The Tipping Dilemma Is Now More Confusing

June 26, 2008 at 9:20 am 14 comments

So there was a TON of response to the tipping question—I was kind of stunned. I wasn’t expecting so many people to weigh in on the matter. I’m glad you did, but now it seems I have more options than I ever considered, so now it’s more confusing! Thanks a lot! 🙂

I didn’t want to go too far into the story that happened to us, but I’ll reveal it now…

[Begin story].

We sat down in the outdoor area of the restaurant to eat, and the waiter came over and greeted us. He was not over-the-top friendly, which can be nice, but it can also be a warning that he’s really not into his job. On one hand, I don’t usually like when a waiter or waitress feels fake because they’re trying so hard to be “friendly,” but I also don’t want someone who’s aloof.

Abraham told me later that he could tell right from the beginning that this guy wasn’t going to be any good. I did not have the same premonition. (I don’t tend to be very intuitive.)

The food came out quickly enough, but the chips and salsa refills were a little slow. Not that big of a deal, I figured, since we were downing them like it was our job.

About halfway into the meal, I thought I’d like to have a lemonade. Abraham said he’d order it for me, but then as we looked around again and again, the man was nowhere to be found.

From time to time he’d pop back onto the patio and get something for another table but never made his way down to the end, where we were seated.

So we were endlessly trying to get this man’s attention. When we finally ordered it, it came quickly enough. We continued on with our meal, Abraham helping me ingest the lemonade at record speed (easy to do when you’re eating Mexican food).

We asked him for a refill, and he took the glass away to refill it. Then we didn’t see him for literally five minutes. Maybe more. It was a really long time. By this time we had eaten all of our food and were just waiting on the lemonade refill. It felt like we were sitting there forever.

Eventually he came back to our table, asking if we needed anything else. Abraham said, “We’re just waiting on the lemonade.” And he was kind of apologetic, but not really. So he hurried inside, and I thought, “Okay, it’s coming now.” But then he didn’t show up again for another five minutes at least. And this was not fresh-squeezed lemonade. All he had to do was go to the fountain and fill ‘er up.

So he finally brought the refill with no further apology. And we sat there and drank it, more out of obligation at that point than true desire for it.

[End story.]

I know it’s not the worst ever. It’s not like he brought the lemonade out and had his Band-Aided thumb in the glass or anything. But waiting that long for one refill? And there were plenty of other staff around that he could have handed the task off to.

Aaron posted a pretty long comment, including an article that was really helpful. Aaron is one of my oldest friends, and he, in a former life, was an excellent server and restaurant manager. I take what he says about customer service seriously, because he thinks about it all the time. He posted a link to the article on his blog, so feel free to read it if you get a chance.

The mercy/justice tension is always there if you’re thinking about the undeserved favor that we as Christians have received from God, but that we still live striving for holiness in all we do.

I also understand the argument for the underlying issue/personal matter, but honestly know that if I let my personal problems affect my job, I would be in major trouble and not be rewarded for my performance. If doctors do it, it’s a lawsuit; if designers do it, they don’t get paid for their work; if teachers do it, their students fail and they are let out of their contract. Why is the standard different for servers?

I think the suggestion to talk to a manager when service is bad or good is definitely something we should do more often.

Sometimes I try to put it into a global perspective and remind myself just how privileged we are to sit down in a restaurant with tons of options for meals on the menu and money in our wallets to pay for it, unlike most of the world. However, what does that mean when we actually do live in America and there are different standards for service provision here?

Thanks for all the thoughts, readers. You’ve got me totally bamboozled.


Entry filed under: Food, Spoutings.

Helmets—To Use or Not to Use? The Blogging Wars

14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rebby  |  June 26, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Well, I’m late on the comment train. I just read your earlier post and thought I’d share a little story.

    My wife and I were eating at a local chain with her parents. The service was fine. As we were getting ready to leave, my wife went to the ladies’ room. Suddenly she came out quickly, demanding my wallet. Confused as I was, I gave it to her. She went back to the ladies’ room, then came back out to meet us, not mentioning a thing.

    When we got in the car, I asked why she needed my wallet so badly. She told me that when she was in the bathroom, one of the servers came in talking on the cellphone. My wife said she was talking to some dead-beat boyfriend and was on the verge of crying. Apparently she was the one with the job and had to work to make it for herself and her boyfriend. So my wife acquired my wallet and gave her some cash.

    I just share this to say that 99.9% of the time, I give servers the benefit of the doubt.

    However…There was one time where the waiter hit on my wife. That sort of service requires a different, heavier sort of “tip”.

