Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Holiday Tipping Etiquette

Many of us spend more time than usual at restaurants during the holiday season. Whether it be for a work gathering, a break from shopping or simply avoiding another long day of cooking for out of town relatives, it seems more of us seem to seek refuge in a building under a neon sign with a kitchen full of cooks.

But let's not lose our heads in all the Holiday twinkly lights and glitter.

(This post won't seem extremely relevant to the Singaporean readers out there, but it may provide some insight into the world of American restaurants should you find yourself visiting anytime in the next ten years.)

In Singapore, tipping isn't quite the standard practice that it is in the States. Here, a ten percent gratuity charge is added to every bill. In most cases, that gratuity is then given to the establishment who then divides it evenly among the servers. (This is what was told to us by a local server, if you are a server in a restaurant that doesn't do this, please share!) The point being, tipping isn't the big deal it is in the States. The waiter or waitress is not expecting you to lay down 20% when you leave the table.

However, this is an entirely different ballgame in the States.

My husband and I were both servers in college. We've experienced this under appreciated job first hand. I even worked at four different establishments as I moved around the place during my studies.

It is hard work. It is stressful work. It is mind numbingly aggravating work at times too.

And people are rude.

I made a lot of friends with my coworkers over the years and I heard just about every one of them say at some point, "It should be a law that you must have worked as a server before you're allowed to go to a restaurant."

Servers are the lowest paid workers in the United States according to their base pay. Servers make a measly $2.13 an hour (at least this was the case when I was a server). The Federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Yeah, big difference.

So when you go into a restaurant with your three friends, order water and an appetizer to share, we hate you. Your bill will usually only be about $12 and you'll leave us about $2. So that hour or 45 minutes that we refilled your waters, delivered your food and cleared your plates only earned us less than five bucks.

Now I'm not saying that you should have to order things you don't want or needlessly overtip, but do keep in mind that the people busting their butt to keep you happy for one measly meal are also trying to buy presents for their nieces, cousins, brothers and so on.

I think there's a lot of things about the restaurant industry that people don't know. That's why when I ran across this article on Reader'sDigest.com, I really wanted to post it to the blog. I think a lot of people are clueless as to what really goes on and what goes through the minds of the people at the local Applebee's or Chili's.

So in addition to the list of 30 waiter secrets listed in the above article, Aaron and I have come up with an additional five.

5 Things Restaurant Diners Should Always Remember

5. You are not the only person in the restaurant that your waiter or waitress is tending to. Most servers have between 4 and 5 tables that they are serving at any given time. If all of those tables are full, that's approximately 18-25 people in his or her section. Not only are they fulfulling the request of each of these people including your own, they probably are having to do other remedial tasks such as make salads, drinks and run other people's food. So when you wonder why your cup of ranch dressing doesn't magically appear in 30 seconds, it isn't because he or she is a crappy server. To avoid this, try ordering your dressing with your food if you require extra. That way the server can make a note of it on the computer and someone else can bring it out with your food.

4. The nicer you are to your server, the more time they will focus directly on you. If you make an effort to make small talk, learn his or her name or genuinely act like a nice human being, your server will more than make it up to you. Your food will come out faster, with less errors and have any special requests met to a "T". Just by doing those simple things, you will then stick out in his or her mind, thus making your server want to make you have the best meal of your life. You'd be surprised just how many people are naturally rude. A simple kind word will do wonders in a restaurant.

3. Yeah, the tips can be great. If you're good at your job, you can make a killing in tips. This is what most people think happens to every server. However, most of us only have a great night about one or two days a week (and that's only if we get the good sections). On the other days, servers work long hours with few tables and a lot of crappy sidework. They have to do stuff like rolling silverware, refilling salad dressing containers, dusting table ledges, windexing windows and restocking cups. The majority of this work is done when the server has zero tables. That means they do this work for their measly $2.13. So really, when you figure it all together, the couple hundred they made on the weekend just made up for the $30 they made for working 10 hours the previous Tuesday.

