OKAY. As someone who worked her ass off (ha, I wish) at various food and drink establishments for 11 (!!!) years in both Cleveland and NYC as a hostess, server, bartender, and manager, I have a LOT to say on the subject of restaurant etiquette, ESPECIALLY when it comes to tipping. Much of it comes from the years of slow, deep, seething rage (no, really, people can be awful) that builds with such a job in which you get a review multiple times an hour as opposed to every six months, and the other large potion of it is based on the fact that although it may not be the most glamorous (understatement of the century – literal ketchup up to your elbows and beer in your eyes and up your nostrils) or the best paying line of work, I always found a certain joy and fulfillment in starting with a room full of hangry, crabby jerks assuming you’re an idiot because you work at a restaurant and ending with full, possibly tipsy, happy people who leave thanking you for such a great night and become your regulars. It’s an extremely social workplace, where you are expected to handily balance the extremely varying moods of every single patron in the establishment while trying to please each of your coworkers, from hot, tired kitchen staff to stressed co-bartenders and servers to demanding managers to usually alcoholic and/or abusive owners. One of the things that makes it so hard is that unlike an office setting, your coworkers and customers are much more relaxed, which seems like a good thing until they feel comfortable enough cuss you out, grab your ass, get drunk or high or both and act a fool, and it’s just totally acceptable. It is an emotionally draining job (especially if you are good at it and care about your job) because when someone stiffs you, it’s not just that you may not be able to pay rent that month, it’s that you genuinely do want people to leave happy and sated, even if there are moments when you want to burn the whole f&%*# place to the ground. It’s also an extremely physically draining job, filled with aching backs, blistered and numb feet, sweat-soaked uniforms from carrying buckets of beer outside to customers who want to bask in 100 degree heat on the patio, and the also ever-present expectation that you look at least half-presentable the entire time, ESPECIALLY if you are a female (don’t even get me started – yes, I love wearing this tank top with the bar’s name splashed across my tits that the guys don’t have to wear!). There are plenty of things to complain about when it comes to a restaurant or bar job, but in the end, you are there by choice, and you are there to make a living, so shut up and do your job, right? Right. That is, until you do your job to the best of your ability, pick up the check at the end, and see you have just worked for free. That’s where this post comes in – DON’T BE THAT GUY.
I know, I know. “It’s not fair,” you whine. “I shouldn’t have to pay you, the government or your boss should.” “I can’t afford to tip.” “I think 20%/15%/double the tax is too much.” “But I didn’t like my salad.” “My bartender was too slow/not perky enough/had too much or not enough small talk.” Uh huh. Hush up with those and the other billion stupid effing things people say in restaurants and bars and let me tell you why I think you are wrong.
1. “I shouldn’t have to pay you, the government or your boss should.” Okay, yeah, sure – BUT THEY DON’T. Expecting a tip in exchange for work done for you is not entitlement, it is the server’s actual pay, and until you find a way to change that, this is how it is. Totally blows, right? I know! But until the law changes, it’s like this: “An employer of a tipped employee is only required to pay $2.13 per hour in direct wages if that amount combined with the tips received at least equals the federal minimum wage.” …which is directly from the horse’s (the US Department of Labor’s) mouth (website). You do the math, but $2.13 an hour does not a living make on its own, nor does minimum wage. If your panties are in that big of a twist about it, then do some research, find the few establishments that do pay their servers and bartenders a fair wage and only go there (p.s. you will note their food and drink prices are MUCH higher than the places that do ask patrons to tip, because the servers and bartenders still have to get paid), and do not ever patronize any places that have the rules in place that so deeply insult your moral standards.
2. “I can’t afford to tip.” Go to hell. Honestly, as all of us ‘in the biz’ have said for years, if you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to go out. And it’s obviously a total cop-out, because if you can afford that $10 burger, I’m pretty sure you can afford another $2, and if you can’t, HIT THE DRIVE THRU, SON. And if you still think it’s okay to use this weak-ass excuse as your reason to expect something (someone waiting on your hand and foot with a smile) for nothing, I believe karma is a bitch, so wait for it…
3. “I think 20%/15%/double the tax as a rule is too much.” Look. I don’t expect anyone to tip as much as I do. I compulsively overtip, not because I can particularly afford it, because I appreciate how hard service personnel work and I hope to help overcome some of the 10% tippers they may have encountered over the course of their shift that day. But the norm is the norm, and it happens to be 20% in today’s society, which is more than it may have been in 1976 (sorry Grandma, things change). Also, if you split the check, make sure both parties tip, whether it’s cash or card (you’d be amazing at how many times that doesn’t happen). Your server or bartender isn’t going to spit at 15% or double the tax (which, by the way, is 8.875% in NYC and varies in other states, but tends to be between 4-8%, which if you double for tip ends up being well below 20%) but no one is going to cheer for it, either. No one can make you tip 20% (or more, and ideally on the total post-tax), but you can’t say that you don’t know that that is the standard across the board in the US, and when you leave less than that, the server is left to assume that they did not do their job satisfactorily and their pay for that day ends up being less than what they were counting on. No one can make you feel shitty for being shitty (although they may want to and you should), but come on, dudes and ladies. Don’t be shitty.
