This post, while in my opinion full of important knowledge about proper etiquette, is inspired by utter ridiculousness. I just read three different things where treating restaurant staff badly or not tipping that great was just mentioned offhand and that makes me rant. So this is me both ranting and possibly cluing some of you in to how the food service industry works.
1) Minimum wage for servers in most states is $2.13 an hour. This loosely translates to “we are going to pay you just enough to cover your taxes so please don’t ever expect a pay check.” Some states pay up to $4.00 an hour but this is often in cases where servers don’t make as much. There are a few states who pay servers decently. California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, & Hawaii pay between $7-9. So when servers say they work for tips…THEY MEAN IT.
2) Having a bad day as a server (or any tipped employee) is very different from having a bad day at an hourly paid job. See let’s say your cat died yesterday. You’re upset about this, understandably, but unfortunately you only get so many sick days and this isn’t the kind of situation that work will be okay with you using as an excuse. So you go to work and you’re kind of grumpy and maybe not that helpful or cheerful with customers. But the thing is, even if you piss off every customer that day, you’re still getting paid the same amount per hour.
Now let’s contrast that with the server who’s cat died. She goes to work and is equally sad but rather than breaking down in tears, just chooses to not really talk much and isn’t very interested in smiling. You know what 95% of her tables will assume? That she’s a bitch. Rude, mean, etc. She’ll probably get a lot of comments along the lines of “geez, crack a smile” or “who died” and as much as she’d love to get pissy, she can’t. And then she’ll get crap tips and have to deal with putting off paying that overdue bill a couple more days. All because her income relies on making other people happy, and other people don’t like to give a server a chance to have a bad day.
3) On the other side of #2, don’t feel like you always have to give that server the benefit of the doubt. Some servers are shitty. You can always keep an eye out, do they stand around talking? Ignore your needs? Or are they just busy? I give servers a lot of leeway. But I once had one who after an hour of us waiting (and already getting our salads & soups wrong), came by the table & listened to us ask about our food and then said “Oh yeah. Totally forgot to send that to the kitchen. What’d you want again? I wasn’t really listening.” I SHIT YOU NOT. Believe me, I made loud complaints.
4) How to complain about your food is not that difficult. The type of customers who get their food spit on are not people who merely request for a fix. I could tell you horror stories about the things I’ve seen. But the people who get treated like that are the ones who cuss at servers and grope their waitresses and are total assholes. They aren’t the people who didn’t want mushrooms in their spaghetti.
If there is something wrong with your food, I suggest two ways to complain. If it is in fact the dish you wanted but something was left on that you didn’t want and you can’t pick it off, blame allergies. Just tell the server that you have an allergy to it and unfortunately will need a new dish. All the server has to do is walk back & tell the kitchen. (Do remember that it takes longer to fix a steak than it does pasta). If you were supposed to get something, say avocado on a sandwich, just ask for it to be brought out on the side unless it absolutely screws up the taste to add it yourself. I say on the side because if you take even a bite of your food and then send it back, most restaurants will (and all should) make you a brand new dish. This is due to health code but you’ll be waiting longer for your food. And if it’s the wrong dish completely? Take the blame and ask it to be fixed. Look, I’ve served for years. 9 times out of 10, the customer orders one dish and means another. So just tell the server that you clearly weren’t paying enough attention and meant to order a different dish and could they switch it. You can always blame allergies again.
The thing is, most of us servers are more than happy to fix your meal. We want a good tip and that means you shouldn’t have to feel bad about saying you don’t like what you’re eating or the order was wrong. Just don’t do it in a way that berates the server. Asking nicely really does go a long way. And again, if the food is wrong, don’t negate the tip. A lot of people are involved in the process & it is not necessarily the server’s fault.
5) Bad service is slightly different. If the server is flat out being an ass, inappropriate, or says they purposely ignored you (and yes, there are servers who do that), by all means complain and stiff their sorry ass. They have no business being that level of rude. But if it’s the kind of service where there were a few mistakes or your drinks sat empty a little longer than you’d like, that kind of thing…just tell the manager that you weren’t satisfied. Explain that you understand people have bad days or get distracted but you had expectations from your meal and they weren’t met. Most managers will comp your meal or comp a significant portion of it. In this case, you should still tip. Stick to the standard (18%) but tip on the original price of the meal.
6) If you use coupons or gift certificates, please tip on the original amount. The server did the work for it. Standard tip percentage for waitstaff is 18%. More is always nice if you have good service. A couple other things to consider are refills and how long you were there. Like say you go to a soup/salad place and are brought 4 refills. Your bill might only be $8 but you had $32 worth of soup & salad at any non-unlimited establishment. I’m not saying you have to tip on a full $32 but at least consider doing more than throwing down a dollar.
Also, servers have specific sections in a restaurant, usually with 3-5 tables. An average table turns (ie a group sits and eats and finishes their meal) in 60-90 minutes. So if you come in with friends and stay for 3 hours, eating and drinking, that’s your prerogative. But remember that you are depriving that server of additional income. So toss in a couple extra dollars.
6) If you are the type of person who likes to make lewd comments at your waitress, stay at home. If you have friends like this, don’t try and laugh it off as though he doesn’t mean anything by it or pretend to ignore it out of embarrassment. Your server has done nothing to deserve being objectified or groped and you should be calling out that person. If you don’t, well there are three types of servers out there. The ones who smile and put up with it and behind every smile is a shudder and a go fuck yourself. The ones who get upset and get another server to take care of the table. And the ones like me. As in you wouldn’t be the first guy to have his shoulder dislocated while his face gets shoved in his spaghetti.
7) Dine and ditch isn’t funny. Period. You think oh oops neither person remembered to pay or you might have skipped out because obviously the restaurant can afford to cover the cost of one meal. A mom & pop place can’t. A corporate chain? Yeah, they can handle the cost. But the thing is most of those individually owned restaurants will cover the cost of the meal and not expect the server to. The chains put the blame on the server. Every chain I’ve worked in has a three strike at most policy on people skipping out. After three dine & ditches, you get fired. Even though it’s almost never the server’s fault. Short of handing you your bill and standing there until you hand me payment, I can’t guarantee that while I’m in the back getting another table’s food together, you won’t skip out.
So what happens is most servers do what is called eating the bill. As in we pay for it out of our tips. It’s better than risking getting fired. But that means your $40 meal just meant I can’t put gas in my car. Or buy groceries. Or pay for a babysitter the next night for my kid to try and make up that lost money. Skipping out on a meal doesn’t hurt the restaurant. It hurts the server. DON’T DO IT.
Finally, please remember two things. If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to go out to eat. Second, servers are people too. A little respect and common courtesy goes a long way.