Monday, April 22, 2013

A Server's Thoughts on Tipping, Diners and the Restaurant Industry

In the last couple of months I have read several Internet and magazine articles about tipping standards and the restaurant service industry.  I have been very frustrated by the responses to a lot of these articles and quite frankly, the ignorance of many of the people responding. My frustrations have really been eating away at me, so I thought I would just post some thoughts I have on the subject.

1.  Servers are people first and servers second.  Just because we work in the service industry does not give customers the right to treat us rudely or poorly.  I can't tell you how many times I get to a table and greet people only to be ignored or rudely acknowledged.  Additionally waving your hand at me, calling me "girl" or whistling in the middle of a restaurant to get my attention, is just plain rude. Thank goodness I was raised to be kind to matter who they are or what they do for a living.

2.  We are not all uneducated people unable to get a better job.  I am probably more educated than half the people I serve, but I choose to work in a restaurant.  The job I have now fits where I am in my life right now.  Many people work in the service industry as a second job to supplement their income because of the flexible hours.  Do not assume that we are not intelligent people or not capable of working outside the restaurant industry.

3.  This one is going to be controversial but here goes.  Tipping is not optional.  If you cannot afford to tip your server at a sit-down restaurant, then you CANNOT afford to go out to eat at that type of restaurant.  I make $2.15 an hour and I have been with the same place for 5 years.  This is the way the industry works, my wages are primarily dependent on tips.  Many people say that the restaurant industry needs to change and pay their employees competitive wages so they, as customers, are just expressing their opinion by not tipping, but your opinion hurts my livelihood.  The reality of the situation is that the restaurant industry is NOT going to you know how much your food would cost (in the US) if every server made at least minimum wage?

On the flip side, I do think you have a right to choose how much to tip your server.  The current going rate for good service is 15-20%. (I really strive to be a 20+% server).  If your server is exceptional, than go ahead and give 25% or more.  If your server is terrible...and I mean truly awful than it is your choice how you tip.  I have had some seriously bad servers, I mean bad (think scratching private parts and then touching my plate) and have actually left a restaurant without tipping (this is really rare for me because I will almost always leave 10% for bad servers since I know what their job entails).  But here's the thing, I expressed my frustration with a manager so that the person had a reason for why I left no tip and had a chance to improve.  Also, I NEVER look for things to "punish" a server.  I feel like many people do this as a reason to justify not tipping..."my food took forever to come out, you didn't fill my tea immediately, you didn't read my mind that I can't have blue cheese, the prices are too high, etc..."  Very few of those things are actually things I have control over.

Something to ponder, if you get bad service everywhere, is it the server or is it you?  We learn very quickly which people tip poorly just because they think they can or are exceptionally demanding and rude without compensating with a tip.  Many servers will write these people off and give them bare minimum service because they know no matter how hard they work, they will not be fairly compensated.  Is this you?

4.  Yes, you should tip on a take-out order.  I am not saying to give the server 20% for your take-out order, but 10% is a decent tip for this type of order.  Please understand that in many restaurants when you talk to a server over the phone and place an order, that server is responsible for the order.  When I take a take-out order (either over the phone or in person), I not only have to ring it up, I have to make the salads or soups, ensure your order is completed correctly, bag it up, and still maintain a good level of service to the customers I already have in the restaurant.  I can actually lose money on a take-out order because the work to complete it takes away time for serving the customers eating in the restaurant.

5.  Most servers really do want you to enjoy your dining experience.  I honestly want everyone that comes in our restaurant to enjoy their meal.  If there is something that could improve your experience, kindly let us know and most of us will try to help.

6.  Back to the practices of the restaurant industry.  As mentioned before, I make $2.15 an hour.  My place of employment is legally required to compensate me to at least minimum wage if I don't make enough in tips.  Here's the thing, this is not a daily practice, it is per paycheck.  I can work one day and make less than $5 dollars an hour, including my hourly wage (yes these days day I worked a four hour shift and walked out with $5 cash) but another day I can make $11 an hour including wage and tips.  Because the average between the two days reflects minimum wage, I don't have to be compensated by the restaurant for the really bad day.

These are just a few of my thoughts.  I am sure I am forgetting something, but at least I have tried to clearly express my thoughts and frustrations. I understand that not everyone agrees with me, and that is OK, but I feel better having typed all that out!

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