Tipping: An Overview

A quick thanks to all my fine readers. It has now been just a little over a year since I started this blog and it has been quite an adventure. For those late-comers, I started this blog as part of an assignment for a class on Internet and Direct Marketing. At first I had some reservations due to the general outline of the assignment. We were to start a blog and use some of the tools we had been reading about to amass some subscribers. This would be a pretty cool project over a couple of months (which is a better reflection of properly executed marketing plans) but since it was a summer class, the project itself only lasted a couple of weeks. It essentially boiled down to a popularity contest, especially since the content of the blogs was not considered at all.

To cut to the chase, I did very well for the class and I am pleased that after a year, I still have something to contribute to this project. While I have not had the opportunity to use it in a more professional purpose, nevertheless, I still think I have gained a lot from the upkeep of this blog. Trying to keep up regular writing is important and I think there will be definite upsides in keeping those skills polished (despite having no real critic or grader) I still think I’m developing a voice.

On that line, I wanted to finally divulge my opinion on a topic I place a lot of importance on: Tipping.*

*And it was one of the first topics I really wanted to write about on this blog. I even promised it more than once near the beginning on this blog with no delivery. Until now. Better late than never? Decide for yourself.

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This isn’t really meant to be a large scale debate about the validity of tips in your international country. Just kind of an overview and my opinions regarding being a good tipper. As a side note I’m writing from a perspective of a service worker and I know that is a little biased. Okay a lot biased. But still it doesn’t make what I say incorrect.

A quick synopsis thanks to Reservoir Dogs (Caution NSFW language):

A couple of points to consider before we discuss further:

In the United States, employees who are tipped can be (and frequently are) paid less than minimum wage. When you go out to a restaurant, it is basically social obligation to tip. (The amount is a point of contention but we’ll get to that here in a moment.)

There are such things as good servers and bad servers. And if you’ve read my previous post (Garcon), you know that the job is being made increasingly redundant so it is easier to pass on these so called “unskilled labor” positions to a new workforce due to the relatively high turnover in the industry. There are also many things that are not in the control of the server. They act as the liaison between the customer (you) and the establishment (kitchen).* Throughout this constant interaction, this play back and forth, they have to strive to strike a remarkable balance of friendliness, time management, efficiency, and accuracy. It doesn’t always go as planned. (Team efforts and all that.)

*I really didn’t think about this before but maybe that is why I have felt pretty comfortable in my new position. My job is generally to act as the intermediary between the company’s requirements and what is provided by the end customer. Going a step further, my position also lies somewhere in the middle of the different departments (inbound, correspondence, processing, client facing) having a good amount of interaction with each, attempting to satisfy the requirements of one or the other and helping route items to where they need to go. On an even larger picture, the company I work for is a transfer agency that serves the mutual fund companies acting as the intermediary between the customers (you and me) and the establishment (bank and company). What is the term when you have just blown your own mind? “Cobain-ed?” **

There are also such things as good and bad customers (that is you). Customer moods can be dependent on a lot of things and some of those things are in the control of the restaurant. For example, I would wager you see a lot fewer drunk people falling asleep over their food at Morton’s Steakhouse than say, Waffle House. That is in the control of the restaurant, Morton’s isn’t open 24 hours a day and given the price range and locales (generally in downtown upscale urban locations) they can have a bit of say about what customers walk through the door. Other things are directly under the control of the customer. Maybe you’re in a bad mood. Maybe you’re celebrating a crowning achievement or trying to impress a date.*** Maybe you’re out to ruin someone else’s day because you have led a miserable life and your husband drinks a lot and hits on the chesty bartender and your kids are spoiled and your dog is overweight and when the server tells you they are out of the fish for one reason or another, you are so ready to snap and you lay into him thick.****

**That is a really terrible joke and I apologize.

***Let us make a pact, not to date people who are mean to servers. Especially on a first date. Something tells me that isn’t going to go well in the long run.

****Country Clubs are fun places to work.

A sidenote about tipshare:
Tipshare is also known as pooling tips. This refers to what happens to the tips at the end of the shift. Places that pool tips put all the tips gained into the middle and parse it out from there. Then there are places that place a certain amount out to the people that help out the server (10% bussers, 15% bartender, 10% hostess, etc). Finally there are places that don’t tipshare at all, where everything that you pick up is your own. This is an establishment by establishment policy that generally is not explicitly stated. It can also be a reflection of the culture of that restaurant and depends on the size of the staff and how the shifts are sorted. Obviously larger places generally have some sort of tipshare, (team efforts and all that.)  Those little diners where the server is doing pretty much everything, they generally keep all the tips.

