Saturday, January 15, 2011

IT'S ALL IN THE TIP!

Disclaimer:  For those of you who know me, I hope you are reading this with my general sarcasm in mind.  For those of you who I have not had the pleasure of meeting, please know that these blogs are my simple musings that express my personal opinions and frustrations about some of my daily, random observations.  As most of my friends and family are aware, I generally focus on the bright side of things.  This is the place I have created in order to explore "the other side"…..Thanks for stopping by!


Mark Twain said, "A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation." While I agree that this is especially true of people who consistently phrase sentences to exploit words like ‘douche bag’ and ‘awesome’, I differ from Twain in my understanding of a man’s character. After over a decade of working in restaurants, I believe that a man’s real character may be learned from how he tips.

In my experiences within the restaurant business, it has become abundantly clear to me that there are no less than five types of tippers….therefore, in my opinion, there are only five categories of guests with which I will interact throughout the day.

1) The “pay as you play-er”
2) The “pile maker”
3) The “fifteen percent-er”
4) The “over-the-topper”
5) The “stiffer”

Let’s start with number 1, the “pay as you play” guest. This is the guy/gal at the bar who will buy a drink with cash and leave a dollar for each drink as he/she goes. Now, this is the most common type of tipper. However, it should be noted that, as a bartender, there is an enormous difference between popping a bottled beer open……and with making you a Cadillac Margarita consisting of fresh muddled lime, no salt, shaken and strained (half over ice and the rest in a martini glass). Both drinks should not garner the same $1 bill as a tip. Although the buck is great for the beer (and even a few easy-to-make, pink martini’s), an extra buck on that high maintenance tequila-fest goes a loooong way! Ole!

Next, the “pile-maker.” No, this is not in reference to the friendly, slur-happy accountant who makes a wee-wee at the bar and then, awe-inspired, points and laughs at it as though he had fully regressed to a 14 month old. Although, I’ve seen that guy in action, the “pile-maker” actually refers to the lesser known of the tippers. This is the guy that sits at the bar and, instead of opening a credit card tab (as most do), may start with something large, like a hundred dollar bill, which is to be broken down into change drink-by-drink….all the while, leaving his pile of cash in front of him at the bar. This is to signal to the bartender that …

1. He can afford to drink
2. He’s going to be there……for AWHILE.
3. He doesn’t want you to interrupt him by constantly asking for his last name (to find his tab).

What this tipper says to me is that he is probably fiscally responsible (according to his lack of credit card), that he is uncomfortable having conversation with minimum wage earners, that he is likely accustomed to heavy drinking (because he clearly understands the not-so-well-known rule of ‘”piling”), and that if an attractive woman sits within eye-shot, that he is hopeful of appearing LOADED and AVAILABLE for inquiries as to his job and marital status. All in all, this guy is not my favorite. However, if he doesn’t reach the bottom of his pile before stumbling out the door (while leaving the remains of his pile on the bar), he is often a great tipper. On the other hand, if he depletes that hefty pile before parting ways, he could possibly fall into either the “fifteen percent-er” or “stiffer” categories, depending on how many drinkypoos he digested…..making him a not-so-favorite guest the next time he lays his cash out on my bar.

The third type of tipper is the “fifteen percent-er.” This tipper is usually over the age of 55 OR a European. I say this because only our more advanced-in-age guests and our foreign, albeit tourist-y, guests are under the impression that 15% is a good tip. This is due, in part. to out-of-date US travel guides and/or to an out-of-date understanding of how the service industry works. For example, my grandfather, a well-regarded, well-educated southern gentleman is by all means a social elite in his community. By most standards, he’s not only a wealthy man, but a socially conscious one as well. However, on the many occasions that we’ve dined together, it has become evident to me that he is a “fifteen percent-er”. Now, with this information, I think it’s important to point out that he was tipping 15% back in the early 90’s as well. As is true for many of our American senior citizens, he just hasn’t been able to grasp the idea of adjusting for inflation. It is true that in 1991, tipping 15% was nearly qualifying him as an “over-the-topper,” but as the US dollar has inflated and housing prices have skyrocketed, service tips have become necessary to the income of the minimum-wage-earning service community. Now, as far as our European friends, I’ve always been impressed by their world education and language skills. Therefore, I am sticking to my theory that they may just, in fact, be using their European-ness to knowingly rip off our hard working American servers and blame it on the fact that they don’t normally tip at all in Europe. Well, to those Euro-hipsters I say, you’re in America now! Since we’re lacking in your Euro-style social safety nets (I’ll leave my opinion out on that one), we have to put faith in the idea that all of our guests will tip an average of 20% so that we may be able to provide for ourselves the many great services that you all provide for each other. USA = every man for himself!

Next, we should spend some time analyzing and assessing the childhoods of the “over the toppers.” There are only a few reasons why people overcompensate any time they are faced with an option like tipping...

