But I wasn't mean to them.

Likewise, I almost always tip twenty percent. Only on very rare occasions do I tip less. Waiters earn less than minimum wage, and somehow, it's not illegal, though it should be. If I go into a restaurant and am ignored for a half an hour, I'll still tip ten percent.
posted by interrobang at 8:46 PM on February 1, 2005


(Eideteker, thanks for that other thread; it's fascinating.)
posted by interrobang at 8:49 PM on February 1, 2005


When I was less than a year out of college, I lived in Burlington, VT and had the displeasure of finding myself very broke after a beautiful summer and fall. Since there were no jobs there for liberal arts grads (what with five colleges in the area??), I found myself delivering pizzas for Domino's. I found the uniform humiliating. And, since the snow would fall like clockwork right around the start of my 14-hour shift, driving my '88 Corolla was nightmarish at best. My boots leaked and slipped everywhere so I screwed screws into the soles. Somehow I managed to scrape together enough money to leave town, despite the piddling $1 tips from college students and poor people with fists of coupons.

My point: I know what it's like getting shitty tips. However, I find sentiments like "A dollar tip per round of drinks or 15% is insulting etc" , esp when all you've done is poor a beer into a glass or delivered a plate of food 20 feet. Don't get me wrong, I try to tip properly, and a lot when the service merits, but somewhere, somehow I think that a lot of servers expect too much for too little.

Maybe I'm wrong to take these rants too seriously. I've never done the restaurant thing, but there was a time when I worked pretty f-ing hard for that shitty tip...and now, reading a lot of these rants, I can only... In my day(shakes fist!)
posted by roundo at 8:59 PM on February 1, 2005


It's kind of funny reading this, as we were just out for dinner with some of the worst service that I've had in a good long while - a mix of the kitchen and the server not doing a great job in conjunction with each other. Good times.

I imagine it'd be just as easy to come up with a site where customers come up with their own horror stories about going out to restaurants--servers certainly aren't always angels themselves.

(note that this comes from someone who tends to tip towards 15% as a reflex)

I have to admit though, reading that article that I find myself somewhat incensed at the comment that adequate service should get a 17 percent tip or better--as I am about the fact that nearly every restaurant nowadays imposes a gratuity on tables of (six | eight) people or more. I'm sorry, a tip is a tip. It is not a fee.
posted by vernondalhart at 9:13 PM on February 1, 2005


I'm a career waiter. I've argued with people in the past about why service industry people deserve to be tipped, but I don't think I'm going to bother with that in this thread.

I don't know a single server who hasn't at one point said that they should write a book about all the crazy shit that goes on in restaurants, from the crazy customers to the zany antics of the staff. To boot, many restaurants are employee incestuous, meaning that it's a constant rotation of who's sleeping with who. And if you need drugs or a late night illegal alcohol operation, ask your friendly server - they're sure to know.

Yup, I'd love to read stories that deal with all the aspects of the Industry life.

And vernon, any waiter should view a tip as something that is earned, not automatically given. I know a lot of people who get upset when they get a shitty tip, and often ther servers are wrong: they expected something they didn't deserve. It's hard not to have high expectations in the Industry. As people who are dependent on tips to get by, it's understandable, even though it's wrong.
posted by ashbury at 9:22 PM on February 1, 2005


What a fucking asshole. And yes, I'm talking about the bartender.
posted by pmbuko at 9:24 PM on February 1, 2005


What MotorNeuron said.

A Rant from the Bar was just awful. What a horrible man.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:34 PM on February 1, 2005


ehhh, I guess I'm not the only one.
posted by pmbuko at 9:35 PM on February 1, 2005


And what pmbuko said too!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:54 PM on February 1, 2005


... and why is it that you don't tip the poor suckers working in a fast food joint? Society says "don't tip these guys, tip these guys over here instead." That's fucked up, man.

/mister pink
posted by sour cream at 10:04 PM on February 1, 2005


But maybe this will go differently.

Your eternal optimism is commendable, languagehat.

These stories are entertaining, regardless of whether your inclined to like your waitstaff or not. Personally, while I've never worked in the industry, I've known too many who have to tip less than 20%. Pretty much the only thing that will change that is when you bring me the wrong order and tell me I should eat it anyway because you can't fucking be bothered to spend thirty seconds writing a new ticket to replace the one you fucked up (this has happened to me) and when you shortchange me (this happens all the time). Is it somewhat ridiculous to tip a dollar on a $1.50 beer? Sure, but it's also ridiculous to pay the poor fucker $2.13 an hour.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:08 PM on February 1, 2005


First up, here's a great book about the behind the scenes kitchen life. It's by Anthony Bourdain, head chef at NY institution, Les Halles.

I work at a fancy pastry shop/happening night spot. Mostly I like my job. All the co-workers are interesting and kind, the management is excellent, etc. The thing about customers is that a lot of times they just don't think about the fact that they're talking to a human being. They don't respond to greetings, don't phrase orders in the form of a queston, etc. This kind of behavior is what is being repaid by a tip. It's not just that we opened your beer and brought it to you, but, more likely than not, you treated us without the most basic respect anyone should give another human. Being nice, funny, or interesting, goes a long way down the same road as tipping. This kind of treatment wears a person down. When I started my instinct when faced with a bad customer would be to try to make them laugh or do something to get the interaction turned around, to win them over. Now, after having done this for a year and a half, I just imagine spectacular ways of murdering them, or horrible insulting things to say to them and tell my co-workers about them. I've never stooped to food tampering etc., more out of my relationship with my boss and my basic sense of disgust than any respect for bad customers.

Also, as far as "bad service" goes, as a customer, you have, basically, no idea what goes into it. It's like what an editor once said about the editing of films: as the viewer, you don't know if that was a bad cut between two shots or if that was all the director shot and the editor did a brilliant job . Likewise if food delivery is slow or orders are wrong you have no idea if it's because the server screwed up or the kitchen or because some other customer interfered somewhere along the line (I've seen food not intended for them grabbed off of trays by customers, etc.). A lot of customers reduce tip if something they wanted isn't available, even, which is definitively not the fault of the server.

Honestly, if you treat your servers as people, acknowledge them, be at least a little friendly, your dangers of getting poisoned or robbed (we do have your credit cards at some point, remember) are reduced greatly.
posted by AtDuskGreg at 11:20 PM on February 1, 2005


For years I waitressed at Louise's Trattoria. Here's my tip: don't be obnoxious to your server while ordering a cup of decaf coffee. (Hell, if there was a way to add extra caffeine, I'd serve you that too. You deserve to stay awake all night for being an ass.)

Hey, I never said I was a GOOD waitress.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:11 AM on February 2, 2005


I just got off one of my last shifts as a waiter. I don't think I'll share my stories. You've heard the like before. There's a lot of bile in the Industry.
posted by Captaintripps at 12:23 AM on February 2, 2005


I don't eat in restaurants unless I have to, partly because tipping (the entire system) is bad. Tipping -- and the attitudes that come with it, and the should-be-illegal reasoning behind it, and the slave wages it is used to justify -- is like something the mafia made up. Maybe it did.

Employers should pay an honest wage, at least minimum wage, and servers (like any employees anywhere else) should expect to get and pay taxes on only that. Paying the full price advertised on the menu should be considered full and fair payment for a job done right.

But: given that tables, especially good tables, are rare at good restaurants, maybe people should be able to bid on the tables. You could stand in line as usual and, when a table comes up, the various parties waiting should be able to bid on it, straight cash up front and in the open. If you pay the most, you get the table and the rest keep waiting. A certain server should be assigned to each table, so you know which server you are going to get if you get that table, and the server (and cook and bus boys and whoever else is involved with that table) should get a percentage of the table money. That would be their tip, settled up front with no argument, no threats, nothing. You could also do the bidding early, online, to reserve a table and server. And then on your way out (or online later) you should be able to rate the whole package (food, drinks, service, cleanliness) for future customers to consider. (Ratings would show up online when you reserve a table and be available for view when standing in line at the restaurant. A server with bad ratings would not get good bids.) Your receipt should generate a code that you would use to submit your rating, so that people couldn't submit false ratings. And these ratings could be used by restaurant managers to determine who the best workers are (including non-servers on the team for that table) and who deserves to work the best tables and the best nights.
posted by pracowity at 12:32 AM on February 2, 2005


Try from an outsider's perspective - Metafilter does get very US centric. In Australia there's a more decent minimum wage, so tipping is regarded as non-compulsory. If the service is good, then the staff get extra, but there's no expectation except in high end restaurants. And, by the way, a good tip is 10%. 17% min?? Ha!