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Okay, I’m going to give it to you straight up, no chaser*. I start at 20% of the total bill when tipping and use that as the line.

-If the server is great, my needs were met and you were courteous and professional, you will bump up from there. (Ceiling is 30%)
-If the server is was unavailable, unprofessional, or rude/discourteous, it obviously scales down. (Floor is 10%)
-If just drinking, $1 a drink straight up, bonus if I’m treated like a human being.**

*Also the name of a rather successful a capella ensemble. Check them out here. And my favourite song (not particularly in season but still: Christmas Can Can)

**If you’ve ever been to a bar or a nightclub when it is busy you know what I mean. Bartender is under a lot of stress and there are many people to his/her one person. Professional tip? Cash or Card in hand (preferrably cash), look directly at the bartender until you catch his/her eye (don’t look away/frustrated). Lean in a bit and speak clearly when ordering and know what your drink is before you order. Don’t expect a timely second round if you get the bartender’s attention and then spend the next three minutes discussing with your buddy what kind of wicked shots you want or what options are on your margartia/martini.***

***Does not apply if you’re drinking scotch. Cause apparently anyone discussing/drinking scotch is either classy as hell or a horrendous hipster of the highest order. I wouldn’t know much about either.

Things that you should not discount the tip for:
-It is super busy and your food took a long time to get to you.
-Your food not being made to order.
-You are having a crappy day.
-You have no more money (In this situation, do not go out to eat/drink. You are a terrible person for doing so. Get $5 off the dollar menu at your favourite fast food joint and eat it at home where you pat yourself on the back for how awesome you are for not being a total asshole and not tipping a server at some restaurant.)

Things that you should discount for:
-The waiter gives you incorrect information regarding the menu (i.e. “Yeah we can totally add grilled jalepenos to your teriyaki salmon and then put it all on top of a side of mac and cheese for no additional cost” and then 5 minutes later “Yeaaaaah, we can’t really do any of that and we’re out of cheese”.)
-You are given something you didn’t order.****
-The server didn’t come by to ask if you need anything else/refill your drinks (3 is the magic number for drink refill requests)
****Okay there is a line here between this and the second item on the first list “Your food not being made to order”. In the first situation, the food was ordered correctly and given to the kitchen who messed it up. The server apologizes and asks to fix it for you (and maybe brings you a scoop of ice cream on the house). In the second scenario, you ordered a medium rare and the server places it front of you saying, here is your well done steak. This is the error of the server and he/she should be held accountable. 
Also note that you should also leave a tip for your hotel housekeepers. Not a whole lot, a couple of bucks a day unless you made a huge mess/pissed your sheets (Jared) then a five spot is appropriate. This helps ensure your room gets an extra touch. But remember to leave a note and make it clear you are leaving a tip, otherwise, the housekeepers are legally required to leave it alone.

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In closing, I do agree with Mr. Pink in the above clip. I would fully support any measure that would bring servers’ wages to meet the minimum wage. I think this will bring more labor in the industry which should improve the overall skill and general experience when working at a restaurant. While I do believe that money is a terrific incentive and that trying to earn the highest amount of tips based on good work ethic, skill, and personality is a noble cause*, not enough people in the industry are striving for that level of excellence and instead are relying on social obligation to help them pay their bills. Until something is done, however, I’m going to stick with my rule and that way I can sleep more comfortably at night.

*Shout out to David Hayden, author of Tips2: Tips for Improving Your Tips. He is a terrific server, really knows his stuff. For those up and coming waiters, this is not a bad resource to improve your skills, especially if you plan on being a lifer in the industry.

Thanks to Cracked.com for the assist on this post. Read one my sources here and check out this handy infographic on treating waiters like human beings. Alright, now you should be able to go out and act like a decent human being yourself.

Thanks so much again for following along for my first year. I will work to deliver more content to you here in the coming months, again I hope you’ll tell your friends, share a post if you like it, comment if you feel like it. Until next time, space cowboys.

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In Training

I have been very fortunate to complete another half marathon just a couple of weekends ago. The Hospital Hill Half Marathon went very well, the weather in particular was very cooperative, cool and dry all morning. I was only a couple of minutes off my personal best and given the course (very hilly) I think it was one of the better races that I have ever run. Now before you nod your head gravely and say “I could never do that”, know that you can.* Also I didn’t train quite so vigorously for this race as for previous races just due to general apathy and a bit of exhaustion due to the busy race schedule I set for myself. It does bring up an interesting point on training, however.

