Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Tip for Great Service

I've recently noticed a lot of articles arguing that the U.S. should eliminate tipping in restaurants and replace it with service charges or higher prices. While I mostly agree with the premise, I think most of the arguments against tipping are wrong. For instance, one common argument is that tipping does not result in better service because you tip after the meal/service. Well if you really want good service:

Many years ago, an uncle told me about his trips to Las Vegas and how to live like a big shot. He would go sit at the hotel pool and order a drink. When the server brought the drink, he would hand her/him an extra $20 and say, "Make sure that glass is never empty." You know who got great service? My uncle.

In my youth, I spent one summer working at a convention center setting up rooms/stages/banquet halls/dance floors for various meetings, receptions and conventions. Despite the manual labor, most of the time we sat around in the big easy executive chairs while smoking and running away to hide when the bosses came around. One week, a large appliance convention rolled into town. We met the head guy for the convention, and he pointed out how he wanted the room set-up.

Just as I started to pretend we had another room to go set up, he pulled a wad of cash from his pocket and handed $20 each to my co-worker and myself. "I trust you'll be around," he said.

You know who got great service? That appliance convention.

We pretty much stayed by that guy's side all week and even helped unload two trucks full of dishwashers, washers and dryers, and stoves. By the end of the convention, we had pulled in an extra $100 each in tips which was $100 more in tips than I made all summer. (At this time I'd like to apologize to the family reunion that didn't have enough chairs that week. Seems like we were too busy with the appliance convention to help you out.)

As many long-time readers may recall, St. Pauli Girl and I owned a restaurant for six years. One day I studied our liquor invoices and wondered why we had ordered a bottle of Glenlivet 18 year old Scotch as we already had plenty including the 12 year old Glenlivet. I asked our bartender who said, "Oh yeah, someone called and requested it. Said he would come here more often if we had it. Don't worry, you're going to love this guy."

Later that night, this man (we'll call him Felix), came in with a rather loud, rowdy party of six. When they got to the table, he handed the hostess $20 then went to the bar, ordered a Glenlivet (18 year old) and tipped the bartender $20. You know who got great service? Felix and everyone he ever came in with.

Felix came in almost weekly always with four to eight people. When he walked in the door, the entire front of house staff would practically mob him to say hello, hug him and hopefully get a little cash. Felix knew everyone's name and anyone new on the staff made it a point to stop by his table and introduce himself/herself.

Felix happened to be a very picky eater. In fact, Felix didn't really order from the menu. He ordered one of our pasta dishes with sauce we used on another dish and "absolutely no cheese! If cheese is anywhere on the table, I'll go crazy and never come in here again."

You know who gets to special order their own entrees that aren't on the menu? Felix and anyone else who throws out cash like rice at a wedding.

I never really came to love Felix as our bartender had suggested I would. Probably because he didn't tip me although one of his friends did buy my Guinness necktie from me for $50. But he always made the place more lively, and the staff loved him.

So even if the U.S. does totally get rid of tipping someday, we'll never truly really get rid of tipping because some people just like living large. And it's no different than politics. You know who gets great service from an elected official? The people that gave the politician a lot of money before the politician won the election.


  1. It's usually, if not always, those who've never worked in the hospitality industry who complain about the practice of tipping. They just don't understand and many don't understand that in the US that's where the waiters etc., earn the majority of their money.

    It's not like that here in the Land of Oz, but I've been known to tip when I've had good service (as did my ex when we were together. After all, for a few years he managed a bar-restaurant in New York City so it was very familiar to him).

    I tipped a young lad the other day for topping up the air in my tyres for me. He didn't have to do it, but my hip was acting up so I asked if he could do it for me, in between his serving other customers in the gas station...so for his very pleasant attitude and his willingness to help, I tipped him. He refused to take it at first, but I was more insistent than he was. I'm older, so I've had more practice at being insistent! :)

    1. Yeah, I think the big issue is the lower end restaurants/diners where even with tips, servers struggle to make minimum wage. People also complain about restaurants automatically charging gratuity for large groups. But it wasn't until we owned the restaurant I realized how badly servers get screwed on large groups if you don't auto-gratuity. So many people think they don't have to tip as much because it's a big group or they assume someone else in the group will tip more.

      Conversely to my post, I had another uncle who was a terrible tipper. Apparently, he would always leave like a dollar or two. My dad would wait until everyone left then add to the tip to make it fair.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I am laughing my ass off about the line about cheese and going crazy.

    1. If you could hear the accent he had, you'd be laughing even harder. Still stuck in my head. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I don't know if you've ever seen one of Richard Dreyfus's first movies called "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" but there's a terrific scene where teenage Duddy is working at a resort hotel one summer in the 1950s. A rich guy checks in, shows Duddy a $100 bill (big bucks in those days), tears it in half, gives one half to Duddy and says if he gives him good service during his stay, he'll get the second half when he leaves. So of course Duddy waits on him hand and foot!

    1. I have not seen that. I'm not sure my cynical self would have been inspired by someone tearing a bill in half. But when I think back to my time at the convention center, back then I'm sure I would have done the same as Duddy. Thanks for the comment!