We lived in the US for 3 years, and frankly getting our mind around the tipping thing was very stressful. Who to tip, when to tip, how unbelievably much to tip, often for frankly ordinary service. Most other places, the employer pays the wages. In the USA, the mentality is that all jobs are done on sales commission.

Like in so many other things, why is the USA so different from everywhere else? I've eaten in restaurants in maybe 20+ countries, and the USA stands out as the country where the democratic society's abuse of minimum wage means that the most humane of customs, dining together, is way more stressful than it needs to be.
posted by ozjohn at 12:34 AM on February 2, 2005


Yes, I was reflexively (because this is amerifilter) talking about US tipping. Elsewhere, it's much better.
posted by pracowity at 1:30 AM on February 2, 2005


What ozjohn said. Dining out here in the States is more stressful than it should be in part because of this whole IRS-mandated tipping pain-in-the-ass.

I've seen most of these ranting-waitstaff sites before, and they're incredibly angsty, and not really all that well written. But they're train-wreck fascinating, regardless.

One would hope there would be more writerly and eloquent waiters out there considering the reputation in the industry for artists and writers to pay the bills in this way. But perhaps the eloquent and writerly ones are too busy actually writing, or perhaps too wise to bitch about the known rudeness of humanity out to lunch.
posted by loquacious at 2:31 AM on February 2, 2005


I second the recommendation of Kitchen Confidential by Bourdain.
posted by anathema at 3:37 AM on February 2, 2005


Login = mefi1/mefi1. Even as a paid subscriber to the Sunday print edition, this was always easier to remember than my own login.
posted by PuppyCat at 4:15 AM on February 2, 2005


The US tipping convention should be totally abolished. Wait staff should get a living wage, and the incentives for superior performance should be like those in most industries - make more money for the company (restaurant), and you get paid more. Bad wait staff would be punished by getting canned or by having their employer fail, not by the customer reducing their pay.

I'm afraid a restaurant that instituted pracowity's bid-for-a-table scheme would not get my business.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:51 AM on February 2, 2005


If you like Kitchen Confidential, give Behind Bars by Ty Wenzel a shot. It's a bartender's memoir and is nowhere near as pretentious as Cecchini's Cosomopolitan.

After reading the chapter on the Hell On Earth that is a Tiki Night, I dunno if I can ever drink Mai Tais again.

This recommendation brought to you by my AskMe question a few months back.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:53 AM on February 2, 2005


One of the really nice things about leaving the US has been not having to think about tips any more. And what with the recent changes that all prices on menus/products/etc. must include tax, now I can figure out how much a meal will cost just by looking at the menu.
posted by Bugbread at 6:07 AM on February 2, 2005


If you don't want to tip at a restaurant then there is a simple solution -- don't go to one. I make $2.13 an hour. My clientele are mostly gay men and I make a lot of money. I am expected to cater to their every whim, I am expected to always be upbeat and to be the entrainment at all times. I do this willingly and I am amply compensated for it. I work as a bartender and a waitress and most days I love my job. I am expected to be truly concerned ( or at least act like I am) about their love lives, family lives and nutritional needs. If you are a regular at my bar your drink will be waiting for you when you sit down and I will ask about your day and listen to your stories and laugh at your jokes and provide you with an introduction to the cute guy at the end of the bar or just leave you alone if that's what you want.

If you think that servers should be paid minimum wage then think about getting served that $12 a shot scotch with your $20 steak by your local McDonalds worker. Is that what you want? Also if restaurants paid the waitstaff minimum wage think about that $8 cheeseburger becoming $15 and is served by someone who gets paid whether or not you get your meal correctly and in a timely manner.
posted by bas67 at 6:17 AM on February 2, 2005


ozjohn, I cannot adequately express how great it was to visit Australia in '99-'00 and, when calculating the bill at a restaurant, simply pay the price of one's meal on the menu and not one penny more, there being no taxes and tipping not being expected. Although I understand you have a sales tax down under these days, which is a shame.

How many of us in North America have eaten out in big groups and, when the bill came, had a dispute over everyone's fair share? Calculating a full 30% of what you paid for the meal (15% taxes and 15% tipping, in Canada at least), especially when people are drinking, can be a fucking nightmare.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:33 AM on February 2, 2005


I make $2.13 an hour... I make a lot of money.

Would you object to having that money ($50 an hour or whatever that "lot of money" is that you now average with tips) shifted to your paycheck in exchange for abolishing tipping? Or do you gain some advantage through the tipping system that you would lose by working on a straight wage?
posted by pracowity at 6:35 AM on February 2, 2005


Bas67: If you don't want to tip at a restaurant then there is a simple solution -- don't go to one.

Sure, it's the simplest solution, but certainly not the best. It's the equivalent of saying "If you don't want to have an argument with your wife, get divorced." Sure, by eliminating the wife, you're eliminating the problem, but you're eliminating all the good stuff.

I don't want to eat hamburgers and fries all the time. I want to have $12 scotch and $20 steaks (well, actually, I don't like steak or scotch, but you get the idea). And I don't want to tip. I want the prices to be higher (i.e. the price I would pay anyway at a regular restaurant), and for the waiter to get paid what they were getting paid before, post tips.

Really, it's an incredibly stupid system. Charge $5.00 for a dish, pay the waiter a small amount, and then assume that I'll pay extra so that the waiter gets paid extra? Since tips are pooled nowadays (for the most part), it's not like my tipping or not tipping is directly punishing or benefiting the waiter. It's just a lousy way to make prices look lower than they are.

What we want are restaurants which work like pretty much every other business on the face of the planet: They charge X for product Y, and pay the people involved Z. It works in other countries, so what (besides the history involved, of course) is so damn special about a few countries that tipping is so sacrosanct?
posted by Bugbread at 6:38 AM on February 2, 2005


Tips are not pooled for the most part.

I want to have $12 scotch and $20 steaks (well, actually, I don't like steak or scotch, but you get the idea). And I don't want to tip. I want the prices to be higher (i.e. the price I would pay anyway at a regular restaurant), and for the waiter to get paid what they were getting paid before, post tips.
Well, I want a more representative government and healthcare for all -- you can't always get what you want.

it's not like my tipping or not tipping is directly punishing or benefiting the waiter
The government assumes that I make a certain amount in tips on each sale and taxes me for it. I you don't tip then you are essentially saying "thanks for serving me and paying the government to do so."

Your logical fallacy about arguing with your wife is so silly that I won't even address it.
posted by bas67 at 6:54 AM on February 2, 2005


If you think that servers should be paid minimum wage then think about getting served that $12 a shot scotch with your $20 steak by your local McDonalds worker. Is that what you want? Also if restaurants paid the waitstaff minimum wage think about that $8 cheeseburger becoming $15 and is served by someone who gets paid whether or not you get your meal correctly and in a timely manner.

That's the same silly logic used by people defending sweatshop labor- "fine, we can pay them more than 17 cents an hour, but are you willing to pay MORE for Levi's?"

Restaurants won't go out of business paying minimum wage to waiters, they'll just have to find alternatives to labor unfairness to make profit. How they WILL go out of business is if they take your advice and think anyone will pay double for a burger because poor widdle manager has to pay everyone fairly. Like you said, if you don't want to eat there, you won't. The "everyone will have to pay twice for stuff" myth is just that.

The very reason labor laws and unions were created in this country were to prevent business owners from exploiting workers in the name of "having to make a profit." Amazingly, companies didn't crumble when the minimum wage was created either.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:02 AM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


Well, I want a more representative government and healthcare for all -- you can't always get what you want.

Yes.

And?

That's what this whole thread is about. It's what the initial post is about. Waiters want good customers. They can't always get what they want. Customers (or, at least, many Mefi members) want restaurants without tipping. We can't always get what we want. You want us to tip at restaurants. Most of us will, some of us might not. You can't always get what you want.

I'm assuming that, somewhere, you're disagreeing with me on something, but I can't find out what it is. What do you disagree with me about?
posted by Bugbread at 7:03 AM on February 2, 2005


If you don't want to tip at a restaurant then there is a simple solution -- don't go to one.

