Saturday, October 28, 2006

Mark vs. Servers

The Title Match…ding ding

I went to a crappy truck-stop restaurant a few days back and the service was terrible. It was so bad that I left no tip. The people I was with had a bit of a problem with that until I explained my position on the matter. Then only half of them had a problem with it.

I was so incensed by the reprimand I received that I decided to take a poll from everyone I knew on what they felt the average gratuity should be. I then took the data and compiled a statistical model and found that the average tip that any server would receive on any given night would be somewhere around 17% of the total meal costs, this includes some really bad tips and some, of what I would consider, overly generous tips. The interesting thing when I took this poll was all the different philosophies I heard about tipping.

At this point I want to establish to you the reader that though I am an opinionated jerk, I have worked in the service industry most of my life and, yes, I have waited tables. I don’t feel that this gives me the right to never tip on some sort of misguided justifications, however it does give me the right to say that I do know what it is like to wait tables and how hard the work really is and how much I made at the job. Now, that said, the gratuity industry is not full of starving, poor, struggling, proletariats. This industry is just like any other. The laborers just have to contend with a more direct relationship to the capitalistic market place than most. In my research for this post I came across some web pages and opinions that gave what they considered to be undefeatable reasons as to why you should tip well. Now let me defeat those notions for you all.

1) Hourly wages are typically significantly less in the service industry, because tips are considered part of the servers’ income.

The reason that the wages are lower is not just to differ the operating costs of the restaurant but, to ensure that the service is actually good. The whole point of gratuity is that if you do a bad job you get tipped less. This should motivate you to do a good job. It should not be sympathy for the server’s income that makes you tip well, it is meant to be the quality of the service. I can tell you that in the restaurant that I worked in consistently poor service would have meant that that person would have been fired.

2) Your server does pay income taxes. In absence of proper documentation of tips, the government will look at the servers’ food and beverage sales and base their taxable tip income on a percent of it. So if you do not tip the server, it has actually cost the server money to serve you.

Let me just say BULLSHIT! Yes, they are taxed. However, let me put some perspective on the previous statement. Let’s say that Sally is a waitress and that she pays taxes like a good little citizen. Let’s also assume that she makes close to 30,000 a year (figure taken from my sister’s old job). Now, the government will assume that she makes a 15% tip on every meal. If she made a 15% tip on a thirty dollar meal she would get $4.50, out of that she would pay 0.68 cents to Uncle Sam making her take home $3.82. If you tip 10% on the same thirty dollar meal because Sally wasn’t doing a great job then she would make $3.00 of which she should be taxed 0.45 cents instead of the 0.68 cents the government will get. Does this mean that poor Sally won’t make rent? Hell no! She still takes home $2.32. She is still turning a profit people. Now, if Sally was really doing a shit-ass job and received no tip from a table she was serving on that same thirty dollar meal then yes she did pay 0.68 cents to serve you. However, as I stated earlier the average tip is 17% meaning that on average she is making $5.10 on that meal. So, even if you don’t tip her Sally still has a damn good surplus of tips that she probably isn’t reporting in her taxes that that money is coming out of. And one more time I want to emphasize that we are talking about less money than a cup of coffee would cost at the very restaurant she is working at. If you receive atrociously horrible service do you feel that maybe Sally should buy you that cup of coffee for ruining your meal? It isn’t like you’re not paying for the food, which may have been cold, late, and served rudely.

3) Believe it or not, servers do not always get a paycheck. Sometimes, because of the taxes they pay and/or deductions, servers must pay in to the company rather than get a check.

In some situations the above situation is true. However again lets put some perspective on that. Some serving jobs are so lucrative that, yes, the restaurant actually charges the servers to work there. The take home for these waiters is generally more than 40,000 a year. Also, the way the above statement is phrased would lead you to believe that the poor servers actually have to pay all their hard earned money to work. People do not work for free in this country. Slavery was outlawed with the thirteenth amendment. No one is being taken advantage of here…except your heartstrings.

4) Your server has to tip too. It is very common for a waiter or waitress to have to tip out their supporting staff, ie; the bartender, buss person, food runners and others. Bartenders may have to tip out their bar backs. These tips are based often on the sales of the server, so if you don’t tip them, in addition to the 8% the government gets they often have to shell out money to the support staff putting them further in the hole. Sometimes the support staff is tipped a percent of the servers’ tips. So not tipping the server is the same as not tipping any of the hard working support staff in the restaurant.

Again, all I have to say is capitalism. If a server is not providing good service on a frequent enough basis to pay the support staff then they need to rethink their job or their support staff will make them rethink it. This really isn’t a difficult job, no matter what some would have you believe. Keep the drinks filled, get the orders right, bring the food out in a timely fashion, and have a smile on your face and I guarantee you will make enough to tip your support staff the way you should.

5) Servers do a lot of work that they are not tipped on also. It is called side work and it is work that is done for no more than their hourly rate. Side work usually involves cleaning the restaurant, stocking supplies and getting the store ready for the next shifts business. Side work can be time consuming and at times physically straining.

Yes, but the waiter does this as a part of their serving job. If all they did were these side jobs then they should be making minimum wages, but they aren’t. They are getting cash at the end of every night of work. On average a good amount of money. Let’s not separate the responsibilities here. The server is making enough during waiting hours to cover the work that he or she does before or after waiting tables. Part of the same job people. Besides if work wasn’t time consuming then what the hell is an hourly wage? Work is time consuming for all of us. Here’s a tissue.

