Tipping Is Optional? Agree to Disagree

This weekend we celebrated my wife’s birthday at Texas Road House along with 9 other members of our family and friends. I called the restaurant an hour ahead to give them a heads up that we were coming, and they informed me that they might not be able to fit us all at one table. This was understandable considering the size of the venue and the fact that we were coming during the dinner hour on a Saturday night. When we arrived, we only had to wait about 10 or 15 minutes before the hostess escorted my wife and I to an open table…that only seated 6 people. Assuming the rest of the party was getting another table shortly, we sat down, ordered a couple drinks and began to enjoy the evening. By the time the waitress was ready to take our order, the rest of our party was still waiting in the foyer area waiting to be seated. In fact, they didn’t get a table until about the time we received our food.

To top this annoyance off, our waitress was extremely busy the entire night, took quite a long time to bring drink refills, shorted us a set of silverware, and rarely visited the table at all. When the check came, I didn’t even hesitate a second to add and extra 15% for the staff preparing and bringing my food to me. Crazy, you say? Why in the world would I still tip the suggested minimum after I received less than stellar service? I’ll tell you why. It’s the right thing to do.

Now before you start thinking that I’m pulling one of those “I used to be a waiter, so I know how hard it is” lines. Although my experience in the food service industry is limited to working at the Snack Bar at Wal-Mart, I do know that waiters and waitresses have an hourly wage that is far below minimum wage. The majority of their income is based on their tips, which means that their standard of living is based on how much a customer decides to pay them.

It reminds me of the infamous opening scene from Quentin Tarentino’s Reservoir Dogs in which we meet the main characters as they are arguing over whether or not they should be required to pay extra for their meals for the service they received. One character even says that he doesn’t believe in tipping because he’s not going to do something just because society tells him to. I would argue that society is not telling us to tip our wait staff; rather common sense is. These people are running around like crazy bringing us our food like we are royalty, refilling our drinks (which are usually free, by the way), and putting up with constant complaining of problems that are usually not even their fault. How is that not worth a couple extra bucks that otherwise could be spent as easily on something trivial.

I recently overheard a conversation at work where my colleagues had visited the same restaurant and were complaining about the poor service they received which affected how much they left for the waitress, if anything at all. This concept of the customer determing whether or not an employee gets paid really bothers me. I pose this question to each and every one of you: have you ever made a mistake at work? If so, did you still get paid? How would you feel if you screwed up at work and lost the majority of that day’s pay? If we don’t tip our wait staff, that’s exactly what happens.

What this all boils down to is an attitude. People love to feel like they have any kind of power of others, so when you give people to power to control a salary, they become very critical of service standard. This kind of mindset is not one that young professionals should adhere to. Treating people with respect is what mature adults do, and I don’t believe that short-changing hard working people shows any kind of respect.

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~ by Scott L. Clark on October 25, 2010.

5 Responses to “Tipping Is Optional? Agree to Disagree”

  1. Really great post, Scott. It really made me think. When I traveled to Japan, I found out that you don’t tip anyone at all unless service was stellar. In fact, if you tip someone, it’s a huge deal. Wait staff and other professions that usually receive tips in the US are paid a livable wage in Japan, so tipping is completely optional. After learning that, it made me wonder why we even have the tipping system here. Don’t wait staff (and others) deserve to be paid the same amount as the rest of us??

  2. I agree with part of your post, Scott. I have never not left a tip for a waitress or waiter. I always leave something. However, if you tip every waiter or waitress the same, what’s the driving force for them to go above and beyond? As a waiter or waitress, you know what you sign up for and you know that part of your wage is based on how good you are at your job – much like sales people who work on commission. If you don’t remember to refill my drink, check on me every now and then or fix any problems that may arise to the best of your ability, you don’t deserve a stellar tip.

    I’m not asking for perfection but I am asking for attention as well as kindness. If my order is done incorrectly and you apologize and take it back and are nice about it, I’ll leave you a great tip! But… if the restaurant makes a mistake and you are snotty about it or blame me, your tip will be lowered.

    It’s all about customer service. Great post and way to get people thinking!

    -Caitlin

  3. I suppose this could be compared to a position in Sales. As pointed out on The Office this season, “I guess it is fair” to pay a salesman less if he/she is terrible at Sales. So, maybe the answer to Mika’s question is that, no, wait staff don’t deserve to be paid the same amount and that they should continue to be paid that sort of ‘commission’. Or maybe Japan has it right. 🙂

  4. Caitlin just lost her tip for stealing my thunder about Sales!

  5. Somebody else mentioned the idea of a waiter or waitress being in a sales position before I wrote the blog post above. I left it out of the article because I hadn’t had enough time to rebuttle this thought until now.

    I don’t buy that a waiter or waitress are in a sales position for a number of reasons. For one, a sales position is one where the employee offers a product or service in which they pay for or they don’t. If they don’t pay, they don’t receive the service. When you go to a restaurant, you’re planning to spend some money regardless of what happens. In other words, you’re already sold on the product.

    The idea that someone having a snotty attitude (while not the proper way to be) should not be paid for the service they gave makes the customer judge, jury, and boss of that person. We have no idea what that person has gone through up until that point. No matter how they act, they still deserve to get paid for their work. If that trend continues, there’s no way they will keep their job, so they’ll eventually get theirs. But this attitude of not getting the bare minimum expected tip because of a bad experience seems very elitist to me.

    I’ll pose the question again. Have you ever had a bad day, or a snotty attitude while on the job? Did YOU get paid that day? How would you feel if your pay was docked because your boss said you had a poor attitude? Why in this industry alone are people judged by their service through their pay.

    All I’m suggesting is that, as young professionals, we adhere to the standard of 15%. If you get exceptional service, go higher. THAT’S the driving force to be a better server, as the sky’s the limit when it comes to quality tips.

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