What kind of moronic advice is that?
Ozjohn has got it exactly right -- in many countries you can have a decent meal served by decent people and still know in advance how much it is going to cost without carrying a frigging calculator around.
Sure, I have no doubt that being a waitress/bartender is a stressful job that takes more than meets the eye. Well, here's some news for you: So is my job. And probably that of most people on this list. Yet we don't pester our customers with demands for tips.
I realize that things are different in the States (and, to a lesser extent, in Europe) and that tipping is part of the deal you're getting yourself into, so I do try to conform with that and tip what is being expected of me whenever I am there. But it's a bothersome system that clearly can be done without.
Look at countries that don't have mandatory tipping: Waiters are being paid more or less decent wages there. High-class restaurants requiring special skills need to pay higher wages -- otherwise they won't get the people with the necessary skills. That's simple supply and demand and it works just fine. At least over here in Japan.
posted by sour cream at 7:10 AM on February 2, 2005


To reply to the question posed in the initial post, I'd say worst customers at our bakery fall into two camps: the outright assholes and the ignorant.

The assholes snap their fingers at you or point to things while they're on their precious cell phones (and I have yet to hear them having a conversation along the lines of "no, no...that's the spleen. You don't want to cut that. It should be up and to the left of the spleen..."), or, my personal pet peeve, ask us to cut their food up for them. Sorry, but no. You can cut your own food.

The ignorant ones are people who aren't necessarily bad, they're just stupid. No matter how many times we'll tell them they need to order six pans of cinnamon rolls in advance, they never do. Or they'll ask if we can just throw in an apple pie for them. Sure, we don't have a production schedule to adhere to.

But by and large it's not bad. If you let that 10% ruin your day you'll be pissed off all the time. I've learned to consider the source and either treat them as rudely as they treat me or let the anger go. If you stay pissed you're giving them more attention and energy than they deserve.

Personally, I think a lot of the asshole behavior is reinforced by the TGIMcFriday chains. All you have to do is bitch or raise a stink to the manager about your biscuit being cold and he'll cave in and give you a $50 gift card just so he won't have to fill out paperwork, deal with a bitchy customer for 20 minutes and/or have to answer to the regional manager. If more people were told "no" and told to sit down and shut up in our society we'd be better off.

Disclaimer: if there's a hair in your food or something's seriously wrong, you're more than entitled to compensation. That's not my point. My point is that a certain segment of the population has learned that they can get their asses kissed if they bitch and act like two year olds.
posted by Atom12 at 7:22 AM on February 2, 2005


Does anyone here value good service? If not then I guess I see where your coming from. But if you think you are going to get someone who really cares about your dining experience for minimum wage you're dreaming.

XQUZYPHYR,
What will happen is: prices will go up, anyone offering health insurance will stop (this is already happening) and staff will be cut and service will drop to a minimum. If you really think that owners will willingly lower their profits so you won't have to come up with a $20 on that $100 check then you're living in a dream world.

Some advice for you and bugbread: If you want to go out and not tip that's fine but I wouldn't go to the same restaurant twice. You guys are talking about what would be nice but I live in the real world.
posted by bas67 at 7:23 AM on February 2, 2005


sour cream,
Experiences are realitive. I talk to many people from here (the states) who go overseas and can't believe how unconcerned and slow the service is. If that's the kind of service you're used to then I guess it's okay.
posted by bas67 at 7:28 AM on February 2, 2005


bas67, I don't think anyone that is posting here and that are from the States is objecting to a server getting a living wage, nor are any of us objecting to tipping per se.

We're objecting to the now mandatory nature of tipping due to employers not paying a minimum wage and the IRS demanding a mandatory, preemptive cut of that supposed 15% tip rate - whether or not the server actually makes 15% in tips.

Quite frankly, that sucks. It removes the whole purpose of leaving a tip. That it's a voluntary gift shown in appreciation for good service. It puts both the server and the served at a disadvantage, and adds way too much stress to the experience.

I always tip, as long as the service was adequate or tolerable. Generally not lavishly - unless the service is noticeably brilliant - but not miserly, but then I generally don't patronize establishments where the bill for two comes to more than $30-60 USD. But then again, if I want fine food cooked and presented exactly how I like it, I stay at home and cook it myself.

I certainly will not tip, if - even after frank and reasonable communication and nothing is done to remedy the situation - there are real problems with the service or the food.

And I really am quite mellow, unassuming, and reasonable, despite the obtuseness and excessive polyloquacity of my writing. I don't want my royal ass kissed by my server, I don't need small talk or therapy. I just want my food to be hot, edible and prepared as ordered, and my beverages full when I actually need them. Not waiting 30 minutes for the check to appear is a plus, as well.

It doesn't happen very often, but every once in a while I get a server that obviously should not be in the business at all. They're rude, judgmental, opinionated, untimely, spiteful, angsty, unhelpful and generally entirely unworthy of tipping.

The sort of server that makes the whole experience of having a meal prepared and brought to you extremely unpleasant. The sort of server that makes me wish I could just walk up to the cook and ask them for my order, and that they'd just call me at my table to come pick it up whenever it was actually ready.

I have a strong hunch that the sort of bad server I mention above is also most likely the sort of server to run off and rant on one of these waiter-angst boards, especially the ones that make fun of patrons for mispronouncing 'foreign' food names and the like.

I mispronounce things all the time. Mostly because I'm a visual learner, not because I'm uncultured or ignorant. But then I'd smoke any of these puffed-up plate-captains on spelling, grammar and writing ability - not to mention food trivia, history, and actually cooking said food - at any challenge. But then, I'm the sort of person that isn't ashamed to ask questions or admit that they don't know about something.

On preview: bas67, the more you post, the more you're sounding like the sort of bad server I mention above. If there's a logical fallacy in the "arguing with the wife" argument, the fallacy is in your original statement, as they're nearly identical scenarios. You're bristling like a poked porcupine. Do you work in a leather-friendly gay bar? Maybe your best tippers are actually masochists. Just a thought.
posted by loquacious at 7:30 AM on February 2, 2005


Bas67: You're either willfully misreading everyone, or you're just missing what we're saying:

WE AREN'T TALKING ABOUT PAYING FOLKS MINIMUM WAGE!

Let's say you make X dollars an hour now, and get an average of Y dollars in tips. That means your pay (Z) is X+Y.

Z=X+Y

What we're saying is "get rid of tipping, and just pay the staff Z!"

You get the same amount of money. I don't know where this constant harping about minimum wage is coming from.

If you want to go out and not tip that's fine but I wouldn't go to the same restaurant twice.

There's a big difference about what we "want" to do and what we do. We can "want" to not tip, but that doesn't mean we don't. It means we want your bosses to pay you more money, and to charge us more money, so that the same amount of money gets moved around to and from the same people, but so that we don't need a calculator to figure out the price of a meal.

You guys are talking about what would be nice but I live in the real world.

Yes, we live in the real world too. And we are talking about what would be nice. Those are in no way in opposition. It's a pillar of conversation, probably first started when some caveman came up with the linguistic concept of the conditional.

Experiences are realitive. I talk to many people from here (the states) who go overseas and can't believe how unconcerned and slow the service is.

If you really want to take that position (which, personally, I don't agree with), then the proof is in the pudding. I live in Japan. There is no tipping. The service is better than any other country I've ever been in. By your logic, tipping makes service worse.

In reality, though, I believe tipping has little to nothing to do with it. Societal expectations, upbringing, work situation, etc. has way more to do with it.
posted by Bugbread at 7:47 AM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


loquacious,
I'm going to assume that you're not really as arrogant and snotty as your post and I do the same for my customers. You shouldn't tip for bad service and I don't think that I ever advocated for that. I don't care if you mispronounce anything, if I can ascertain what you mean from the mispronunciation then I don't care. The fallacy in the argument is, if you're married then you have to live with your wife ( or you should) and an argument is probably unavoidable, you don't have to go to a restaurant to eat, there are many grocery stores and fast food restaurants to choose from.
As for the leather bar comment, I'm just let it go because it's childish.

