Home > Uncategorized > Tipping Over a Can of Worms

Tipping Over a Can of Worms

Boy, a recent column I wrote for The Southern Illinoisan has generated a large amount of feedback and more than a little controversy. Admittedly, this offering was more pointed than humorous. I just had no idea how pointed it was.

Before I share all of the reaction, here’s the column as it ran:

Here’s A Tip

Memo to the older couple that sat next to us at lunch the other day: I hope you enjoyed your meal. I saw that you went with the buffet; good choice. All accompanied by a soda for the lady and hot tea for you, sir. By my calculation, your lunch out came to a total of $17.02 with tax.

I saw that your server checked on you several times and even brought you hot rolls to enjoy. That was very nice of her, don’t you think? She was very pleasant and very attentive, meeting all of your needs and requests.

She was rather young, but sporting a wedding ring with a tiny diamond. I bet she has at least one small child at home. That’s probably why she can be found bringing food to your table – so she can afford to put food on hers.

The pleasantries and polite conversations you shared were quite nice. I’m sure she thought of you as kind people.

That’s why I’m certain that she’s really appreciative of the large tip you left for her on your way out of the restaurant. Especially during these tough economic times, I’m certain that she’ll put the two quarters you left her to good use.

Yes, two quarters. Fifty lousy cents. While my math skills are not the best, I figure that you left this nice young lady a whopping 2.9 percent tip. Thank you. Thank you very much.

I’m sure you could say, “At least we left something.” Well, that’s true, but you also left her with plates to clear up, a table to wipe, sore feet and a feeling of unworthiness.

I asked a waitress friend of mine how she feels about receiving a minimal tip. She told me a small tip is much worse than no tip at all.

“At least with no tip, you can justify it like they simply forgot,” she told me. “A tiny tip just says ‘you stink.’ It’s insulting.”

She added that tips are how she not only pays rent for her apartment, but for her car and college, too.

I guess getting a little tip is like coming in second in a contest, and, as one of my high school teachers used to say, coming in second is like kissing your sister: there’s no thrill.

Never mind that at many restaurants, servers split their tips with kitchen staff as well as pay income tax on ten percent of sales. In the end, your waitress may end up owing both her co-workers and the taxman thanks to your “generosity.”

Sure, 50 cents used to be a big tip. But used to be we went outside to use the bathroom, rubbers were boots, thongs meant sandals and gas was 43 cents a gallon. Times have changed. If you can’t afford the tip, you can’t afford the meal. Or at the very least, skip the drinks and have water. It’s free. Leave the money you saved next to your dirty dishes.

Please don’t for a minute think this is about age. It’s not. I’ve seen young people who are as tight as a bowling ball in a marble sack. This is about common courtesy. It’s about respect.

I left enough tip for both of us. Regardless, the fact of the matter is you cheated your waitress out of part of her income. You filled your belly while keeping her wallet empty.

It’s enough to make me lose my lunch.

Now the reactions…

Few of my works have generated as much response as this column. The very day it ran I had several people come up to me and tell me how much they agreed with what I shared. I even received a telephone call from a woman who told me despite the fact that she was retired and on a fixed income, she always tried to be a generous tipper.

I also received some emails through this website, there was this one:

“Thanks for standing up for the servers. As a college professor, I know how hard my students who wait tables work, and it bugs me when customers stiff them with a lousy tip. If you can’t afford the tip, you can’t afford to eat out…”

and this one…

“I just read your article Here’s a Tip.  I am a waitress in a small community here in southern Il. and I totally agree with what you said.  There have been times when I wanted to shout these things from the roof tops.  We do not get paid min. wage. Our tips add to out hourly pay to hopefully make up the diff.  I have a husband who got sick last Aug and hasn’t worked in over a year.  Our main source of income is me.  I count on my tips.  They do pay the bills and buy groceries.  When you get people who don’t tip or tip cheaply it hurts.  I could go on about this for days, but I won’t. I will just say thank you for putting this in writting in a place where lots of people will see it.”

Then there was one which took a very different tone:

“Les, I’m writing in response to your quest for better tipping.

Of course being from So. IL you have the entitlement attitude that most here do.

It is not my responsibility to finance every wait person’s home and children. Anyone who joins a wait staff knows of their wages prior to being hired. If they can’t live off said wage, they need to seek employment elsewhere.

My husband and I are thought to tip according to services rendered. Should we also tip the cook, the owner of the establishment, the dishwasher, the delivery person to said business and the bum who hangs around outside as well?

Are you aware of the economy of So. IL?

Should we have tipped the waitress at Bob Evans who forgot table service (I don’t know about you but I prefer to eat with a knife and fork) didn’t refill our drinks, forgot our rolls after asking which we prefered and didn’t get the order right?

It is a shame you get paid for writing such nonsensical crap!”

