Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Who ordered the gratuity?"

"Who ordered the gratuity?!" I overheard this question as I dropped a check to a table of 10 people. A rude, cheap, and as it turned out, not very bright woman was rigorously checking every item. When she arrived at the item entitled "gratuity," she furiously questioned the rest of her party: "Who ordered the gratuity?! It's expensive!" The woman thought that "gratuity" was a meal. It's sad, but true. I was just thankful for automatic minimum gratuity for parties of eight or more.

Now, parties of eight are rare. Servers usually wait on tables consisting of 2 to 6 people, without imposed mandatory minimum tip included. Much too often customers do not understand the concept of tipping or why tipping is in place, let alone the socially acceptable percentage. These are the facts: Most restaurants only pay their servers between $2.00 and $2.15 per hour...before taxes. This is less than half of the minimum wage. When a person goes out to eat to at a restaurant, they are not only paying for their food, but also for someone to SERVE them, hence the term, server.

The price of the meal covers the cost of the food, not the service. The socially acceptable and expected amount for a tip is between 15 and 20 percent of the bill (15 percent being the bare minimum). When dining out, the food does not magically appear on the table, nor does the extra dressing, extra napkins, or that 5th refill of sweet tea. You get the point. The moment a customer sits down and gives their order to a server, the customer has employed them and is obligated to pay them for their service.

There are 2 million servers in America. They consist of single mothers, starving artists, and college students. It is a thankless occupation requiring long hours on your feet, short breaks, and a lot of "brown-nosing." Many customers view tipping as charity, when in reality tips are servers' earned wages.

However, there is a bigger issue here: bad or non-tippers perpetuate the spread of stereotypes. I have worked in 8 different restaurants in various states, and the same stereotypes are prevalent in all of them. In the dining area, servers are all smiles, behave politely, and kiss a lot of arse because they must, their jobs and incomes depend on it. Yet, once they disappear behind those kitchen doors, they enter a world of stereotypes: stereotypes based on age, race, religion, and even region. The reason for an inadequate tip usually gets pinned on one of those categories.
But why? Why are restaurants breeding grounds for stereotypes? Why do the same stereotypes exist in almost every restaurant across the country? Unfortunately, a few bad apples can ruin the entire perception of a group of people in the minds of servers. Servers' tips pay their rent, tuition, and puts food on the table. They depend upon customers to provide their wages. When that dependence is threatened by customers who are ignorant of tipping policies or just plain cheap, stereotypes and prejudices of all forms are born. Workers in any customer service field quickly become cynical about human beings, especially when their pay is affected. One can only be stiffed so many times before noticing a pattern in the so-called "types" of people that are often the culprits. Are these stereotypes warranted? Are there really certain ethnic, religious, or regional groups that are by nature or by culture cheap or ignorant?

My view is that a person's tipping habits have nothing to do with the validity of stereotypes. It is not an issue of race, religion, or region, but an issue of class. Tipping habits reflect one's amount of class, dignity, and respect for fellow human beings. The ugly truth is that stereotypes do exist and warp people's perspectives on various people groups. Are you helping to perpetuate stereotypes or proving them wrong? Whether you are a northerner or a southerner, black or white, a Christian or a Jew, your tipping habits will represent not only you, but people associated with you. Besides the fact that tipping is the proper thing to do, the right thing to do, it can also be a rebellion against existing stereotypes and a statement about the amount of class you possess. Bottom line: if you have enough money to go out to eat, then you have enough money to leave a decent tip. Nobody is too poor to afford a little class. So, "who ordered the gratuity?" You, the customer did, the moment you "hired" a fellow human being to serve you.

So make sure you pay up!


Erin said...

Hey Tia. Reading this blog was interesting because Erich and I were just discussing this in New Zealand. I used to be a server and have always been a big tipper. But in New Zealand tips are optional and if you choose to give them 10% is max. For the first time since I waited tables I realized that the ignorance of different cultures does play a part. So if someone that is originally from another country sits at your table, sometimes they are going by their customs. Of course this doesn't exclude ignorance - as they probably should have researched it. And of course it doesn't exclude the other stereotypes you mentioned, but just a thought. Erin Roneree.

Tia Lynn said...

Oh definitely Erin. People from other foreign countries that are visting are sometimes totally unaware of tipping policies in the U.S. I was more addressing the stereotypes pinned on minorities of race, religion, and region within America. Thanks for reading sista!