Bugbread-- I'm trying to understand where you're coming from, how much money do you think (just give your best guess) a server in a midpriced restaurant makes?
posted by bas67 at 7:52 AM on February 2, 2005


Stonerose - just curious, was it the restaurant at the base of the former Sheraton Foxhead where you worked? Was a Steak & Burger for years, then changed.
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:17 AM on February 2, 2005


I dunno, $10 - 15 dollars an hour? Somewhere around there? My sense of pay is probably tweaked from living in Japan, but I know they pay $10 here, and back when I lived in Texas, I remember folks talking about how great the pay was compared to pretty much any other job us high-schoolers could get.
posted by Bugbread at 8:18 AM on February 2, 2005


I have observed that most of the problems that I have had with bad service has been directly related to the level of staffing at a restaurant. Countless times I have seen servers that had to work too many tables. Many times I have been in a place that had like 25 tables and only two servers. I blame the management in cases like this.
posted by Justin Case at 8:24 AM on February 2, 2005


in many countries you can have a decent meal served by decent people and still know in advance how much it is going to cost without carrying a frigging calculator around.

If you need a calculator to figure out what 15% is, tipping is not the problem.
posted by kindall at 8:30 AM on February 2, 2005


bugbread: The problem with that system is that here in America a server's income is flexible. When I start a shift I could walk out of there with $20 or $100- hell, depending on how well I do my job my income could vary that much even given the same set of tables. The difference between me pocketing $20 and $100 is how hard I work my ass off for my customers and how enjoyable I've made their dining experience, insofar as I can.
This means that my income is dependent upon performance. The better I perform, the more money I make. This is regarded as an incentive, and such things are generally known to increase productivity and performance overall. Remove the incentive, and your server might not be willing to kick it into high gear to make sure your steak gets to you right off the grill instead of underneath the heating lamps.
I'm not one of those bitter, angry servers you're talking about. All servers have their customer gripes, true, but so does anybody working in sales. The truth is, I value my customers. Any server that doesn't is a fucking moron. My restaurant doesn't pay my bills...my customers do. I fully realize and accept that tipping, regardless of the folkways associated with it, is 100% optional and that means that I expect a tip from no one. Now if I go over the top for a table then yes, I form some sort of a pecuniary expectation, but when you start your shift thinking, "Alright, my gas tank is empty and I can't leave until it's full" it's kind of hard not to. The point is that I don't take tipping for granted; I take it as a job performance review every time I process a customer's payment. If I get a bad tip I admit that sometimes I think, "Grumble grumble what a bastard etc. etc.," but every time I think to myself, "What could I have done better? How can I do better next time?"
My last point of contention is that bas67 is definitely not one of the "bad servers" as loquacious would suggest...she's just obviously spent a lot of time in the business. There's a certain jaded mentality that comes with lots of restaurant experience. I grew up with it (my dad is a life-long restaurant worker) and I know all about it. It's hard not to let it rub off on you, but if you value your job and your customers then you can always see through it. The next time you go out to eat don't be worried that your server secretly despises you, because she probably doesn't. The people who truly despise their customers (and I won't deny they exist) are so completely transparent that you can spot them from a mile away. They don't hide their contempt nearly as well as they think they do, and so you will know when you have one of these people. If you feel offended by it I suggest you discuss it with the manager, because they probably don't want to employ someone whose mere countenance and manner offends their customers. Otherwise, your server is probably a nice person just trying to get by. So do them a 15% favor and if they're half intelligent they'll be grateful.
posted by baphomet at 8:36 AM on February 2, 2005


bas67: Experiences are realitive. I talk to many people from here (the states) who go overseas and can't believe how unconcerned and slow the service is.

I think that may be a cultural difference. In many countries in Europe, in particular, eating out is not meant to be fast and it is supposed to take some time between ordering and the first course. You can maybe drink a glass of wine or smoke a cigarette (still OK in the old country) or order an aperitif, depending on where you are.
I concede that the general cheerfulness of service in US restaurants is very pleasant, and possibly unexpected to those who haven't grown up there. But then again, it is really only a subordinate consideration when you eat out. I mean honestly, how many of us say "lets go to this place because the service is good." No, you decide to go to a certain restaurant, because you want to have Indian food or Italian, or maybe because they have a nice interior providing for a nice atmosphere. Whether the service is particularly good or not is usually not a consideration at all. I suppose bad service might be a reason not to go to a certain place, but thats about it.

Bugbread: If you really want to take that position (which, personally, I don't agree with), then the proof is in the pudding. I live in Japan. There is no tipping. The service is better than any other country I've ever been in.

Well, that depends on your definition of "better." I find the service here in Japan very businesslike. You order your food, the waiter brings it to you with no fuzz. No pleasantries are exchanged (usually), and that's perfectly OK.

On preview: No, kindall, I can figure out what 15% are, thank you very much. But I don't want to. If the restaurant thinks I should fork over 15% more, then why not just add it to the bill and give the server his or her cut. That would make it easier for us customers.
posted by sour cream at 8:47 AM on February 2, 2005


Bas67: For that matter, I don't see what difference your actual pay makes to my central argument.

Let's say, for example, that you make $3 an hour, plus tips (%15).

Now, let's say I walk in and buy dinner. Let's say I splurge, and buy a $100 full-course meal. Then I'll leave a 15% tip. That's $15.

So you walk away with $18.

Now, in the proposed system, instead of making $3 an hour plus tips, you get paid $18 an hour. And the full course meal costs $115. You make the same amount of money, I pay the same amount of money, no calculators are needed, and nobody complains about undertipping.

The same would work for any pay rates, so it doesn't really matter what you're getting paid now. If you were making $10 an hour plus tips, you'd be walking away with $25. If the system was changed, you'd be paid $25 dollars an hour, no tips. No matter what initial numbers you start with, the end result is the same: you make the same amount as you do now, I pay the same amount as I do now, and all this disagreement would go away.

On preview: Baphomet, you've finally put forth a reasonable counterargument.

The point is that I don't take tipping for granted; I take it as a job performance review every time I process a customer's payment

That, in my opinion, is perfectly rational. It would be nice if the tipping system were adjusted to fit it better. For example, while I like Japan, where you don't tip anyone, I can understand and accept a system where tipping is a bonus.

The logical way to do that, though, is to: raise the amount people are getting paid by the equivalent of about 15% tip revenue (that is, if you get paid $2 an hour, plus tips, and you handle $100 an hour of food, they should raise your pay to $17 an hour). Then tips are completely optional. Do average work, make no tips. Kick ass, get extra money.
posted by Bugbread at 8:47 AM on February 2, 2005


When you talk about converting from a tip system to a "fair wage" system, you're essentially talking about converting to minimum. Restaurant owners would not pay more than that. No, really, they wouldn't. The labor pool is huge.

*scoots out again*
posted by Captaintripps at 8:51 AM on February 2, 2005


I find the service here in Japan very businesslike. You order your food, the waiter brings it to you with no fuzz. No pleasantries are exchanged (usually), and that's perfectly OK.

I suppose I can see what you're saying. Personally, I prefer the Japanese model (American waiters, with their constant interruptions to ask if my mashed potatoes are OK, or "how is the steak?", bug the hell out of me), but I can see how some people might like their service more chatty.

Either way, though, that kind of turns into a "different, not better, but not worse" thing, which, true, makes my initial counterargument that Japanese service is better wrong, but just turns into the different counterargument that not having tips doesn't make service worse, just different.
posted by Bugbread at 8:55 AM on February 2, 2005


When you talk about converting from a tip system to a "fair wage" system, you're essentially talking about converting to minimum. Restaurant owners would not pay more than that. No, really, they wouldn't. The labor pool is huge.