There were 12 comments posted on the newspaper’s website. Among them:

“Your attention to detail is impressive. However, so is your tendency to make assumptions. Tell me, do you know the precise economic situation of the elderly couple you harshly condemned in your article? You didn’t mention what kind of clothes they were wearing or what type of car they drove off in after their “dine and dash” travesty so I will assume it was a Cadillac or something else just as pretentious and ire-inspiring. Your personal website mentions your church involvement so I will assume you are a Christian and choose to live by those values. Mentioning your own personal generocity by letting the couple know you picked up “their share” of the tip was, well…obnoxious. If their tab was $17.02 (as you estimated) then the obligatory tip at a very fair twenty percent would be $3.40. Wow! You dropped a whole $2.90 so that you could feel better about yourself and so that you would have some legitimate claim to publicly berate an elderly couple. I just don’t see the point. If you see something like this then why not assume there was a reason for it. Maybe you are in a better financial situation than the elderly couple, or maybe God was speaking to your heart to help out the waitress. Why denegrate the event with what could be unfair assumptions and with what was at best condecending rhetoric?

“Does not matter what there economic situation…period! If they can afford to go out to eat at a buffet then it is not that bad! If their economic situation was bad then they could have eaten off the $1 menu at McDs or $5 footlongs at Subway. They were just cheap…plain and simple! The writer was right….if service was bad or no service at all you leave that kind of a tip….it’s a hint to the waiter/waitress that you sucked…thanks for nothing. My in-laws are bad tippers/cheap and when we all go out to eat I will add to their little tip to cover their “short” tipping of the wait staff. One time at Golden Corral I thought my wife left the tip while I was getting are baby and it’s things together (car seat, little toys etc.) on the drive back to Marion I asked her how much she left for a tip and she thought i left the tip……Next day I stopped there and gave the Manager an envelope with $5 in it with the waitress name on it with a little note explaining what had happened…she was amazed. It’s all a respect thing. I guess I just have a conscience!”

“Many people don’t seem to realize that servers do not make minimum wage automatically. My daughter is a server–her base pay is 4.28 an hour; tips are intended to make up the difference. She is a dean’s list college student who is working two jobs to pay for her own college and living expenses and we have eaten at the restaurant she works in and had the opportunity to see just how hard she works. She makes an average of 8 trips to a table of 4 in the course of a normal meal, refiilling drinks, bringing sauces, correcting errors made by the kitchen. Often when food service is slow, it is because the kitchen is slow, not the server, but it is the server who customers blame and yell at when they have to wait more than ten minutes for their food. When people leave a penny tip with a smiley face drawn on the table paper, or leave less than a 15% tip, she is hurt, not angry. She works her hardest to please people and help them have a pleasant dining experience, and some people recognize and reward that. Others seem not to understand or care that their refusal to leave a tip is not only a blow to her income, it is also hurtful to her. People need to take the tip into account when they decide to go out to eat, and either plan for it or stay home!”

Alright everyone i read this article as well as all of the discussion, but im coming from a different perspective. I AM A SERVER! I work in a restaurant in the community while im attending college. I have rent i pay for, tuition, car/insurance payments, as well as i need to eat and shower. Now, who do you think pays for all of this? My parents, no…the government…no…I DO! I make 4.95 an hour which is significantly lower than minimum wage. I rely on my tips. Tips is what i use to pay for everything i need. Now, most people don’t realize that at my restaurant we have to “tip out” to other co workers including bar tenders, hosts as well as bus boys. Now when people are too cheap to leave a decent tip which is 20% it gets very frustrating! I understand that this is tight times, but that also means for us too! Were having trouble paying our bills just like everyone else, so when we dont get tip we deserve its taking money from us! And by us tipping out, if people stiff us or leave us such a bad tip sometimes we actually PAY TO WORK! we have to tip out on every table and if we don’t make the money to leave our 3 percent it comes out of our pockets!! If your server was very bad, we understand… I am going to leave you with this…how would you like it if we went to your place of buisness and simply didnt pay enough for your work??? it would be unacceptable…just like it is when you don’t tip correctly!!!!”

Going even one step further, one reader sent a letter to the editor, which appeared on Oct. 5:

“I was offended by the sarcastic tone and the “know it all” attitude of the author of the piece “Here’s a tip: Server tips are part of income” by Les O’Dell, in the Sept. 26 paper.

I always tip, usually at least 15 percent and sometimes 20 percent if I have been served particularly well. I understand that servers depend on this revenue and they work hard for it.

I am offended however by the author’s attitude and sarcasm. For all he knew, the elderly couple who he criticized so roundly may have been in circumstances that would make him ashamed if he only knew.

And it was not his business, anyway. His picture looks friendly. That is deceiving!”

From here on out, I think I’ll stick to (attempts at) being funny.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Kat
    October 8, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Way to go Les!! I think people need a kick in the rear, it is just sad to see all the people that do react poorly to your serving article because it just goes to show how many people do stiff their servers and people can’t handle being called out for their disrespect. For the people trying to defend the fact they tip based on service: what gives you the right to judge or decide if your specific server can put food on their own table or not?? If you have such a problem with your service, just don’t go back, but don’t be lazy or passive aggressive and think, “oh yeah, that will teach them to serve me better” and leave a good for nothing slap in the face! Don’t eat out if you can’t leave AT LEAST 15% of a tip! I applaud you, Les, for your humor and indignation! Thanks!!

  2. Randy Fox
    January 23, 2011 at 11:44 am

    What an outstanding article Les. Please don’t take any heed to the people who wrote and complained. Their arguments lacked substance. I liked the article so much that, by the time I was finished with it, I wanted to go out and give a tip to a waiter/waitress without even having been served!
    Please do not refrain from writing such articles if you see the obvious need (as with this article). At the same time, don’t stop your gift of humor either. They both hit home.

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