Roger Marolt: Here’s a tip for you
Lousy tips aren’t motivational — just mean, nasty, ugly and cheap
If you eat a meal out around here, the minimum tip is 20%, no ifs, ands or buts about it, period. I am not telling you what to do. I am telling you how it is.
It doesn’t matter how bad you think the service was. We have a labor shortage. Those waiting on you can’t keep up. They are exhausted. Bad meals are going to happen. If you have a butt in chair at a local restaurant or bar, you are part of the problem. That’s OK, as long as you become part of the solution. Part of that is giving encouragement to the people taking care of you.
I don’t know where the idea came from that leaving a lousy tip is a good way to motivate people. It’s just being mean, nasty, ugly and — worst of all — cheap.
What if you go back home and discover your boss cut your salary in half because she thinks you had a bad attitude the week before you went on vacation? Are you going to chain yourself to your desk, put in a bunch of overtime and strive for perfect job performance just to prove them wrong? No. You are going to quit and then let her know just exactly what you’ve always really thought of her.
People in the service industry would do the same if their bosses treated them this badly. The difference is that you are not your waiter’s boss. You are one customer out of many, most of whom are happy, decent people who understand how difficult it can be to work in an understaffed restaurant in a tourist town during peak season and recognize that everyone has bad days and even moments and everyone is wholly entitled to those as part of the human condition.
Leaving a crappy tip is not going to ruin anyone’s career. But it can crush someone’s self-esteem. It won’t kill them, but it might wreck their evening. It’s like stealing someone’s time and setting it on fire in front of them. Is that the goal? If so, congratulations! You are a jackass.
Trying to send a message with a bad tip is chickenhearted. Being chintzy and walking out the door with a smile on your face never again to be seen by the person who waited on you is anonymous cruelty. How is your server not going to take that personally?
Bad tips get paid forward. You leave your loose change on the table and the next family sitting there may pay the price. Pretty soon the whole town feels crappy. Voila! You screwed yourself!
I have only imagined what it is like to work in a restaurant. Summertime and holiday jobs were plentiful in local eating establishments growing up here, but I had heard too many horror stories and seen enough incidents in restaurants to know I was much better off doing things like hauling hod, digging ditches, or cleaning up construction sites than putting myself through the hostility and lack of patience some visitors eventually release on service industry employees who cross paths with a constipated, tired or hungover tourists blaming all of their travel issues on the person only asking whether they prefer bottled water or local tap.
You may have noticed this rant is pretty much directed at tourists. This is because, by and large, locals tip large. If you live here year-round, you get it. Service industry work is brutally difficult. On many shifts, the only thing keeping a restaurant going is the camaraderie of fellow workers and excellent senses of humor based on understanding the irony that oftentimes people are at their very worst while they are “enjoying” their vacations. Most people are good and kind, but the brief moments when some snap oftentimes seem to come at the peak of jet lag and all their frustrations are taken out a person doing what they can to get them back on track.
Service people keep traveling families together by becoming the scapegoats for built-up frustrations from overexposure to the annoying habits of loved ones that are otherwise easily ignored in daily life through immersion in the comfortable rut and routine. They are a visitor’s authentic connection to local life and custom. They are hardworking human beings with feelings. It’s up to the person picking up the check to consider these things. How much do therapists make per hour? The people who are literally putting food on your table and cleaning up afterward probably deserve something on par with that.
Roger Marolt doesn’t believe nice people leave lousy tips. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.