  • 2. danielle  |  June 26, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    ok…you had me until you wrote that you aren’t intuitive. remember that girl who wanted to be your best friend in new york city? that’s all i can think about right now, and for some reason, it’s making me laugh REALLY hard. wow. hahaaaaaa.


  • 3. Kelly @ Love Well  |  June 26, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    I didn’t comment on the earlier thread, seeing as you already had so much advice. But I’ll add this, since it’s relevant to the details of your story.

    I put myself through college waitressing — and I loved it. I made a lot of money — in fact, I took a huge pay cut when I got my first “real” job — and I still miss it, in some ways.

    Having said that, I had a manager at my favorite job (serving at TGIFriday’s in Roseville) who told all the servers that he’d rather give someone the night off than have them come in for a shift in a bad mood. And he was dead serious. He’d rather have everyone else pick up the slack than have a disinterested or crabby server on the floor.

    What an awesome attitude, eh? Maybe not surprising, that location under his management was one of the top 10 Friday’s in the country.

  • 4. carissa  |  June 26, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    thanks for stopping by my blog! i like “meeting” new internet people too. IPA notes sound fun. once a friend and i carved “Sammy” [you know, the vocal tract diagram thingy?] into a pumpkin for our phonetics professor on halloween. possibly, but not certainly, my dorkiest linguistic moment yet.

    re: the tipping controversy that’s been going on – i don’t have a lot to add, except, isn’t it amazing how much Christian thought can be put into such a seemingly irrelevant topic as this? i mean that in a good way. being a Christian is hard work sometimes, what with all the theologizing and ethics and loving God and others things. i’m just glad that we CAN think these things through and make them count. nothing needs to get left out.

  • 5. Stacey  |  June 26, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    This is being overthought hahahahahah. If you have a good manager in a restaurant then he or she should know the kind of service that is being provided…………if they are on the ball. Bad service BAD TIP…..plain and simple. I personally think tipping has gotten way out of hand in society anyway……….hairdresser/masseuse/ so on and so forth. You do a j-o-b and you get paid for it and that should be the end of it. I realize the pay scale for waiter/waitress is different but maybe that should be changed. I pay someone $70 for an hour massage and then it is expected to tip on top of that. WHY?? I paid them for the job they performed. I had a job for 16 years and I did it and got paid…….didn’t get a tip one time for doing a good job. Society is out of control as a whole on a lot of things………..just like when you have 8 or more in a party and they take on 20% automatically…… is crap. Or you go to a bar and order a drink or a beer………they hand you a beer w/the top off and you TIP THEM???? It is insane to me. I dont’ drink but have been w/others who have in this situation.

    Bad Service = Bad Tip/No Tip…….check your attitude at the door just like the rest of us have to do when we go to work.

  • 6. jennapants  |  June 26, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    really? you’re not intuitive??? or do you just give people the benefit of the doubt?

  • 7. jamsco  |  June 26, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    yeah, the not intuitive part was surprising to me, too.

  • 8. mex  |  June 27, 2008 at 5:43 am


    i live in Australia every time i have been in the USA the tipping
    has confused me

    it wasn’t till the reality was explained to me i understood
    that the customer rather than the employer provided
    the worker with a living … it made me wonder at the
    easy road the employer had given that they can run their
    business without responsibility for their staff

    here waitpersons are paid $15 to $20 an hour – ie a wage they can live on … it is rare to receive bad service

    we tip but the tipping is a true reflection of our feeling rather than
    a burden we must carry .. there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ tip

    there is no guilt as tipping is something for each customer
    and while the extra money is welcome and well received
    not essential

    also often the tips are collected and then distributed amongst all the staff even the dishwashers so a bad apple drags everybody
    down and their ‘issues’ are soon dealt with by their colleagues

    anyhow its completely different where you live it leaves with a
    horrible choice i think and one that is incompatible with dining out

    what would i do

    i would have .. if i needed lemonade … approached any waitperson or floor staff and indicated my need ..

    i would have paid the customary gratuity because i knew that
    even though it should have been included in the bill [ as part of the general cost of eating out … ] and cursed my luck at hitting
    someone not as good as they should have been

    in the USA i over tip as i prefer to live without guilt … here i tip
    as i feel

    regards mx

  • 9. Neely Tamminga  |  June 28, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Hi Molly, I’m Jenna’s sister, Neely. I’m growing from reading your blog. Separately, I love this topic. We’re dealing with this issue in a related fashion right now too, so it was a timely reminder for me to dive into God’s Word for an answer.

    I think Matthew 18 is the guide for this and so many of these confrontation issues. Verse 15 suggests you go to the waiter first (not his manager). If he doesn’t respond, then you head to the manager (verse 16). Please someone correct me if I am taking this out of context.