1) Their parents told them they would never amount to anything, and they believe that during the 60 minutes you’re serving them, that you will undoubtedly come to the same conclusion….and they aim to prove you (and their parents) wrong.
2) They believe that money = power, and power = a date with the hot waitress. (PS….Hey, CAA Junior Agent…..she’s not gonna blow you because you left her 30%. Give her your card and promise her a speaking role in the next Spielberg movie……that should do the trick!)
3) They are super loaded and have the opposite of the “fifteen percent-er“ syndrome. (ie; their business manager does most of their daily financial dealings). Oh brother!
4) They’re drunk and have no idea that the hundred dollar bill they just left you wasn’t a ten dollar bill they meant to leave .

This particular tipper is tricky. They’re hard to gauge, and most of the time, they’ve left the building before you even notice that this guy is an “over the topper.” So, if you’re a server who’s into guys that try to buy your affections, it’s usually too late to say thank you and ask for his number. However, if you’re a cynic like me, it’s usually a relief to know that you don’t have to pretend to be thankful to a guy that was obviously trying to manipulate you with a tip. Geez!

Finally, the last kind of tipper, the “stiffer” is simply-put, an asshole. Let’s break down the steps of service we provide for that big pile of nothing you think our hard work is worth, shall we….

I bring a smile and energy to your table in order to make you feel comfortable and at home in our establishment. I then tell you about our specials, offer to get you whatever drink you’d like….basil?? Sure, we can make you something with basil! I answer any menu questions you have, and then laugh at your “hilarious” interpretation of what the “jerk chicken” REALLY means. I go put your drink order in the computer, make your drink, bring you your drink and top off your water glasses. I perfectly time your appetizer order so that your JUST finishing it as your entrĂ©e is ready (and piping hot). I go fetch you that bottle of tobasco…..oh wait, you’d rather have Tapatia?? No problem….let me go find every hot sauce option we can muster up. After that, I bring you an extra napkin because you’re a freakin’ slob. I again laugh at how adorable “messy” can be, and refill your waters again. Once I’m sure you’ve been satisfied by things so far, I clean your disgusting plates away (all the while, getting bits of your chewed up chicken fat on my new shirt) and in return, bring you an array of dessert options that my trainer would never even allow me to look at. You want the molten chocolate cake??? Fuck you, my hormones say, but I bring it with my everlasting smile and charm and watch you devour it while every fiber of my being wants to strip it away from you and scream how unfair it is that I’m supposed to be skinny and you can be a fat, unfunny PIG!! I digress……I clear away the empty plate with sheer sadness but pull my chocolate-longing together and return with profound excitement for the big payoff. I drop the check and ask how you enjoyed everything, and you reply with, “hmmmm…it was…..fine” I immediately think, “Uh-oh! This can’t be good.” Sure enough, $45 dollar tab, with ZERO tip?!? It can’t be!!! After all of that?!?!
All I can say is KARMA IS A BITCH, A**HOLE!….and I never forget a face! Come on back and see us, ya hear!

Now, I can hear some of you saying, “if you want more money, get another kind of job!“ OR “you think that’s hard? Try my job for a week!“ To the first guy, I say, “This is LA, and if you want to audition in this town, you have to be available during the day. This means that you have to be able to work at night. Since most gals out here prefer to keep their clothes on at work (unless “Californication” calls) and pride themselves on not breaking any laws, working in restaurants is the only real option where one can make more than $8/hr AND “follow the dream.” To answer the second question, I would like to reply, “No! No matter how hard working in a restaurant can be, it‘s can be a lot of fun too.” That will likely be part of my next blog! Watch out!

So, in wrapping this up, if you don’t know what kind of tipper you are, here are some easy rules to go by….
1) 20% tip is good. Based on your experience (and your plans to return to the establishment) 2% in either direction will get your point across without voyaging into a red flag tip area.  If you're bad at math (like me), just look at the sales tax on the check, double it and add a dollar.  There's your 20%....easy peasy!
2) If you find a server/bartender who buys you an occasional drink, you must tip on that drink!! Just because they discount it as a show of good will, doesn’t mean that it took any less steps to provide it.
3) If you really have a problem with your food or service, talk to a manager before you leave. You may be surprised to find that your opinion matters and is valued.
4) If you can’t afford to tip your server, then you can’t afford to go out to dinner. It’s a full package.
5) Remember the golden rule…..treat others as you would expect to be treated. Personally AND financially.

Happy Dining…..Tip your waiters!

2 comments:

  1. Bravo Martha!

    What a witty blog filled with a whole lot of truths!

    I know in my younger years my least favorite memories of the "tipping" issues were when the girlfriend/wife would take away half of a generous tip left by their mate after he turned to walk away from the table...and usually accompanied by a knowing smirk...like a victory or something...they could of benefitted by reading Rule #5 at the end of your blog!!!

    I look forward to the next blog you alluded to that will include the "fun" aspects of working in the restaurant world.

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  2. Great blog. I grew up in a family Drive In. Its still open today. Although I waited on customers at drive up windows, I hardly ever got tipped. I agree tip your waiter's!

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