I'm a little confused, then. If the argument is that, if they took away tips, they'd raise the price of food but not raise tips commensurately, then why haven't they done that already? It's more profitable for them (15% increase in income, 10% increase in payouts, or something like that), isn't it?
posted by Bugbread at 8:57 AM on February 2, 2005


On further thought: if waiting is so hard (and I do believe that it is), why would there be such a huge labor pool available? There are much easier jobs that pay minimum wage. People take waiting jobs now because they pay more than minimum wage. If they raised base to just minimum wage, and had no tips, wouldn't everybody look for other, easier minimum wage jobs?
posted by Bugbread at 9:02 AM on February 2, 2005


Depends on what you call "easy." One of the benefits of waiting and bartending is the flexible scheduling and relatively short shifts. If waiters all made, say, $7 an hour there might be some who'd prefer to still do that and have a flexibile schedule as opposed to making $8.50 an hour at Target with a fixed schedule.
posted by Atom12 at 9:07 AM on February 2, 2005


So you want a restaurant to pay 10-15 or more servers around $20,000 dollars a year after taking out taxes($17 an hour x 6hrs x 5 shifts per wk x 52 wks per yr - %25 taxes). That means that the restaurant would be paying $200-300,000 a year just for waitstaff (that doesn't include kitchen or management salaries). How long do you think that restaurant would stay in business?
I make more than $20,000 a year and I'm not a bitter server. My philosophy on tipping is -- some customers don't leave enough tip and some customers over tip. If I get pissed about the low tip then I have to give back the extra that I was tipped.
posted by bas67 at 9:09 AM on February 2, 2005


bugbread: I know it bothers some people to get checked up on, but it's an important quality control device. Would you rather be bothered for 2 seconds to say, "Everything's fine," or would you rather have to wait for 10 minutes if there is a problem? Now if your server is interrupting you constantly that's a different issue, but you have to understand that when you're a food server interruption is a job skill.
To be honest with you, I'm not entirely opposed to the system you're describing. The thing is that it's essentially the same as having the server automatically add 15% to every bill at the table, which is a much easier way of operating the system you described and thus would be the method implemented by the management. This means that your server's income is fixed regardless of how she performs, which might lead some of those bad servers we've discussed to reduce their performance. And so any time a customer felt their service was sub-par they'd have to argue about it with the server and probably the manager to get the 15% taken off so that they could tip at their leisure. Which brings us right back to square one.
posted by baphomet at 9:17 AM on February 2, 2005


"This means that my income is dependent upon performance. The better I perform, the more money I make. This is regarded as an incentive, and such things are generally known to increase productivity and performance overall. Remove the incentive, and your server might not be willing to kick it into high gear to make sure your steak gets to you right off the grill instead of underneath the heating lamps."

And this is exactly what bothers me about mandatory 'gratuities' added onto bills for larger tables. When a 15% surcharge is added onto my bill simply because there is a large group of us coming to your restaurant, then there is absolutely no incentive for the server to do a good job - (he | she) is getting the 15% no matter what.

posted by vernondalhart at 9:21 AM on February 2, 2005


bas67 said: The fallacy in the argument is, if you're married then you have to live with your wife ( or you should) and an argument is probably unavoidable, you don't have to go to a restaurant to eat, there are many grocery stores and fast food restaurants to choose from.

The argument stands if you consider getting married is a choice, as is dining out. Both are avoidable.

I'm going to assume that you're not really as arrogant and snotty as your post and I do the same for my customers. and As for the leather bar comment, I'm just let it go because it's childish.

I don't know why my posts come off so snotty, when I'm trying not to. (Snooty!? /ferris beuller) But this isn't the place to discuss that. As for the leather bar comment, yeah, you should probably ignore that, but it was meant to be funny. And it is, if you sort of squint at it sideways in the dark. Good show, regardless. I emphatically retract my comments that you might be one of "those" servers.
posted by loquacious at 9:22 AM on February 2, 2005


vernondalhart: The gratuity convention is there for a good reason. If a is working your large party then for the 1-1.5 hours your table is in store that person probably can't take more than a 2-top on the side, since they're going to be spending so much time waging the big party refill war. An average dinner table turns in 45 minutes, and most restaurants let their servers take 4 or more tables at a time. So that person theoretically could be taking up to 8 tables during that period of time. Now that person could get stiffed by one of those tables, but getting stiffed doesn't really happen that often (especially with talented servers) and they can probably afford the hit. But if that person gets stiffed or shorted on a large party ticket then their income for that time span just flies out the window. It's happened to me before and believe me it is not fun. Nothing will turn a server into a restaurant misanthrope faster. So the big party gratuitiy practice is there to protect the servers so that they will be adequately compensated for taking the large party, which can be a pain in more ways than you can imagine.
posted by baphomet at 9:32 AM on February 2, 2005


vernondalhart: The gratuity convention is there for a good reason. If a server is working your large party then for the 1-1.5 hours your table is in store that person probably can't take more than a 2-top on the side, since they're going to be spending so much time waging the big party refill war. An average dinner table turns in 45 minutes, and most restaurants let their servers take 4 or more tables at a time. So that person theoretically could be taking 8+ tables during that period of time. Now that person could get stiffed by one of those tables, but getting stiffed doesn't really happen that often (especially with talented servers) and they can probably afford the hit. But if that person gets stiffed or shorted on a large party ticket then their income for that time span just flies out the window. It's happened to me before and believe me it is not fun. Nothing will turn a server into a restaurant misanthrope faster. So the big party gratuitiy practice is there to protect the servers so that they will be adequately compensated for taking the large party, which can be a pain in more ways than you can imagine.
posted by baphomet at 9:32 AM on February 2, 2005


Uh oh, somebody call the MattPhone, I did that by accident...M or J, please delete the first one and this one pretty please?
posted by baphomet at 9:35 AM on February 2, 2005


Bas67: So you want a restaurant to pay 10-15 or more servers around $20,000 dollars a year after taking out taxes...I make more than $20,000 a year

I think we may have hit the core of the misunderstanding, and it appears to be mine: are tips not taxed?

If they are, then the restaurant, apparently, is already paying you $20,000 a year. But if they aren't, I stand properly rebuked and will shut up.

Baphomet: I know it bothers some people to get checked up on, but it's an important quality control device. Would you rather be bothered for 2 seconds to say, "Everything's fine," or would you rather have to wait for 10 minutes if there is a problem?

Neither one. I like the Japanese system: the staff keeps circulating around the room. If there's a problem, you raise your hand or say "excuse me", and they come and help you, take an additional order, what-have-you. According to my dad, that's similar to the old-style European way as well, where the waiters stand at vantage points where they can see their whole area, and the area can see them (probably extinct by now).

Baphomet: This means that your server's income is fixed regardless of how she performs, which might lead some of those bad servers we've discussed to reduce their performance. And so any time a customer felt their service was sub-par they'd have to argue about it with the server and probably the manager to get the 15% taken off so that they could tip at their leisure.

Kinda. I'm not saying that a 15% surcharge would be added automatically. I'm saying that the price would be raised, and, basically, as a customer you'd have no recourse for bad service, other than to complain to management. From the customer's perspective, it would be no different than buying a video game, or a book, or whathaveyou. Most workers would be average quality. Some would suck, and you'd either complain to management, or (more likely), just not visit the restaurant again. Some would be good, and to those you'd give a tip.

I've had enough bad service in my times to believe that the tip system doesn't prevent bad service, it just punishes the lazy and the people who aren't at fault (folks who bring out food late because of a kitchen side problem, not their own fault). I can't see that getting rid of the tip system would make service all that worse, any more than implementing a tip system would make other service industries all that much better. So in the end, it seems, you'd get just as much bad service as you did before.

But that's a matter of personal opinion, and there's very little proof either way.

On preview: Thanks for the large table gratuity explanation. It had never occured to me to wonder about that, but with such a good explanation, now I'll never have to.

Oh, and a question: Someone mentioned that most places don't tip pool. When I was in high school (88 - 92), pooling was becoming very, very common. Closer to the rule than the exception. Was that just a temporary thing, then, or geographical (Houston, Texas), or what?
posted by Bugbread at 9:44 AM on February 2, 2005


I have never worked in a restaurant that pooled tips. I don't know anyone who does. That doesn't mean that it doesn't happen, but I know a lot of people in the business so I assume that around here (Atlanta) it's rare.

If the restaurant is paying me $20,000 a year that's news to me, I'm looking at 2 mos. worth of paychecks that add up to a grand total of $40. The restaurant takes out taxes based on my hourly wage ($2.13) + my declared tips (%15 of my sales). Most of the time my paychecks are void because it was used to pay taxes.

I'm not whining about my job. I get paid very well and I really like my customers. If you don't want to tip then don't. But don't be surprised if your next visit isn't a little chilly. If you don't care about that then you're fine, I'll devote my time to a customer who appreciates good service and is willing to pay for it.
posted by bas67 at 11:20 AM on February 2, 2005


Wait, now I'm confused again. You said you're making over $20,000 a year, but now you're saying that you're not? Or is it from an alternate revenue source?

