Recently, I was watching an early morning television show in which guests are interviewed and opinions are offered. The guest was a young woman who writes for one of those dining etiquette magazines. The subject was tipping and the writer opined that the “traditional” fifteen percent was a yesterday gratuity, proclaiming that 20 to 25% was the “expected” amount to be added to a restaurant bill these days.
The hosts looked at each other incredulously and retorted that they might stretch to 20% for exceptional service, but anything beyond that was excessive. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always been a generous tipper, but only when my service expectations are met.
Several years ago, I was dining at an upscale restaurant in Dallas with my wife and a few other couples. After the usual round of cocktails, most of my friends ordered appetizers, but I declined. However, after eyeing one particularly mouth-watering dish being served to my brother, who was sitting next to me, I asked the waiter if it was too late for me to order the sumptuous looking delicacy. Naturally, it was intended to be a rhetorical question since diners often change their minds after seeing something they like. Therefore, I was stunned when the waiter snapped “Yes” and brusquely walked away from the table. The others at the table were equally astonished at such a rude display of customer service. My brother, who was about to call the guy back and complain, changed his mind when I reminded him that we should never argue with people who are preparing our food. However, during the rest of the evening it was obvious that the server either hated his job, or just had a bad attitude toward everyone. If you’ve ever been in such a situation you know that an evening can be spoiled by such repugnant behavior.
When the bill arrived I suggested to the others that we leave a ten percent tip, instead of the traditional 15%. Some argued, with good reason, that we should stiff the guy completely. Ultimately, the majority ruled that 10% was more than generous under the circumstances. We left the table, still enjoying the camaraderie of good friends and the atmosphere of an elegant establishment. Yet, even that was short-lived because the waiter followed us to the door with the bill in his hand. As we were unchecking and donning our coats we were approached by this angry, resentful man, who was waving the leather-bound check holder at us and grousing bitterly. “I’m supposed to get at least fifteen percent!” he barked loudly enough to grab the attention of other diners, who began craning their necks to see what the fuss was about.
Consequently, in addition to injecting irritation into our otherwise joyous evening, this disgruntled excuse for a waiter was adding embarrassment to the list of annoyances. It was unlikely that the other patrons knew the reason for the meager gratuity; hence, to them we may have appeared to be chiselers.
It was the ultimate outrage! Not only did this guy irritate us during the meal, but now he had the audacity to make a public display of our response to his unpleasant conduct. I began to wish I had agreed with those who voted to give him zilch. By the way, the bill was about $500, which means we left him a 50 buck tip for practically ruining our night.
Well, his verbal assault was met by a tongue-lashing from me, my brother and one of the women from our group. We told him that he was lucky to receive anything and reminded him that tipping is voluntary, based on good service. Nevertheless, with an incredible display of hubris, he maintained that he delivered the food to our table and that was all he was required to do.
Someone from our group summoned the manager, who quickly pulled his obstreperous employee to the side and began to discretely admonish him. The still irate ingrate stormed away, undoubtedly to ruin the evening for other diners, as the proprietor apologized profusely for having such a business-destroying individual representing his establishment.
I fully understand that mine was a rare case; still, it’s a good bet that I’m not the only one that has ever had such an experience. Webster’s defines gratuity as “a monetary gift, given voluntarily, as a reward for good service.” If we, as consumers, don’t adhere to that definition, how can we expect customer service to improve?
The compulsion to tip, even for poor service, can be very intimidating. Nonetheless, rewarding bad behavior can only lead to an increase in churlish waiters who may soon demand to be paid even if they throw the food at you from the kitchen.
Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor.