Kimelman: Tiny tip frustration

Molly Gallegos

Dining out is undoubtedly one of America’s favorite pastimes. Besides dodging the hassles of food preparation and clean up, restaurant guests are able to sit back and relax while the employees take care of the cooking, cleaning and serving.

One of the few downsides to eating out is the ominous bill, the slip of paper that carries with it the damages for the previous hour of pampered bliss. While restaurants do profit on the money we fork over to pay our checks, many Americans wrongly assume that the waiter or waitress who serves the food receives a big portion of these earnings. These same Americans fail to recognize that most food servers in the United States receive far less than minimum wage, $2.83 to be exact. Therefore, a waiter’s pay relies heavily on tips, a topic under hot debate recently.

What was once optional has become obligatory in some locations, and rightly so. While most restaurants trust customers to leave 15 to 20 percent tips for good service, some force guests to include the gratuity with the price of food and drink items. Too many times a server saunters by a departed table only to find zilch, nada, nothing, even after he or she waited on the customers hand and foot. Why is this? Did the customers forget to leave a tip? Was there a cultural misunderstanding?

The unsympathetic among us might blame food servers for their own stupidity – one knows his or her wages and job description prior to taking the position. But waiters and waitresses accept their positions only under the assumption that customers will leave tips, and when they don’t, or when they leave less than what is respectable, a terrible disappointment occurs.

What seems like mere habit to customers makes or breaks a server’s day. Most people base their tip amount on the attitude and competence of the waiter and the overall dining experience. A pleasant smile and friendly service garner a much better tip than, say, an angry scowl followed by meager interpersonal communication skills.

Rarely, though, does a customer stumble upon the waitress who refuses to cater to his or her every need within the restaurant realm. That is because being a waitress is analogous to being one of Pavlov’s dogs. Past experiences propel servers to act in specific ways so that they can reap the utmost benefits, which, in their cases, are high tips.

A good tip from one table prompts a server to continue to treat his tables pleasantly in the future. Bad tips, on the other hand, cast a shadow over the entire day’s earnings and leave the waiter feeling angry and frustrated.

Customers are not tipping the restaurant or the cooks; they are tipping the waiter/waitress. Therefore, the taste of the food or the prices of the items should have no bearing on the tip amount.

A practical solution might be for managers to leave cards on tables helping customers calculate 15 to 20 percent tips. This way, that fortunate soul who becomes subject to the cranky waiter might become a ghost of the past. It’s a win-win situation.