And what does "declared tips" mean?

If you don't want to tip then don't. But don't be surprised if your next visit isn't a little chilly. If you don't care about that then you're fine, I'll devote my time to a customer who appreciates good service and is willing to pay for it.

Huh? Are you intentionally not reading what I'm writing? Is that directed at someone else? I don't like going to the immigration office, either, but I wouldn't advise someone whose visa was going to expire to just not go. If someone had a toothache, but didn't want to go to the dentist, I wouldn't tell them not to.

If you don't tip, you're going to get crappy service. So my advice to someone who doesn't want to tip would be "do it anyway". What kind of advice is "If you don't want to tip then don't"?

The discussion here is not the Mr. Pink discussion about whether we should all stop tipping or not. You seem to keep reading it as if it is.
posted by Bugbread at 11:37 AM on February 2, 2005


Maybe you don't understand how it works. I leave every night with money in my pocket. The restaurant owner pays me $2.13 an hour the customers pay me the rest. I fill out a sheet every night declaring how much I made in tips. That is what I get taxed on.

How is needing a visa to stay in the country or going to a dentist to relieve pain compare to going out to eat?? If you don't want to tip then don't, it's entirely optional. If you want to change the system of how restaurants pay servers then there may be some unintended consequences like poor service or higher prices.

I really do read your posts but you're not very clear. Who is Mr. Pink?
posted by bas67 at 11:49 AM on February 2, 2005


Ok, last things first: Sorry about the Mr. Pink reference. It's from the start of Reservoir Dogs, where Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) is talking about why he doesn't tip. I just meant that nobody here is arguing that we shouldn't tip in the current system, but that the current system could be changed to one in which tipping would be unnecessary.

As for the $20,000, when I referred to "the restaurant" paying you $20,000, I meant "your work at the restaurant", not "the restaurant owners".

So, if you're getting taxed on your tips, what difference would it make if you got paid $2.13 an hour by the owners, and $2.87 by the customers, or $5.00 an hour by the owners, and $0.00 by the customers?

And, yeah, my examples were bad. I just meant that your advice (If you don't want to tip, don't do it, but waiters will make you miserable) just seemed like pretty bad advice, compared to "If you don't want to tip, do it anyway."

But, in the first place, nobody here is even talking about not tipping within the current system. Some of us are talking about changing (or, rather, we're wistfully talking about how it might be nice if a change happened to) the current system. So I'm never really sure who you're addressing your comments to about "not tipping". None of us favor "not tipping" in current tipping countries.
posted by Bugbread at 11:58 AM on February 2, 2005


Because I wouldn't work for $5.00 an hour and neither would anyone else I know in the industry. Your first figure of $17 per hour sounds more reasonable but would be unsustainable for most independent restaurants.
posted by bas67 at 12:36 PM on February 2, 2005


I just need to step in here and say it is so obvious who has served and who has not served.

bugbread, I apologize in advance as this is absolutely not a slam, but you read like a very analytical guy. You want your 1's and your 0's and you want them to add up tidily. It seems the effort of traversing the grey culture area of "how much should I tip?" is a negative experience for you, and you'd rather have it all neatly spelled out for you in advance. I can appreciate that. I think you then go on to say wouldn't everyone like it tidy, and why can't servers be paid like every other industry? Wouldn't they like it tidy, too?

I think bas67 answered you, but as you two keep going back and forth I want to give it a go.

Why can't the servers be paid like every other industry? Performance.

The American model IMHO is based on that capitalist ideal -- the person who pushes harder, tries harder, gets more of a reward. The person that coasts by, does not. In your model, while you make it easier for yourself and others who would like a tidy experience, you are destroying the performance incentive.

You then argue that other cultures have a better system. You like the unobtrusiveness of Japanese dining. I have never visited or served there so I can't honestly compare, but I welcome your opinion and I respect it. I would also point out that a good server can and should read you and adapt accordingly. If you visited me more than once and I noticed discomfort or disdain when I checked on you, the next time I would attempt to check less. A good server is all about good service.

The American model again, imho, comes back to that "capitalist" kinda zen. It's all about striving to earn a better buck. When you take out the incentive, you kill the strive. And let me be quite frank with you, your best customers are not your biggest checks. By checks I mean final tabs. I have regular customers who are awesome, but they are only parties of 1 or 2. Because they are easy to serve, they will interact with me, which means I can forsee and solve problems before they get upset. It's only a trickle of revenue at a time, but it adds up and to an extent I can count on it. However if you were to pay me based on how many big checks I had that night, I would fall flat.

I am one of those folks who love the grey area. I love that tonight can be an awesome night, or it can suck. Because it's awesome more often than it sucks, and it's a thrill that my effort helped make someone's night enjoyable.

I love to serve others, and I love to be served. I love the word -service-. Even before I started serving, I could sometimes go as high as 40% when the service is dynamite. It's part of the experience I'm paying for. If I wanted to cook some penne I could do that at home with a few ingredients. I go out to have a time, to socially engage a few other creatures. A server who enables that is awesome. A server that is a hamper on that is a burden, but not an untenable one -- as their associates or managers soon find out.

In short I respect your desire for a tidier, no-brainer dining experience. I don't wish for it, and I can't agree with the concept that dining out is the same as building a car, but I can see where you're coming from.

bas67 I would cover your shift anytime. You sound great to work with.
posted by cavalier at 12:57 PM on February 2, 2005


And just to point out, in my last job for a "Corporate" restaurant, average tab was about $40, I could do $300-$500 on a good Friday, contrast to $80-$125 on a Monday night.
posted by cavalier at 12:59 PM on February 2, 2005


The argument that good service is dependant on tips is, in my experience, demonstrably untrue. I've lived and worked hospitality in both types of countries and there is absolutely no difference between the types of service you will receive (as a customer) - and, while working in those places, no difference between the amount of additional money you can earn through tips - even in ostensibily non-tipping countries - if you take service to the next level.

I realise this is anecdotal evidence, but to state blanketly that service would drop without the current system without any evidence but opinion seems somewhat disingenuous.
posted by Sparx at 1:09 PM on February 2, 2005


Assholes aside, I find if I am in the zone I can easily make around 19-20% on every turnover. When I am having an off night, I haven't done the excel sheet, but it definitely feels less.

Assholes meaning some people, no matter what you do, will always tip 10%. And you know what, when it's a really bad day, I might mutter in the kitchen. But then I think, karma boomerang gonna get them. Karma boomerang gonna get them. And that keeps me sane. Also, the dude who just wanted Martinis and tipped me pretty much double the check.
XXOXOXOXOXOX.
posted by cavalier at 1:19 PM on February 2, 2005


Thanks cavalier. You can have a seat at my bar anytime and the first drink is on me!!!
posted by bas67 at 1:21 PM on February 2, 2005


Speaking of which, it's time to go make some money, see you all later!
posted by bas67 at 1:22 PM on February 2, 2005


Because I wouldn't work for $5.00 an hour and neither would anyone else I know in the industry. Your first figure of $17 per hour sounds more reasonable but would be unsustainable for most independent restaurants.

GAAAH!!!!


Now I'm CONVINCED you're not reading what I'm saying.

Ok, so some restaurant pays you $2 an hour, and I buy $100 of food. I give the restaurant $100, and I give you $15 in tip. The restaurant pays you $2 for your work. You have made $17. The restaurant has made $98. They are going to stay in business, correct?

Ok, now the restaurant says "We won't give you tips. We will give you $17 an hour instead". They raise the price of food to $115. I give the restaurant $115, and give you nothing. The restaurant gives you $17. You have made $17. The restaurant has made $98.

But you're now saying that for some reason they will magically go out of business? Even though they're making the same amount of money?

Or you're saying you wouldn't work there? Even though you're making the same amount of money?

Or you're saying that I wouldn't eat there? Even though it costs me the same amount of money?

You're starting to make me think of little kids who maintain that 3 + 2 gives a different answer than 2 + 3.

Cavalier: That post was excellent. Though we disagree, you've given me a bit of insight into the other side, and, more importantly, reassured me that there is some sanity there.