  • 10. kelci  |  June 28, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    I have thought long hard about this tipping dilemma. I grew up with parents who started evaluating the service they got from the moment we entered a restaurant. It almost made dining out stressful, because they were constantly concerned with giving the server what he/ she “deserved”.

    Now married, with a family of my own, I love dining out. Here’s why: My husband is a great tipper. Not only that, he is a pleasure to serve (not just for me, but for servers in restaurants). He is pleasant, patient, and never keeping score. He sees it as an opportunity to give someone something that they generally DO NOT deserve (a good tip) and to demonstrate Christ’s love to them. You never know when you’ll see that person again, but chances are that if you do, you would be remembered as being set apart. My husband has even been known to offer to pray for our server.

    One last thought… Americans, our dining out experience is often quite different than that in other countries.

  • 11. Travis Seitler  |  July 1, 2008 at 10:31 am

    mex makes perhaps the best point so far:

    It’s a matter of (comparative) injustice for a server to be paid substandard wages by their employer, because there is an implied promise that the difference will be made up in tips.

    This leads to the customer being lied to (that $7 salad doesn’t really cost $7 when you factor in a standard tip), and to the server being more-or-less cheated out of the wages they were led to believe they would earn. All (it seems) in an effort to falsely “lower” the listed prices in the menu.

    I want Australian-style table waiting! 🙂

  • 12. Amber  |  July 18, 2008 at 7:33 am

    When I was a waitress, my base pay (as dictated by the state law at the time) was only $2.13 per hour – the bulk of my income came from tips which I had to share with the bartender and/or the bus-boys. Also, you had to take tax out of any non-cash tips (credit or debit cards). You can make good money as a server, but you can’t count on it at most restaurants from night to night or table to table. I understand that your performance effects your income, but when I’m the customer, I try to remember that for the servers, tips aren’t extra – that’s what they earn. And they earn it by being on their feet for hours at a time and putting themselves at the demand and the mercy of many people at one time. I’m just saying that as the server, you really appreciate the customers who aren’t keeping score and looking for reasons to dock your “extra” pay.

  • 13. Jen  |  July 18, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    I waited tables for 7 years while working my way through college at everything from a small-town 50s diner to an expensive steak house to opening a hot-spot restaurant/brewery. I had to chime in with this:

    There is one shift and one table I will remember the rest of my life. I had received bad news about a death earlier that day, but couldn’t get my shift covered (wish I had the TGIFridays manger!). I worked through a few hours with normal service, but had one table that was unthinkably rude for no good reason (that’s an honest evaluation of myself). I was in tears when my next new table sat down, and I took longer than usual (but not more than a minute or two) to greet them. My service was poor and I apologized half-way through their meal. I even offered them another server. The dad stood up, put his arm around me, and said, “we’ll say an extra prayer for you, right now, and later tonight, too. And here, take my pen to keep in your pocket to remind you that Jesus loves you.” I kept that (nice, expensive, gold) pen for years. They left me a tip that was bigger than their bill; the combination of encouragement and faith-in-me-that-I-could-do-better money was what let me go on to make many other people very happy that night.

    In other professions, employees are evaluated based on their performance, and pay raises/promotions/demotions are given accordingly. They may even be fired. However, the judges of their performance are EXPERTS in that field. It seems to me, in the many “you should tip more because…” discussions I’ve had since I started in that field over 15 years ago, that customers who don’t tip well see themselves as being qualified, even obligated, to give their server an evaluation. Sitting at a table, we cannot possibly see the elements that are going into our bad service (though I agree that I can spot attitude in my server as I could also once spot cheap diners) and therefore are not fully qualified to give an evaluation. We may bring up the poor performance to the server (first) or the manager (if necessary), but we are not in a place to judge another person’s income. I’d hate to see the results of my paycheck if you walked into my classroom and decided I wasn’t being a “good” teacher at a given moment with no more to go on than a student’s perspective of a classroom and a brief encounter with me!

    Tipping HAS spiraled out of control, but that is not something to be taken out on a server who genuinely makes a living from tips (not, as in the given example of a masseuse/masseur, from the product/service offered). We may not like the system, but we can’t punish the servers for it anymore than we can break laws we don’t like. Take it up with the powers that be, but don’t hurt the poor college student/single mom/second job cuz he can’t pay the bills dad!

  • 14. Hannah  |  August 8, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    I’ve actually been made fun of for my approach to this matter. I never tip below 15%. But, if they are exceptional, I give more. Anyway, if they were particularly awful or wonderful, I leave them a note. If they were bad, I politely make suggestions for how they could have better served us, but thanking them for the effort that they did put forth.


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