- April 21, 2022
In walking through Waterside Place of Lakewood Ranch, I went past the front door of Korê Steakhouse and saw the sign in the window.
It said the restaurant did not allow its employees to accept tips.
And the memory flashed through my mind.
It was many years ago, when I was an 18-year-old making money by working as a waiter in an Italian restaurant. You have to understand, at this time, an entree cost about $4, and a bill that included dinner and drinks for two might be $10 to $12. So if the tip was $2, you were feeling pretty good.
On this particular evening, I was serving a guest who was simply a miserable human being. Nothing was good enough, and he wasn't shy about making his feelings known. His wife was embarrassed, but it didn't matter. He kept berating me. Finally, the couple left. Hallelujah.
But the fun wasn't over. In cleaning off the table, I found my tip. It was a quarter.
With this particular patron, I would have been happier with nothing, but the tiny tip had a catch. The guest had taken a glass of water, slipped the quarter in it, and then slammed the glass upside down on the table. Therefore, the only way to clean off the table, and get to the quarter, was to have water run all over the table.
Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.
But the incident did give me an appreciation for tips and what it means to service workers to get them, or not get them.
I've also experienced the other side of the spectrum. In between journalism jobs, I once bartended in Indianapolis at a nice restaurant along a reservoir. It was a beautiful setting to take a date, and one evening I was cashing out a guy's credit card when it was declined. I very subtly motioned the guy over and explained the situation to the patron. He said it simply was some odd problem, but he appreciated I didn't announce it at his table so that his date would hear. He paid the bill with a $100 bill, and then handed me another $100 bill. Nice.
Certainly, most tips fall somewhere in the middle, but as a service person, it's hard not to react to the highs and lows.
When I did the job, crummy tips annoyed me. Huge tips sent me out on the town to celebrate my good fortune.
As a consumer, you understand that your tips can have such an effect.
One night while living in Crawfordsville, Indiana, I saw a couple patrons stiff the bartender. She never flinched, even as a I noted to her that it was pretty creepy they had been ordering her all around and had plenty of money for the drinks themselves.
"It's OK," she said. "Somebody will give me way too big a tip. It evens out."
Wow, I thought. What a great attitude — and certainly one that made sense.
I will say that service people don't have to worry about their tips "evening out" when I am at the table. No, I am not the $100 guy, but I am repulsed by the quarter guy, too. I basically start at 20% and go up from there if I get exceptional service. I have to admit I tip crappy service about the same as I do good service. I have a feeling I am not alone in this respect.
I know the service people need to make their living, and tips are a big part of it. So when they are rude, or slow, or inattentive, or obnoxious, I think about putting the quarter under a glass of water, and then fork over 20%. My mind wanders to the thought that this waiter was just having a bad day or had a fight with a significant other or had been scolded by management. I don't want to make things worse.
Over the years, I pretty much have accepted I am going to be a 20% tipper whether I have spaghetti dumped on my lap or if my steak is turned into rubber.
Of course, there were a few twists and turns I never expected.
One was during a trip to a fine Italian restaurant in Marina Del Rey in the Los Angeles area.
I was eating dinner with a group of seven other journalists who were all covering a football game. We had a wonderful time, divided up the check eight ways, paid the check and left.
Then I started thinking about the numbers. It seemed way too expensive for what we ordered. We finally figured out that the restaurant had added 20% to the bill automatically, which wasn't a common practice like it is today. We took the bill, and the 20% tip, and added another 20% to it. The waiter had to be happy.
It did make me a bit more paranoid about making sure a tip hasn't already been added. I admit I am offended by "automatic" tips when the concept is that good service should be rewarded. In our current world of tipping, 20% is expected, not earned. It kind of rubs me wrong.
Things seem to have gotten worse. More people than ever have their hand out for a tip when they complete the simplest of tasks. I had a haircut, and the cash register spit out a receipt that had boxes for a $2 tip, a $3 tip or a $5 tip. No $1? No. $4? I checked the $5 box because I am a sheep.
Who to tip? When not to tip? How much to tip? It all has become very foggy.
Think about a cruise. If you buy a drink package, you automatically are charged 18% to 20% of the entire amount for tips before you board the ship. But cruise lines urge you to tip more if you receive good service. Didn't I already tip for good service?
So, thank you, Korê, for bringing a little attention to the subject. Personally, I would ask all restaurants to charge me more and stop all this tipping nonsense. It is a concept that has failed over the years in other parts of the country, such as New York and San Francisco, because restaurant owners have stiffed their employees when it comes to distributing the added cost to the menu items, but perhaps the time now is right.
I am willing to give it a try.
It's got to make me feel better than dishing over 20% for poor service.
And just remember, I've always got a quarter in my pocket.