Fortunately, in a way, many of us seem to be where we are comfortable, through luck. I always tipped 15% or more when I lived in the states, but I always found the calculations a chore, especially when working out tips for multiple friends when we split the bill. It was like taxes: a lousy system, but whatcha gonna do? I now live in Japan, and three of my pet peeves of restaurants (tipping, the interminable delays that come from paying at the table instead of the register, and being asked how your meal is) are gone. None of those peeves made my visits to restaurants uncomfortable when I was in the states, but the absence of them has made restaurant eating even more pleasant since leaving.
posted by Bugbread at 1:38 PM on February 2, 2005


Aha, I think I can snag this one...

Here's the problem: Logic doesn't predicate upon reality. Your $100+$15 model is logical, but it does not hold up in every restaurant. Let me paint a picture for you...

You're a restaurant manager. You have 40 tables. Being a usual sort of manager, you want 8 servers on the floor. 5 tables per server. Not that great for anybody involved, but you're trying to make a profit here.

Here's the problem. Servers are flakey. 2 are going to ditch on you tonight, possibly suprising you at the last minute. Now you have 6 servers for 40 tables. This is not going to go well.

So what do you do? Simple, you put 10 or 11 on the shift for tonight. You know that maybe 2 might not show up, but that's ok, cause then you'll still have 8 to man the floor.

********

Take that and color it with varying numbers and lay it over 90% of the restaurants out there. The problem here is you can't afford to actually pay the $15/hour to all 11 people on the shift. You're not going to sell that much $100 tables to get there. So while you might squeak by in a profit, you're more likely to run a loss.

Now you could argue the reason why the servers are flakey is because they don't get paid $15/hour. But this is kind of a straw man, because you're saying they're flakey because they're not paid well. What if they're flakey because they're just space heads and can't wrap their heads around a 9-5, so this is what they do to pay rent? Usually I find people are not maliciously trying to skip their shifts, but even then, shit happens.

If you end up with half your team for a busy evening, it is bad, bad, bad. Bad for the servers, bad for the guests, and bad for your restaurant and its reputation. You can't just apologize to the guests coming in "Sorry, we're understaffed tonight", people are especially selfish when they're hungry. So you do whatever you can to make sure you are staffed. And the current model provides for that, by making sure you can overstaff it and still afford it. If all 11 show up they don't run that many tables and they don't make as much money, and they bitch about it, but hey, your guests got served.

Finally, you're logical model misses another aspect -- jerks. The folks who don't ever tip. They're going to try to complain at first, but they'll either a) get tired of complaining and write you off, or b) you'll need to hire somebody to specifically manage the complaints as they increase, further hurting your revenue.

Most restaurants these days do a "Compulsory" gratuity for parties larger then X, as a safety net for the server. I've seen some restaurants actually calculate tips on the check -- "Your total is $40.00. 15% = $6, 18% = $7.20, 20% = $8" I like those as they help the people who dont want to think about it. It will help bring you into the resataurant, where I hope you'll enjoy yourself.

It comes down to staffing. In the rapidly fluctuating enviroment of restaurants, while you pray to have a 80% retention rate, it is always less than that. This service-based economy lets them keep an adequate staff and still afford the food costs. While you may be happy with a $12 burger with no tip, most people won't be, and that means less business, yada yada cycle continues.

Boy my fingers are going to hate me later!
posted by cavalier at 2:05 PM on February 2, 2005


Gack, I forgot another issue.

Slow nights.

What if for some unbelievable reason (full moon) the place is slow tonight. You can let people off their shifts early, but you still have to start out with that many people. A horribly slow night is expensive (food goes to waste), but moderately so (you don't pay the people that much). What if you paid them a standard $15/hour? You'd be in the hole much, much deeper. Slow nights are teh suck. But they can happen...
posted by cavalier at 2:08 PM on February 2, 2005


Your eternal optimism is commendable, languagehat.

And see, it was justified! This has been an excellent and educational thread. Thanks to all concerned.
I'm a good tipper, by the way, even though I've never been a waitron.
posted by languagehat at 2:19 PM on February 2, 2005


Cavalier: Excellent example. Thank you.

Not sure about the "jerks" issue, though. What was that in reference to?

But overall, thanks, that explained a lot. Now I'm conversely wondering why things work over here. Probably because food costs a significant amount more...
posted by Bugbread at 2:19 PM on February 2, 2005


Sorry, shorthanded that explanation.

VERY BIASED from a serving perspective, but a "jerk" around here is someone who is very demanding yet at the same time cheap. I'd like the Caesar salad without the Caesar dressing (aside, brain explodes, why would you pay $6 for romaine lettuce and cheese?), I'd like the Hickory Burger with no bun and extra pickles. Oh and could you give me extra fries? Great. OH BY THE WAY absolutely no tomatoes if there's a tomato on the plate I won't eat the burger.

So you enter that into your station and put in special req for no tomato, no bun, extra pickles, fries.

insert 12 minutes of darting around, running back to the kitchen twice to make sure the expeditor (slang for Dude who watches the kitchen and makes sure everything is working, checks food dishes before they're handed out) is checking on your special requests....

Food is delivered, ordered to specifications. Dood eats, keeps flagging down for ranch dressing (caesar), ketchup, etc, right, good, fine.

35 minutes later he leaves and I get his loose change, a few pennies, nickels, etcetera, for a $18 tab.

"jerk"

The jerk factor is some people ARE IN FACT Mr. Pink, and usually you can recognize them... but sometimes, oooh sometimes, you think you're an angel because you've met every request, and the guy stiffs you with nothing. Oooooh jerks...

The most experience I have with Japan is Mr. Roboto, so that means I have absolutely no experience. I guess they might have more history, more customs, I think socially it's a bid more rigid there ain't it? Maybe there are even chefs who, upon hearing a person did not enjoy their meal, commit seppuku. Ok so I also have anime humor. I'm done, thanks, nite.
posted by cavalier at 2:37 PM on February 2, 2005


Sorry. I understand what "jerk" meant in relation to the current method, but in a method with a higher base hourly rate, but no tips, where does the "jerk" come into play (besides the obvious non-tipping aspects of jerkness, like excess complaints, fastidious orders, bad attitude, etc). How would the jerk issue be greater in that kind of system? It seems like it would be a smaller issue, because at least they couldn't be a jerk on the tip as well.

That said, I understand your other points about why the set pay system would be problematic. Just wanted clarification on the jerk part.

As for Japan, well, people just do better work in general here. Somebody visiting Japan on another forum put it well: "The average level of service in a Japanese McDonalds is even better than the service they show in McDonalds commercials in America."

I've noticed that, generally, a lot fewer Japanese have a chip on their shoulder, and consider doing a job well to be common sense. You don't hear "I don't get paid enough to do that shit" here. But I don't know why (hence my refutation that tipping is the only thing that can bring about better service, but not being able to say what else there is, other than "there is apparently something else")
posted by Bugbread at 2:46 PM on February 2, 2005


erm, maybe you meant you didnt understand the stuff after jerks, how that would hurt the system.

[on preview: AIEEE. My poor carpal tunnel wasted on the obvious]

Here's the jerk scenario I would predict:

Your cheapass bastards would either

1) "This is outrageous! Why is this so expensive! I'm never eating here again!"

a cheap bastard is still a customer. So you lose a customer over your food prices. Loss of revenue. no bueno.

2) "This is outrageous! Why is this so expensive! I want to see a manager!"

To try to negotitate getting out of the higher price. I realize this is kinda a stretch cause you're saying that there is no tip and its part of the food cost. But believe you me, some people love to argue anything. And I predict you'd get people wanting a manager to discount their bill, pointing out every little flaw.

So either you lose a customer, or you keep the customer but he's such a pain in the ass you lose money trying to keep him happy. Lose/lose.

Yea, I bet in Asian history the whole Honor and Customs thing really kicks service up a notch.
posted by cavalier at 2:52 PM on February 2, 2005


Cavalier: your reasoning is a little off -

First: it's not that hard to not employ flakey people - or to fire them if they become flakey. Yes - shit happens, but if you're planning on being potentially overstaffed every night you need to take a long hard look at your employment practices. Regular wages requires regular committment - just like any job. Income security is a good thing and can keep staff around longer. And also, have a damn back-up plan (temps, students, friends) if an influenza epidemic hits. It's really not that hard.

Second: the restaurant is increasing its food prices. It doesn't have to do this according to tip rates set by the IRS. They should charge whatever it takes to keep the restaurant running plus a little more - it's a business, after all. Better chefs = pricier food etc.