Here is an excerpt from an article written by a server that I would like to share. “When someone asks me why people should tip, I answer their question with a few of my own. Do you want hot food? Do you want your drink refilled? Do you want the person taking your order to care about the quality of food you are going to eat? The answer to these questions is always yes. So why would a person that is getting paid hourly whether you eat there or not care about any of those things if there is nothing extra in it for them?” I want to address the last sentence there, the one that goes “Why would a person that is getting paid hourly whether you eat there or not care about any of those things if there is nothing extra in it for them?”, well God damn it, it is obvious to me that the person who wrote this drivel has never worked in any other service industry because if you have three consecutive “bad customers” who make complaints about the quality of your work, not even three shifts, just three customers, you would be fired. And in most of the other service industries you have to put that smile on your face and work really hard without that carrot dangling in front of you, because that is what is expected. At no point did I ever have the expectation that I would get rewarded for working harder at any of the other service jobs I worked. I had to work hard and be courteous just to keep my employment.

In no way am I saying that you should never tip, what I am saying is that in the absence of all of those things listed above it is completely appropriate to leave a virtual FU. I’m not going to apologize for leaving nothing to the person who ruined my meal or my evening with rudeness or lack of concern for me. In my mind its simple, and all the articles I’ve read agree with my logic though I think they would make a hasty retraction if they read this post, I am tipping for good service; I should not tip for horrible service, ever.

Out of all the people I surveyed, the average for a great tip was anywhere between 18% to anything really. Yeah, I had one person say that they would tip almost anything for great service. In my mind that is just trying to be flashy or maybe just a little irresponsible, but to each his own. For average service I heard anything from 15% to over 20% making the average the 17% I gave you earlier. And finally, for poor service I got anything from a big fat 0 to 15%. I heard from most of the people I surveyed that they will still tip 15% when they receive bad service! The most common answer to this was that the server could just be having a bad night. To this I say why the hell do we have the gratuity system if you people are going to screw it up for the rest of us? Do you think your doing a service to the next people to be seated if you are rewarding bad behavior? Don’t have such good will damn it you aren’t helping anyone.

The surprising thing to me was that only two other people agreed with my point of view. Even more surprising was how much people were willing to tolerate before they would give the server what they considered to be a bad tip which was actually a good or standard tip. I have to tell you it makes me hang my head and give up on the society I live in. Just promise me one thing. The next time you get egregiously bad service think of your children and how they will be brought up in a world where servers are making more than some college graduates. Imagine, your kids, trying to eek out a slim living on their bachelor’s degree they worked so hard for while receiving cold food and rude service from the fat-cat waitress who expects an exorbitant 25% tip on their meal and has no problem brow beating your children for that cash, all because you had to reward poor service. Please, please think of the children.


Mad Mike said...

The only control for bad service is a bad tip. Why should I shell out HARD EARNED money I had to work for to "you" who has done little if anything to deserve it.
On the contrary if a server gives excellent service than they deserve the industry standandard and anything on top of that is discretionary.

Thousandlegs said...

The best tip for poor service is no tip at all, sir. I have to, although I hate it, agree with mike on that one. If I have to ask for a refill on my drink or if all of the food comes out at different times or if any of a number of horrible server errors occur the tip is a big fat zero. Standard is 15% and for really good service 20 to 25%. No more.

super_spam said...

I try to be fair based on the value servers add. In cases where I would have been better off without a server, I do give out the $0.00.

matthew lumpkin said...

I waited tables for over a year back in college and I honestly made, on average 30% of sales in tips, of course I was a damn good server and entertaining to them as well, so I know this is not the norm.
If the service is good I tip too good, If the service is bad I cant bring myself to tip zero because I know they have groceries and stuff and I know they need to eat, so even when the service is shitty I leave at least a buck, then to help them eat I rake all the food off my plate into a nice little pile on the floor so they can munch on it later to get the strength to maybe do a better job.

Anonymous said...

Matthew said it best. Feed them so they are physically prepared for the next customer.

I remember 15 years ago when 10% was standard and 15% was bonus. So why did it go to 15% and 20-25%?

Its not inflation. Food costs went up thus working out the difference...

And Mark, your last paragraph said it best. I was in New York City last weekend, paying 13 bucks for a martini and 11 bucks for a little sashimi... I had to remark "I went to school for seven years... These people probably make more money than me." And I live in Boston, so there isnt exactly a huge cost of living difference...

I hardly think one can justify the need and angst of waiting tables. If you look at who is where... a truckstop has tired, bitter, angry, pathetic servers... Matthew probably didnt work at a truck stop. He worked at some fancy "here is your baguette up your @$$" restaurant.

ACE said...

Leaveing no tip is nothing short of rude and disrespectful. Coming from someone who really feels he needs to treated respectfully I'm disappointed. Going to any restaurant, you know going in the door you are expected to tip. If your not planning on tipping (even for poor service) then do all servers a favor and just don't go out. The reality is your server is the face for any problem you may have at the restaurant whether it is or is not their fault. Your sweet tea took too long to get to the table...nevermind that the openner forgot to make it and your server went scrambling to take care of you. The food is taking to long...nevermind that the kitchen staff slacked but still gets paid by the hour and their wages won't be affected JUST TAKE IT OUT ON THE SERVER! They have been double, triple, or quadruple sat by the hostess/host and are doing the best they can to keep up. The bar is slammed and drinks aren't coming up at service bar. A table just left you a shitty tip after you ran your ass off for them. No tip is never acceptable...EVER! I don't care if it's just 1 cent No one should ever have to pay to wait on you. Servers are not doctors,lawyers, or NBA stars. No one wants to grow up to be a server. It comes from lack of options. You have to work at night where can you go besides a on a pole? I'm not saying that sometimes the server didn't mess up, but 10% means breaking even. Nothing less is acceptable. Talk to the server about your issue or if you're really unhappy the manager. Even though you say I had to do my best everyday or be do servers, but you decide how much they make unlike in your job where if you had a bad day you still made the same.