Finish Line with PJ @ Hospital Hill

*And I think everyone should complete a half marathon**. One of those “accomplish able goals that will still change your life” type things. If you really think about it, the race isn’t really about the distance as much as the mentality. What better encapsulation of the human spirit that the drive to will yourself through? 

**In a similar vein, everyone should spend a couple of months in the service industry and/or retail. This one is a general one, so people stop being horrible to those respective industries. I mean really. It is not easy. Call centers on the other hand, I don’t wish that upon many people at all. 

Running much more than other things that I have participated in makes very clear the distinction between those who have trained and those who have not. For me it very clearly draws the line when it comes down to a race. I’ll be laboring 7 or 8 miles into the race and wishing I had done a better job preparing myself. Like a test. Unfortunately I’ve found in the corporate world, every day there may be a pop test. But fortunately my current employer is stunningly forgiving and very willing to invest in its assets (like yours truly).

So as the buzz and bustle of tax season rolls into the lull of summer and many financial representatives sneak off for a couple of weeks, it gives our business some moments to reassess assets and evaluate skills. For my corporation, it lends an opportunity to rearrange management and provide annual reviews. Given this general “less than hellishly-busy” schedule, I have been given instructions to bone up on some auxiliary skills that will help me move forward both personally and professionally. We have a rather robust learning management system with classes that appear to be bought from some outside vendor. Classic titles such as:

Taking a Leadership Role: Gaining and Using Influence
Communicating with Tact and Diplomacy
Financial Markets: An Overview

I think it is important to have a set plan for downtime in the workplace. People are generally not going to pay you on the clock to watch silly youtube videos or update your facebook profile.*** So I’ve had the opportunity to take these classes, all structured very similarly, to try to pick up tips and expand on a transcript that will eventually help me move forward (I hope). Would imagine that this sort of secondary training is probably a million dollar industry in itself. Just getting through bullpen would cost the company several thousand dollars I’m sure, but as these other online classes (in tidy 1-4 hour increments) are made available company-wide would imagine that figure ballooning to something around a million dollars or so. In most of these cases, I think it is clear that certain traits can be practiced but there is such thing as a natural speaker or a natural leader. In the corporate environment (as far I have experienced and studied) these natural advantages mean a lot more. More simply put “it is not what you know, it is who you know” and in many cases, it is how well you know yourself.

***Or following European Championships. Where the English national team may surprisingly sneak into the semi-finals under the least expectations in decades. Also I think all outside observers and neutral fans hope to see a rematch of the Euro 2008 final between Germany and Spain. I actually think everyone would enjoy that match. The Spanish riding out a terrific golden age hoping to add another trophy to the collection and a young and very fun German side that looks set to dominate the next decade in international soccer. Not that I’m following the tournament at work too closely…

This is where I’m trying to find my footing. Due to a strong start with my team, I received a very nice “annual” review but ultimately led to the question: “what do you see yourself doing later on in your career/for this company?” And I was (surprisingly for some) left without a good reply. I am quite sure the next step is to take advantage of company incentives for continuing education (MBA) and then figure out how to leverage that degree and the accumulating experience to springboard into…

…something I suppose. There are a myriad of opportunities not only within my own company but with the ties with our parent company as well. And while it may seem increasingly unlikely I will land that fantasy job**** there still is a strong possibility to land a dream job if I could settle on what exactly it is I want to do.

****test subject in a study of the ability for mid-20 Asian-American males to count tourists on the beaches of Australia whilst intoxicated.

On a more casual note, I am also going to take advantage of a respite in my racing schedule (maybe for the rest of the year) to level up on some video games. Though of a more immediate nature, I will actually be taking a little time off for vacation. Think it is going to be brilliant as it has been a decade since I’ve been to California.

I’ll leave you with a really fun commercial I saw recently for Nike running, see you later, space cowboys.

Garcon

Wanted to talk a little about waiting tables. First, a little pedigree: currently I am a Server/Banquet Server for a small-ish country club around Kansas City. I was a bartender for several months (about a year and 20 pounds ago) at a place called Ryan’s Bar and Grill (now a sushi restaurant) in Kirksville. I also spent a year at the El Kadir Shrine Club (also in Kirksville). I also spent two or three shifts at a chain restaurant not to be named and watched a number of training videos for fast food chains (for no particular reason).