Third: Jerks in your example are kind of dependent on tipping being the dominant paradigm. If everywhere runs without tipping, then who cares what they say?

Fourth: slow nights are part of the hospitality business and should be budgeted for. Not everyone gets it correct, but a business doesn't have a right to stay open if badly managed.

Just out of interest, what places aside from the US are 'you must tip the waiting staff' countries?
posted by Sparx at 2:53 PM on February 2, 2005


Sparx, you're going to get my succinct version, as my fingers are mad enough at me right now.

I could just as easily say your reasoning is a little off.

For First: I don't mean to imply that every manager has to deal with this, but everywhere I've worked it's always happened and it seems to be the rule. It's a job like any other, but I would say it's a lot easier to get and lose then a "regular" job. Serving is just sort of transient by nature. At least for the lower 75% of the business.

Second: Don't understand, please fill this in more (re IRS/tip rates). Obvious economics say they should charge what it costs to run plus a little more, that is obvious. But if you're paying $137 per employee per day versus $17, and you have 10 employees, do you see where the costs go up rather sharply?

Third: If they go away due to prices that's bad. I admit its my weakest link.

Fourth: Again you make it a case of specific management. I'm not trying to argue that a poorly managed place should survive solely on the backs of underpaid wage slaves, I'm trying to express how most places are currently run. Even with the best foresight, you can't always predict a bad night. So when that night comes, how do you survive. It's about mitigating costs...
posted by cavalier at 3:13 PM on February 2, 2005


Cavalier: Thanks for the followup. I see what you're saying, and the pinch really is that I don't think this system would work in an established restaurant either (as the prices would go up). In a new restaurant, it wouldn't be much of an issue, as people would just think it was an expensivish restaurant. Not highly expensive, but a bit expensive.

Of course, this is all theoretical talk anyway. The odds of America being willing or able to move away from tipping is practically zero, and, as you point out, with employees choosing to just skip shifts, is incredibly impractical as well.
posted by Bugbread at 3:29 PM on February 2, 2005


1) Fair enough - but you shouldn't be replacing staff every week. Give 'em some sick leave, be understanding about life emergencies, but expect your staff to be professional is all I'm saying. If they're extracting vengeance on bad tippers, or skipping shifts continually, then I don't consider that professional.

2) I mean you don't have to pay immediately based on what tips would be now. Start off juniors with a minimum wage or a little more (or whatever their experience deserves) and give them a buck an hour extra a month for sticking round up to a certain level. A steady income, even if not as luxurious as irregular tips might be (keyword: might), is at least dependable and that is useful.

So, you upped your prices - but the total price to the customer, as there's no tipping, could easily be less than it used to be.

And - if there is good service, the customer can tip if they wish. If you get one hat way - you know damn well you did a good job.

I still don't know what the ratio of tipping to non-tipping countries is - but there are loads of the latter, some of which even have restaurants! The system does work, trust me.

3) Depends on the baseline. If you go to a cheap restaurant that's the same range as other cheap restaurants (because they all do the same thing) it's really not an issue. Standard supply/demand economics apply.

4) A place that can stand or fall on a single night is not somewhere I'd choose to work. However, bad runs happen, you do what you can, and still restaurants close - whatever the tipping policy happens to be.

I realise this is a mere thought experiment. Just saying it can work.
posted by Sparx at 3:49 PM on February 2, 2005


I'm flabbergasted. This is the most polite waitron/customer interaction I've ever seen online. Amazing.
posted by Captaintripps at 4:20 PM on February 2, 2005


OK, so paying the waiter $17/hour doesn't work. But what if you extend the mandatory surcharge thing from big parties to all customers? Thus, if you eat for $100, you'll have to pay $115 no matter what. Plus, to make things easier for the customer, you put $115 on the menu to begin with. This way, the customer doesn't need a calculator; the restaurant doesn't have to pay $17/hour if there are no customers; and the server will never be stiffed on tips -- everybody wins. In fact, I think that's the way it works in some countries; sometimes it even says on the menu: prices include 15% service charge.

Somebody said that tipping ensures that the waiter does a good job, serves as in incentive, capitalist model, blah blah.
Well then explain this to me, dude: What's the incentive for the cook to do a good job? He don't get no tip either and his performance is at least as imporant for my dining experience as that of the waiter.
posted by sour cream at 6:10 PM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


The cook's incentive is that he has a good job where he is well paid ($10 towards the low end, $12-16 more typically), and there are plenty of people without jobs who would absolutely love to have his.
posted by baphomet at 7:40 PM on February 2, 2005


I'm back and I'm glad to see that this discussion is still going on.

bugbread: I have reread all of your posts and have come to the conclusion that you have never ever worked in a restaurant and have no idea how they work. If you think that a server spends 1 hr. serving just one $100 table then you need to pay more attention.

Sparx: Yes I suppose waitstaff should always be reliable and on time but that's not the nature of the beast. Overstaffing is an absolute requirement in the restaurant business. If you think that there are "temps" or that your friends could just step onto the floor of a restaurant and run it on a busy night then you too have no idea what your talking about.
posted by bas67 at 9:37 PM on February 2, 2005


I'm fascinated that two proponents of the automatic surcharge system are both in Japan. I have to get over there one day, it sounds wacky fun.

sour, I think bapohmet answered ya.
posted by cavalier at 8:03 AM on February 3, 2005


Oriole Adams asked Stonerose - just curious, was it the restaurant at the base of the former Sheraton Foxhead where you worked? Was a Steak & Burger for years, then changed.

Nope - it was the Victoria Park Restaurant.
posted by stonerose at 9:17 AM on February 3, 2005


bugbread: I have reread all of your posts and have come to the conclusion that you have never ever worked in a restaurant and have no idea how they work. If you think that a server spends 1 hr. serving just one $100 table then you need to pay more attention.

You have reached the right conclusion that I've never worked in a restaurant. You're basically right that I have no idea how they work (I would say "almost no idea", because I do know a bit). But, no, I don't think a server spends 1 hour serving one $100 table, so, apparently, I don't need to pay more attention. I was just trying to make the examples simple, since the math seemed to be tripping you up.

I thought it was clear that I didn't know much about how restaurants work, hence my focus on trying to find out why a non-tipping system is so contested. Cavalier cleared that up pretty well, though.

Cav: Just for reference, while I'm advocating the automatic surcharge system in countries like America (or trying to find out why it wouldn't work), I should clarify that Japan itself doesn't have an automatic surcharge system. There's no tipping at all (automatic or manual), and workers are paid at a flat rate per hour, busy or unbusy (like a non-restaurant job). I dunno how the system works (haven't worked in a restaurant), but from what I gather it's just that prices are high enough that the companies can pay the overhead. Sure, they may lose money on a slow night, but they make up enough on a busy night that they have enough to pay their wait staff. Or they go out of business. Either one.

On the other hand, waiting does not pay as well here in Japan as it does in America, compared to cost of living. A really cheap waiting job would be maybe $8 an hour, a really really good paying one would be maybe $15, and keep in mind that the cost of living in Japan is about 1.5 times the cost of living in America. $15 an hour here is pretty much the equivalent of maybe $10 in America.
posted by Bugbread at 1:04 PM on February 3, 2005


Just for clarity - by temps and friends I meant 'people in the hospitality industry' not 'J Random-Dude and Dudette' - most places I've worked it's an incestuous enough community for this to be workable. I completely agree you can't get inexperienced folk off the street. That doesn't mean there aren't a whole passel 'o people you can arrange to be on call in the case of an emergency - even regular staff can be tempted with extra shifts occasionally. You just sort it out before the emergency occurs - but it shouldn't occur more than once every few months. Overstaffing on a regular basis is bad management, plain and simple. The only place I've worked where it was done is one place in the US, and the manager there was a lazy SOB. I'd be surprised if it was still open. Clearly your experience differs from mine - but 'absolute requirement' overstates the case, as I can name at least 6 restaurants around the western world where I've worked personally and it was never necessary.
posted by Sparx at 1:24 PM on February 3, 2005


I should perhaps add that by overstaffing, I'm talking about having more staff on that you'd *ever* need, not just as many as you might need, but might not if it's slow or even average.
posted by Sparx at 1:32 PM on February 3, 2005


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