Erik is out of the office this week on a speaking trip. So we're reprinting a column from 2004, in the hopes that he's paying attention when paying his restaurant bill.
If I had to give one important piece of advice today, it would be this:
Tip your waitstaff.
These people are your waiters and waitresses, bartenders and baristas (that’s Italian for"person who pours you a fancy $4 cup of coffee and then has the stones to ask for a tip afterward”). They are the people who have devoted this stage of their career path — and in some cases, their entire careers — to serving you, providing you with nourishment, and ensuring you have a pleasant dining experience.
And yet they do it for less than $2.50 an hour, plus tips. So you would think that diners would remember this, and tip their waitstaff appropriately. Unfortunately, many diners have the keen awareness of a steamed clam, so it’s not very likely.
Here is the basic rule of restaurant tipping: 15% for regular restaurants and 20% for nice restaurants. If you got exceptional service, increase it by 5%. If you got poor service, decrease it by 5%. Do NOT, under any circumstances, ever fail to leave a tip. You wouldn’t want your boss to refuse to pay you because you turned in your weekly report a day late; don’t deprive your waitstaff of a living just because they made a mistake.
I remember my own days as a bartender, working in a small, blue-collar bar that was so smoky, I was a second-hand smoke class action lawsuit unto myself. While most of my customers understood the concept of tipping, and practiced it regularly, it was a complete mystery to one regular named Walter.
Walter was a huge, burly guy who worked as a bouncer at the local strip club. Everyone could easily picture him killing a grizzly bear with his bare hands. He also had this strange idea that tipping me would make other people think he was gay. His solution was to never tip me, although he tipped our female bartender lavishly. My response was to give him minimal service. And to spread rumors that he wore women’s undergarments.
It was during this time that I learned how important it is, not only to tip your waitstaff, but to be kind to them as well. This means no yelling, no insults, no trying to make yourself feel better at their expense. This is especially important if they have not brought your food out to you yet.
Why? Because every waiter and waitress learns very early how to spit in someone’s food and then hide it before they bring your plate to you. And if it’s one of those restaurants that manage to attract a lot of jerks — usually tourist restaurants in vacation spots — then they get a lot of practice.
Did you yell at your waitress and nearly bring her to tears when she brought your drinks? Then why was she smiling so much when she delivered your plate? A warm sense of forgiveness and love?
Not hardly. It’s more likely that she hawked a big one into the garlic mashed potatoes you were yelling about earlier.
I think waiters and waitresses should be allowed to add on a PITA charge when diners are particularly demanding, rude, or just being a pain in the, well, you know.
Ask your waiter for six separate checks for your group and then insist on paying them all yourself? 5% PITA charge.
Ask for something not on the menu? 10% PITA charge.
Order something and then insist you never ordered it? 15% .
Yell at your waiter or waitress? 25% PITA charge and you're getting to get a "talking to" by Walter.
While the PITA charge would primarily be a way for waiters and waitresses to be compensated for some of their more trying customers, it would also serve as an educational tool to those people whose parents never taught them proper restaurant manners.
You know who you are.
Some restaurants have already implemented this charge, and they tell you so right on their menu. Do you see that line that says "18% gratuity automatically added for parties of 6 or more?" That’s the manager’s polite way of saying, "We already don't like you, so we'll just add the PITA charge now."
Look, I know I said it once before, but this piece of advice is so important, it’s worth repeating: Always, always, ALWAYS tip your waitstaff.
You never know exactly what they’re spitting into your food back there.
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