2. We're not your babysitter or your kid's maid. One time when I was working in a pizza restaurant, a huge family came in with 15 children under the age of 10. Once the adults got situated with their beers and conversation, they allowed all of their children to proceed in a restaurant-wide game of hide and seek. While we were trying to serve other customers, these children were running around, hiding under tables and almost knocking people over. Not only were the other customers pissed, but some people almost got hurt. The parents then got irritated with us when we told their children to stop. Seriously, that happened. Also, when you forget your baby's toys to keep him occupied, it is never OK to let your baby play with the sugar caddy and rip open every packet of sugar onto the table for us to clean up later.

1. Fifteen percent is a crappy tip. No joking. Also, 10% is an embarassing tip (unless your server was the worst you've ever had). For good to decent service, 20% is the standard. For excellent service, 25 to 30% is great. Servers work hard to make sure that one meal in your lifetime is perfect. If it's not, they stress about it, freak out on people and yell at cooks. They're the one batting for you and the ones who will beg the manager to comp your meal just to appease you. It's a shameless job. Reward them for it. They'll remember you the next time you come in and automatically work even harder to keep you happy.

*Amendment* We forgot one very important thing.

1a. NEVER go to a restaurant that closes within 30 minutes. The cooks are trying to close down the grill. The servers are tired and trying to clean up the place to get out of there at a decent hour. When you walk in at 15 minutes till close, you anger the entire restaurant. Ever wonder if you've eaten someone's saliva in your food? If you've broken this rule, chances are, you have. Seriously, don't do this. You're better off at McDonald's 24 hr drivethru.

So when you are beyond cranky from the crowds of other cranky shoppers, don't take it out on the person serving you your lunch. Their job isn't as easy as it looks and they've probably had a far worse day than you. They have to deal with jerks everyday, not just during the holidays.

On top of that, you should NEVER mess with the people that touch your food.

Have you seen the movie Waiting? There wouldn't be a movie about it if it wasn't true.


Brad Farless said...

I've never waited tables but when I was in the US I always used to leave a pretty good tip. I've even left 5 dollar tips on 10 dollar orders before.

What I have done is work part time as a delivery driver when I was stationed at Fort Stewart in GA. I can totally agree that there are some really rude, inconsiderate bastards out there that seem to think they're the only people ordering that night. I actually had someone yell at me because his pizza was delivered 5 minutes late. It didn't matter that every driver left the store with 10 orders at once. I also had another guy refuse to pay me. I don't remember what his reasoning was but we wound up calling the police and that ruined my night because I had to sit there waiting for the police. Good thing I didn't have any other orders in my bag.

So, ya, totally agree with this list. Being a server is rough. Being in any sort of customer service is a hard and thankless job.

I'll be in Singapore this Christmas so tipping won't be an issue for me, but hopefully folks in the US are generous to their servers this holiday season.

My Three Sons said...

I have done my share of waiting as well. I used to hate it when a party of 7 would come in and purposely ask for two tables just so the automatic 20% would not be added. I had one once do that and they sat in my section in TWO tables for 2 hours and then between the two tables left me 4.00. I went up to them and asked if there was a problem with my service. They answered no why and I said I couldn't understand why they felt like 4.00 was acceptable for holding up two of my tables for over two hours. I never saw that group again.

I did work hard and I don't think people really understand that it is a stressful job.

Nice post....hopefully people will think before tipping.

Petque said...

My brother in the US work partime in a chinese buffet restaurant and he is not paid any salary at all. Just share out on the tips. When I first heard it I thought it was crazy.But it seems that the tips are good. Of course there are people who run off without paying for the food and they have to foot the bill.
Oh by the way thanks for the info on the fonts but I have yet to install it on my other blog. Quite a lengthy procedure.
Thanks again.

Beau Lotus said...

Tipping stresses me out because whether in Sgp or in Europe - you don't usually tip since it's included in the service charge. But when we were in the US, I've seen the nasty sour looks we got from our first waiters and understood that tipping is an important part of the eating out experience. But nobody has ever written a handbook on the subject and handed it out at the airport or with our stay permits...Great post!