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October 8, 2009

Another tipping quandry

I know how much you like tipping questions, so chew on this:

Hi EL;
Your Sunday column hit home regarding a situation my wife and I had last week.
When we attended a reunion in the East Cleveland, Ohio area, we stayed at a newly built Hilton Hotel.  We had dinner with two friends on the night we arrived; there was only employee on the restaurant floor.  She was the server, the busser and the bartender.
As a result, even though [she] was working extra hard, the service to our table was less than good.  So should I have tipped a full 20% because she was doing her best, or tip 5% because the service was poor?

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 5:04 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Tipping


Well CG, I think you kind of answered your own question. You said "even though she was working extra hard.....".
Had I been in your position, I probably would have asked her why she was the only one working. The swine flu or some other sickness could have caused other scheduled employees not to come in that day. Then again, you said it was "newly built" so maybe the management had already had to dismiss some other employees for other reasons, and you just happened to catch them on that day.
Either way, if the server was doing her best, I think I would have given her the benefit of the doubt and tipped 15-20%.

Results are what you tip for not effort. seeing what you did, 5% was too light, 15-20 % would have been too rich.

The person being alone was not your problem.

Unfortunately for the server what Bob describes is correct.

What should have happened was to have you sit at the bar and by that limit the expectations of 'table service"... or the management should just have closed early that day if no other warm bodies with any competence could be found.

Stiffing the server doesn't punish the restaurant management that allowed the situation to occur.

Hal is correct. What more could the server have done under those circumstances? If nothing, then the server earned an appropriate tip.

A friend of mine has a good expression for it. When we're about to tip a harried waitress, he says: "Let's light her up."

Maybe that wait-staff-person could have used a little sparkle in her life that night. Imagine her surprise if you had tipped BIG.

People act like a tip is some kind of reward. It's not. It's a clear marker of how much class ya got. Class, see?

I tip more generously when a server is over-worked and trying hard. Maybe this is because I've waited tables.

My worst overload story was the first gorgeous day of the spring when I was the only waitress there. I also had to handle the bar and all the salads.

All 15 tables outside filled for lunch. I had 8 regulars at the bar, drinking lunch. There were about 3 tables inside. Sitting out in the sun, about 80% of my customers ordered salads.

Then the MIT women's soccer team walked in...

You give her a higher tip. It's not her fault that she was the only one working, and the extra money means a lot more to her than to you. Your beef was with the management not her.

Bottom line, if I see a server running like crazy, trying their best, they get a good tip. If I see them standing around talking while I my drink's half empty, not so much.

Thing is, a waitress relies on the 15-25% tip to pay the rent or the car payment or day care. If she is trying her hardest but is overworked, that isn't her fault is it? If you tip 5%, that just shows how very inconsiderate you are for not thinking things through all the way. The manager will never know how the service was...I once had a man write me a horrible note on a receipt saying that he always tips 20 % but my service was so horrible that he couldn't bring himself to leave me anything. I honestly thought that I served him to my very best ability under the circumstances-3 girls had to leave early and I was the only one left on the floor. If that man only knew how hard I was working!!! I was so hurt and don't realize how a little tip can go a long way for a waitress. and trust me, she'll remember how you tipped next time you go in.

keep in mind that the worker was receiving the sum of the bartender/server/bus tip as well so she probably wouldn't make out that bad and might have even preferred that situation.

that said, if she was hustling and attentive, i'd have tipped the normal amount even if service slipped a little.

Personally, I hate the whole tipping thing. It's no longer a "gratuity" for service well done but rather an expectation and entitlement for doing the bare minimum.

However, since I work in the service industries, I feel compelled to tip because I'm known by people within the industry and I would look like a cheapskate if I tipped all the time according the level of service provided.

Sadly, while you are certainly justified in tipping less for less service, no one views it that way. Not the servers, not the managers (perhaps some do) - no one. Tip less than the average and you're "cheap". Tip noticeably low and you're an "A" (with the whole). The correlation between level/quality of service and amount of tip just doesn't compute in the service world.

If service is poor, then you should absolutely tip poorly. Tip should equal level of service. But make sure to complain clearly and concisely to the manager. State explicitly that the service was poor and that your tip reflected this. Don't be angry. Just state the facts. Be matter of fact about it. Let the manager know (and even the server) that you left a small tip because of X,Y,Z reasons.

Sadly, they'll still think you're one of those "A" people but perhaps that failure in service will sink in and they'll do better. The more people who actually complain and tip poorly because of it - and let management know why, might propel the restaurant to improve.

That said, I tend to tip 18% for good service, 20% for great service and 15% for poor service.

If you're doing the work of 3 people, you deserve to pay of 3 people. Since it was obvious this waitress was alone, you had a choice before ordering. Unless it's 4 AM, raining and the car's in the shop, just leave and find a place that meets your requirements for lots of attention.

Lissa - I would think that the MIT women's soccer team would have been the tip itself!

My personal feeling is that you be generous to the person stuck in a bad situation (assuming they are putting forth great effort) and punish the restaurant by not returning. Whether it's ignorance or just being cheap, putting one person in charge of the bar and floor is setting them (and the restaurant) up for failure. Call it charity or a pity tip, but I can sympathize with someone who was put in a no-win position getting no help from their employer. If people called out sick then the manager needs to roll up his/her sleeves and become the bartender and/or busser.

I would tip well but not return, and possibly let corporate know how badly things are being run (depending on whether I cared if the place succeeded or not). generous to the person stuck in a bad situation...and punish the restaurant by not returning.

But doesn't "not returning" also punish the server (and possibly even more, by potentially costing him/her their job?)

This is a no-win situation all around, it seems to me.

I would have tipped generously too, seeing how the server was pretty much on their own that evening.

But like Lee, I probably wouldn't return.

Trixie, if I'd had time to spend looking at the coach, it would, indeed have been quite a tip.

I hate tipping, too, Jay C. I think servers should be paid a living wage.

having been in this position (the bartenders not yours) many times, I would have traded the tip for you to complain in email form to the owners! this is a management issue, poor scheduling. I see it all the time. many days I have the whole bar, 4 tables AND carry out. my cusomers are left to wonder why i'm not behind the bar talking about football! but thats just me, it wasn't the servers fault, she was put in that position by someone who clearly wasn't helping a bit, I would have given her 25% but being in the biz I would have recognized the true nature of the problem.

This is just another example of why the "servis compris" is a better system. The tip is included but you can always add to it; the server gets a predictable income. The downside, of course, is that you can't "punish' the server if he/she does a really horrible job, but it eliminates some of the decision-making. on the other hand, what would we talk about then?

We could talk about leash laws.

In the end, this waitress chooses to work at this restaurant. She CAN choose to go and try to get a job somewhere else if she is consistently overworked.

Will everyone PLEASE remember good or bad service aside, the servers/bartenders do not make minimum wage. They get paid between $3-$5/hr. Not tipping = stealing a service. Whether you wait 5 mins or 25 mins at a grocery store cash register, you don't get a discount or pay more for your grocerys.

If you have a really bad experience talk to a manager and have your concern addressed. They may be able to shed light on what was going on behind the scenes(ie. the kitchen crashed, employeess quit and walked out, etc).

If everyone feels tipping is annoying maybe the laws should change and servers should get paid an hourly rate that is at LEAST minimum wage. Then all of you non tipping individuals could say you weren't stealing a service by not tipping.

Question: Does the weather man get a salary dock everytime he/she is wrong about the upcoming forcast?

Question: Does the weather man get a salary dock everytime he/she is wrong about the upcoming forcast?

No, but that's a great idea.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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