I worked in restaurants all through college, and I was a waitress for about a year of that. It changed me in a lot of ways. It helped me learn patience, for one, as well as professionalism. I learned the value of hard work, how to think on my feet, how to spend 10 hours on my feet, how to live on scraps of meals, that kind of thing. Survival skills, really.
Of course, I also became completely disillusioned with humanity; but I still believe that everyone should work at least a few months in food service, because nowhere is the golden rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) more clearly forgotten than in the food service industry.
Tipping is a hotly debated issue among wait staff, their customers, their parents, and the government. Everyone’s seen the tipping scene from Reservoir Dogs, right?
Mr. Pink has clearly never worked as a waiter.
But a lot of ex-servers are as cynical as him when it comes to tipping. Being a server ruins you as a tipper in one of two ways: either you are too harsh and tip too little, or you’re too generous and tip too much. Some of my old restaurant friends will critique their server the entire time we’re out and deduct five percent for every inattention. That’s three strikes and you’re out.
I’m on the other side of the fence. I have completely lost sight of what an appropriate tip is. In America, 15% is generally accepted to be the base rate of your tip. That’s how they calculate servers’ paychecks. Minimum wage for a server is $2.83/hour plus tips, and the government figures that if she makes 15% tips at all her tables, that will equal out to the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour.
Since working in restaurants I’ve defaulted to 20%, mostly because I’m bad at math and 20% is easier to figure out on the fly. But over the past year, since I left the restaurant business and started working at a higher paying job, I’ve noticed that my tips creep up and up and up. And I tip everywhere, not just for sit-down meals. I tip carryout too, which people very rarely do. I don’t go out or order food if I don’t have enough to leave a 25% tip.
It all came to a head for me Thursday night. A bunch of my friends and I were out at one of our favorite haunts, an Irish-themed restaurant and bar called Maeywn’s. We had a very handsome, very pleasant young man for our server and he was fantastic. The service was great, and he rolled with all of our completely inappropriate zaniness with a smile on his face. So when it came time to give him a tip on my $13.03 bill, I put down $6.87 and then had a moment of panic. Was that enough? Was he going to think I was cheap? Would he think that I didn’t appreciate him?
And then I realized that I’d tipped him just over 50%.
So, in a lot of ways, my years in food service have skewed my perception of what is due to the staff. I have no regrets, though. After all, servers DO in fact live on their tips (I did), and I like to think that I’m hopefully making up for the Mr. Pinks my server might have had that night.