4. “But I didn’t like my salad.” This one really gets my proverbial goat, because the servers and bartenders have literally NO power! Realize that they are the absolute middleman who has to answer to everyone. They enforce the rules, pick up and deliver food and drinks, mediate in the kitchen, at the bar, with the customers, with the manager and owners, and have no say in any of it. If you don’t like your salad, the server has to go back to the kitchen with it, at which the chef is generally angry. The server then has to wait for the other thing you chose off of the menu to be finished, knowing that you are waiting and probably upset, then run it back to you as quickly as possible and try their best to apologize and make sure you are happy even though you’re most likely going to be annoyed not matter what. Then they have to go to the manager and explain what happened, get the item voided and/or pay for the salad you didn’t like, because many places make servers and bartenders pay for any ‘mistakes’, be they their own or the customer’s. Really. They will probably ask if they can give you something for free or discount your check, but that is at the manager’s or owner’s discretion and not their own (so DON’T ASK for free shit, if they are able to give it to you and you’re nice they will, I promise, but if you ask, they WON’T) so they will probably get turned down. They drop the correct (but probably not discounted) check after you’re finished and you’re even more annoyed. Now the customer, chef, and manager are all pissed at them, and they are about to pick up your tipless check while picking up your used napkins and wiping up the crumbs and empty sugar packets you left all over the table and see the huge ZERO you wrote, along with an adorable note something along the lines of YOU SUCK, NO TIP or something like that. Realize that not everything is the server or bartender’s fault, and DON’T BE THAT GUY.
P.S. That also goes for “This drink isn’t strong enough” (then pay for a double because a shot is a shot, I can’t and won’t give out free liquor to anyone who asks, and I can’t help that you ordered a mai tai or some sweet bullshit that basically the whole POINT of is so that you can’t taste the liquor) and “I don’t like this drink/dish” after having consumed half of it. Now you’re just trying to get free shit, get that weak stuff outta here! Don’t try to get your meal for free by complaining about the bartender’s attitude or the nonexistent thing wrong with your drink, because the manager and server can see RIGHT through you, but if something is genuinely wrong, they will know that, too, and should do their best to fix it.
5. “My server was too slow/not perky enough/had too much or not enough small talk.” This one is particularly hard to address, because SERVICE PERSONNEL ARE NOT ROBOTS. Their job is to provide you with what you order in a polite manner as quickly as possible, and there are bad servers and bartenders out there, I know, who really ARE slow or rude, and it is your right to tip as you see fit. However, over my years in restaurants and bars, the VAST majority of people I saw in the service industry were hard working, smart, mostly well-adjusted human beings who have their good and bad days, but generally came to work ready to do their job as well as possible. But shit happens, y’all. The table across the way could have just screamed at them, a parent may have just changed their baby’s diaper on their table before they left and left the diaper and the baby shit that got on the table for them to clean (true story, don’t worry, I used SO much bleach), you may have already asked for a side of ranch you knew you wanted with your fries when you ordered but you waited until they made two trips from the kitchen with your food and then asked for a water refill and then asked for an extra napkin and they are sick of running back and forth to you when they have 15 other people at their bar, or the baseball team in the back of the bar may have knocked over a pint glass of chew spit all over the table and floor as they were leaving and just left it there, again for them to clean up (again, true story – we bitched them out for being douchebags when they came in the next week, and again, so much bleach). I know, none of this is your problem, but COMPASSION, people. PATIENCE. They are a human who has been working for any amount of hours already with no end in sight (or you’re their last table and they’re dead tired) with a running tally of 35 things they have to do RIGHT NOW in their heads. It’s also hard to gauge how much small talk each table wants or doesn’t want, the mood each customer is in, how fast or slow each patron wants their evening to go, and if you expect them to be seen and not heard or put on a one-person show for you every time they come to your table. IE this shit is HARD. Be kind. Smile and say thank you. Tip well. Especially if you stayed a long time, your kids made a mess, or you saw someone being awful to your server. Especially squared if you ever plan on coming back, because service personnel don’t forget good tippers, and they DEFINETLY don’t forget bad tippers or those who *shudder* skip out on their tab. True story – I had to chase a couple three blocks with their check, only to finally catch up with them and have the man throw the $35 all over the sidewalk and try to sputter out some lame excuse about having to wait 20 minutes for their check, to which I replied that they’d only had their entrees for 10 minutes and could prove it, to which he replied by SPITTING ON ME. At the same restaurant, my good friend served a group that ran out on the check when she was in the restroom, and because the owner made us pay for any walkouts and it was a slow night, she ended up having to PAY $25 to work that night. Like I said. COMPASSION.
In the end, yes, service workers generally make a decent living at an entry level job. However, it is a very physically, mentally, and at times emotionally difficult job that most people would not be willing to do, and the living they earn, that they deserve, comes from your tip. DON’T BE THAT GUY. Tip 20%.