On Service

Industry/tipping/Albany Jane rambling time! I’ve heard some stories and experiences of some folks in the industry lately. Here’s what’s been on my mind:

One story was about a table that requested separate checks. Later on it came out that the checks were requested after the bill came out, which is understandably annoying. But it’s still a hazard of the job and not completely unexpected. What I found most interesting were the different opinions – the story teller was pretty much just venting post-shift, but others were more, um, passionate about the story.
Some non-service members were more of “Um, how is this bad?”, and other service veterans commisserated with the experience.

One industry veteran to pulled a fairly condescending tone with people who were either unaware or offering alternative suggestions. You guys know what I’m talking about – the whole “You’re not going to get it because you’re not a server.”. I hate it when people in the restaurant industry pull this card – it’s like trying to trump someone by saying that what they’re doing is so hard, no one else will even be able to relate.

Most people have had a stint or two in the service industry, yours truly included. It’s no where near brain surgery. Sure, some upscale places may require a little more of a learning curve, but at the end of the day, the closest thing you’ve got to worrying about killing someone is knowing about food allergies. It’s not like a customer comes in gasping for air and you’ve gotta intubate them RIGHTNOW. I just dislike the whole notion that being a server is a huge burden, or that it’s incredibly trying.There are moments, but hey, every job has its tough moments.

Another person offering an opinion on the subject was that maybe instead of being frustrated with the table for requesting separate checks at the last minute, that maybe they should be more upset with their employer for not having something stated on the menu about requesting separate checks upon seating. An interesting position – and I think a few restaurants in the area have that policy. Personally, I think prior/early notification is the best option any way, that way you don’t need to worry about who ordered what or had this and just leave it to the server to keep track of who’s ordered what as it’s happened.

I also wonder how much tipping percentages will increase as I get older. I keep seeing things to the extent of “Tip 20%” or “20% is the minimum” from some in the industry. When I was in the biz, I was quite happy with doubled tax, which is about 16% in New York State. Nothing to sneeze at, and easy for the customer to calculate. Right now 20% is where we socially put great/excellent service. I kind of look at it like the “A+” of serving. 15% is like a “B+”, 10% a “C” and anything less needs some serious improvement. If you get 0 tips, that’s pretty much failing at serving.
I didn’t like it when people tipped me 20% when I know I goofed up. I mean, it’s great to get more money, but maybe it’s because I’m kind of neurotic, but I want to know I deserve it. I don’t want a pity 20%, or because they think I’ll be pissed if they tip anything less. Hell, I had one table that I spilled water on (thankfully none on the customers), and the owner wouldn’t let me reseat them to a dry table during empty service. It was one of my first tables, and I felt SO badly about it. They tipped much better than I thought they should have, and if saw them before they left I’d have asked them to keep some of their money.

What were you taught about tipping when you were growing up? I remember being in Mrs. Groves class in the second grade, and her doing a lesson on going to a restaurant and tipping. We had these cute sheets with tipping tables. 10% was the average and 15% was for excellent, above-and-beyond service. By the time I was in high school, it was 15%-18% as the high average, and now, well, it seems like 20% is the average. 10% used to be the high percentage tip for my Nana and Grampy. I wonder if I will see 25%, 30%, or even more. This could also be a result of living in New York, and other states may have slightly lower highs or averages.

Is tipping even taught in schools any more?

Thank you for continuing to follow this long and rambling post.

You know, when I first moved to Albany the service was pretty terrible. At least at most of the places I’d go to. Servers who’d do the bare minimum and give surly service and give you the stink eye for leaving less than 20%.

But lately service in Albany has been very good. Owners of small businesses who really care about their food and service, and want to leave customers happy on all accounts. Servers who listen to a problem and actively try to fix it, instead of ignoring complaints. Servers who won’t sigh or mutter if you ask for something on the side. Servers who encourage you to try something, and place it on the side. Servers who genuinely apologize for a delay or an error. It’s like I’m at the beginning of a new dining scene in Albany.

5 thoughts on “On Service”

  1. I don't quite have the energy to get into yet another tipping debate — It's all been said before. I think wondering where the limit will be is a good point, but from my understanding the gap between server wages and minimum wage was much less in gram and gramps' time than it is today, which helps account for “tip inflation”. Maybe I'm wrong there.

    Personally I calculate 20% simply because it's easy math. Move the decimal, double, bang. I see only futility in getting too specific with the tip; remember, the difference between an 18% and 20% tip on even a $100 check is two dollars. On the $25 tabs we're more likely talking about for an individual, the difference between 15% and 20% is $1.25. Really, how much of a toolbag does someone have to be to get prescriptivist over this?

    Okay, I know I said I didn't want to get into it, but one more thing. A “penalty tip” is one of the most passive-aggressive ways to get satisfaction. If there is really an issue so problematic that you would tip 10% or less, you're going to be much more rewarded by being very clear with the server about the problem and speaking to a manager or someone else up the chain. It's not only helpful for everyone, but it's just the decent and reasonable thing to do.

    As for splitting the check, come on, this is common sense. The first time you ever dine out you will see one single check at the end of the meal. How does it not compute that, thereafter, if you want more than one check you have to speak up before that check comes to you? That said, I don't ever recall having a problem handing over multiple cards and telling the server how much to put on each. If you need your own check because you can't split the items out on your own, get over yourself; we all have calculators in our pockets these days, it's called a phone.

    I agree, it's really rare to get truly bad service in the area. There are plenty of stories to read about it on places like the TU blogs, but I wonder if those experiences have as much to do with the diner as the server.

  2. My baseline is 20% minimum nowadays, but I have to admit I had increased it after I dated somebody in the service industry. I go to 30% if the service is outstanding (i.e. somebody went out of his/her way to make it a great experience).

    Service people are huge tippers, I don't recall my gf going any lower than 30% or 40%. After a long glimpse at that industry, I realized even more how much they deserve it. No, it's not rocket science, but it feels extenuating to me and I wouldn't remotely be able to have so much customer interaction and remain professional.

    I was left with the impression of a cut-throat industry, people replaced and fired on a whim, no HR to speak of, and rarely any health care benefits. I recall very late schedules (and none compatible with a 9-5pm guy), common instances of 7 days a week without a day off, back pain, feet pain, etc. I think they need all the money they can get.

    I don't do “penalty tip” either, it feels to me like a passive-aggressive way to say something you should just verbalize to make sure it is fixed or improved. I've seen French people tipping 0% for minor issues, and I will get seriously angry if I'm at the same table. I don't think blogging negatively help either (looking at so many people here, haha), I would just talk to the people directly, or send them an email…

    Just my $0.02 + tip.

  3. “I don't think blogging negatively help either”

    No, I don't see a problem with blogging a restaurant review. You would tell your friends, right? It does all come down to the delivery though, and I think it's only fair to, again, try to resolve any major issues before running to the Internet for solace. That's actually the minimum I would ask for a blog post, really; if you have something to really complain about, did you bring it up, and what was the result? That's just basic information about a place, we're not only going out for the food, of course.

  4. I don't even like going to restaurants anymore because the service dynamic seems demeaning to me. I don't like waving money around in front of people to get them to do things. If someone's job is to bring me food they should be compensated fairly for that job, and I don't like the pressure of having to decide what their wages are for the day!

    That said, most servers would probably experience a reduction in income if tipping was replaced by an hourly wage. That would be good, because then you would be able to free up some well-educated and personable individuals that should be doing something a little more critical than bringing me my wrap and a glass of water.

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