If you’ve been out to eat in the last ten or twenty years at a chain restaurant, you may or may not have noticed some new trends. Restaurants are decreasing the difficulty of serving by dividing duties into smaller parts. Let’s start somewhere close to the beginning. Restaurants are places where people go to fulfill that basic hunger instinct, exchanging money to have someone else prepare food for them.  Now somewhere along the way (I’d like to imagine sometime in the Old West, though the word itself seems to date somewhere in the 1600s) the cook decided it was a lot of work to walk back and forth from the kitchen and decided to add a person to run orders back and forth, thus creating that all important waiter position (and I imagine soon after it was decided women would be awesome food sellers). Now, fast forward a bit and the waiter, which was once a skilled position incorporating finesse into time management, people skills, and reliability is now broken down into several jobs each requiring even less skill, to the detriment of the profession as a whole.

Imagine if you will, a hot dog vendor, Mr. T. You walk up, pay for a hot dog that Mr. T has prepared on a streetside grill and he lets you take one to devour at your leisure. Now, the hot dog vendor hires a waiter and adds a couple of tables to his streetside grill to really drive the business (which for our purposes, we’re going to call Mr. T’s Great Wieners with the tagline “I Pity the Fool Who Doesn’t Put One in the Mouth”). Well the waiter’s responsibilities are these:

1) Greet the Customer and Seat Them
2) Take Order for Drinks and/or Food
3) Deliver Order to Kitchen
4) Deliver Food and/or Drinks to Customer
5) Add Up Bill
6) Deliver Bill
7) Collect and Make Change (if necessary) for Customer
8 ) Clear Table for the Next Customer

It is pretty simplified view of course and depending on the type of food or restaurant, it will change, but this is the gist. Western cultures generally don’t have a minimum wage for servers so what they strive for is tips. Now tipping is kind of a special subject for me and I’ll address that in a later, (likely longer), post. For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume waiters are striving for quality as to ensure tips.

Now as Mr. T’s Great Wieners gets larger and busier, the one waiter cannot handle all the business so another waiter is hired, soon another and another until there is a point of confusion. That is when the business of waiting tables begins to change. If you’re an astute observer you can see all the different steps that have been broken up into different, simplified positions.

1) Host/Hostess
2) Server
3) Server
4) Expediter/Food Runner
5) Computer
6) Server
7) Server
8 ) Busser

The restaurant makes it much easier for a server to do his/her position and adds unskilled jobs to the labor market. Three new positions are filled that should reduce the stress of each position during a rush and create a team atmosphere that is important for the personal and professional growth of employees as well as provides a limited social connectivity in the workplace. More importantly, the restaurant benefits because of the low training cost. The service industry is known for its high employee turnover rate, so simplifying tasks makes it much easier to put someone else into that position quickly and do what is essentially the same job. This also streamlines the process and should ensure that customers are receiving the highest level of service while being able achieve a high turnover (flip, clear, move any number of terms basically meaning how many people we can cram food into by closing time).

You’re thinking, “Hey, that really doesn’t matter right? I’m not really paying a higher price and I’m getting better/faster service!” Oh, but you’d be wrong. Think about the last few times you went out to eat. Were you satisfied with the service? If so, were you so much more impressed with the service than if there were one person coming to the table or no? Were you not the least bit concerned about the 20 or so staff (you assume) running all different directions and seeing three or four people stopping at your table? I’m not saying that the people are not doing a good job or all these positions don’t fill an important roll in further streamlining restaurant business, I’m saying that American society in general pisses all over people working service industries as a whole and part of the perception now is because you can train monkeys and 15 year olds to wait tables.

What I’m trying to ask is that servers/waiters/waitresses don’t fall into a lull. All jobs are not created equal and it takes something special to excel in our industry. I don’t care if you’re doing it to get through school, your parents/guardians made you get a job or you’re doing it for shopping money, I’m urging you to put in a good day’s work and prove that you are not an easily replaceable part in the machine. Make yourself hard to replace and that skill in itself will have positive uses throughout your life.

A Classic Scene from “Waiting”
Restaurant Etiquette
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Editing note: I’m not saying learn a computer system and don’t teach anyone else, making yourself irreplaceable or withholding money to make sure people never leave you. That’s awful and you are a terrible person for thinking that.