Every time I sit down to write something, I always have to hold back the urge to start complaining about my job, to start another one of these restaurant posts. One, and I’ve already said this a million times, there’s already a great blog all about waiting tables. So I don’t want to just do what that guy has already made a pretty successful career out of. But two, I like to stay positive, upbeat, you know, to the best of my ability anyway. Whenever I write one of these restaurant pieces, it always comes out negative, whiney, just very unpleasant.
Having said all of that, this is already a waiting tables piece. That first paragraph was just a big unnecessary disclaimer. I wait tables full-time. I spend more time at the restaurant than I spend awake at my own house. And so yeah, while I don’t necessarily want to be all about waiting tables, I’ve got to get some stuff off my chest now and then. Otherwise it’ll just fester and grow inside until one day I explode.
Today I’d like to talk about tipping. Think about gratuity, the system. It’s the system by which I and all of my waiter and waitress brothers and sisters eek out a living in this world. I work for a restaurant. The restaurant pays me something like three dollars an hour, which, and I don’t have to say it, isn’t a lot of money. It’s nothing. All of my money comes from tips, from tipping, from total strangers giving me money at their discretion after they settle their bill with my employer.
It’s crazy. It’s crazy because the people I work for still control everything that I do when I’m at work. Even though they’re paying me next to nothing. I still have to follow all of their restaurant rules, I have to shave every day, get micromanaged every ten seconds, do what I’m told, stand up straight, smile for the guests on the floor.
And I do my job and try to make sure everybody’s having a good time. Why? Because it’s my job? Sure. But also because I’m personally invested in each of my table’s dining experience. They have a good time, I do everything right, hopefully they’ll leave me a good tip, a twenty percent tip.
And that’s the whole argument. The system works because if I didn’t have that incentive of a potential tip, then theoretically I wouldn’t work as hard to earn that tip, right? Wrong. It’s bullshit. The whole system is flawed. It’s flawed because I never receive uniform twenty percent tips. A lot of my tips are fifteen percent. “Boo-hoo” a lot of you might be thinking to yourselves. I should be happy for whatever I get.
But that’s a terrible way try to make money. The standard is twenty percent. If I get like four or five fifteen percent tips, it’s like trying my hardest in school and getting nothing but B minuses. It’s like busting my ass, doing more work and taking home less pay.
Whenever I complain about the system, I invariably hear stuff like, “suck it up,” “stop whining,” “get a new job.” But that’s not how it should be. Every other real job in the world, you’re taking home a certain amount of money. Only by waiting tables does that money depend on the whims of the customers. And a lot of the customers aren’t nice. They’re just not nice people. They go out to eat, they order a bunch of stuff, they make me run around, I do it, I do my job, I smile and act friendly and do whatever I’m asked, and then these people leave me ten or fifteen percent. Seriously, that’s not a good system.
And the restaurant doesn’t care. Better luck next time. The customers paid for all the food. They didn’t arbitrarily decide to pay only fifteen percent of the check. No, they try something like that and then somebody’s calling the cops. But a ten or fifteen percent tip? “Bye! Thanks so much! Hope you had a great time! See you next time! Bye! Thanks! Bye!”
The hypocrisy is compounded when you try to wrap your head around the automatic service charge nearly universally applied to parties of five or more. Why should that gratuity be automatic? What’s the difference between five people ordering Diet Cokes and two people ordering Diet Cokes? The waiters and waitresses with bigger tables, not only are they serving more customers, but they’re serving more food, handing over bigger checks, and automatically receiving eighteen to twenty percent of those giant bills. All while the rest of the staff serving small parties just has to keep smiling and crossing their fingers, hoping that their tables choose to pay for their service, their personal employee that did everything required.
Restaurants should operate on a system of uniform automatic twenty percent gratuity. We should treat waiters and waitresses like salespeople receiving a commission. You don’t go and buy a car and then tip the salesperson. He or she gets a cut. It should be the same with waiting tables.
Oh but what about that incentive business? Maybe the wait staff might start slacking off? Well this is just a question of management. If your employees aren’t doing their jobs, they should get disciplined and eventually fired, just like at every other job. There’s no reason to assume that everyone will start sleeping while they work. No, just like salespeople, we’re going to want to bust our asses, sell stuff, bump up checks and earn bigger commissions.
Finally, while I’m up here on my soapbox, I’d just like to say, tip twenty percent. Don’t be an asshole. Leave a tip. If you go out to eat, if you sit there and have somebody wait on you, pay them for the job that they’re doing.
Done. See? That was really long and I got myself all worked up. But I had to. I was already worked up. I worked the dinner shift yesterday and my last table of the night, it was these three German people. They ran up a check of a hundred and fifty bucks, paid in cash, and left fifteen dollars on the table. I went up to them, took the money and said, “Was everything OK? Was there something wrong with my service?” and they just looked at me and said, “No, everything was wonderful. Thanks.”