I’ve been over this a time or three, but I’m about to beat it to death again.

First, the definition and origin of a tip – popular myth says that it means “to insure prompt service.” It originally started in caveman days when the patron would put clams on the table little by little as Triceratops liver was being served, depending on how the service was. The better the service, the larger the pile of clams.

That is one explanation I have heard that uses the grammatically incorrect “insure” and is probably false and made up by a publicly-educated American who can’t spell in his native language. In any case, it gets the general point across. Tips are extra compensation at the discretion of the diner based on service.

If you work in the service industry, you work mostly for tips and probably make like $2 an hour. That is the job you signed up for, and if you want your tip, you need to do your job. If you think it sucks and you don’t make enough money, find another job.

No matter what, you are never entitled to a tip, nor is it ever cool to ask for a tip. Sometime in the last ten years or so, the standard tip went from 10% to 20%. That’s alright too. Most people aren’t cheap and don’t have a problem tipping. Personally my only problem with tipping comes from my complete inability to do math after consuming alcohol. I think I have mentioned it before – alcohol paralyzes my calculation cortex.

I can calculate 10% even if I am intoxicated. I can double that and come up with 20% while intoxicated as well. However, I am not super great at doing that while dividing my attention between a story I am telling or listening to, and if someone wants to split it up and put in a $20 and ask for $5 from me and $2 for the guy to my left, I usually start crying.

This is what got me last Friday night at La Terrazza in Miami. We were eating dinner with some friends and drinking wine. To protect my friends’ identities, I will Call them Chris and Angie. Dinner was coming to a close and the service was great, food was good, and we were happy.

I screwed up on the check when it came time to calculate the tip. Due to math paralysis coupled with Chris telling me about pulling Angie around the yard in a wheelbarrow behind the riding lawnmower, I mistakenly wrote in a tip that was about 12% of the total bill.

For the record, 12% is low by today’s standards, but it is by no means unacceptable. It was an honest mistake on my part, but I was temporarily retarded.

A few minutes later, the manager came by the table and asked how everything was. “Did you enjoy dinner? Was everything okay? Did you find the service Acceptable?” And so on. The answer was yes to all of it.

Then he made that move that they do when they are giving you news that is potentially embarrassing – like if your card is declined or you didn’t wear pants – they lean over to you and say whatever it is in a hushed voice that just makes everyone else listen intently.

“Yes…sir…” he said in my ear. “This total…it is…well, that’s only about a 10% tip.”

Instantly seeing my mistake, I was apologetic. “OH! Wow. Sorry. I just can’t do math sometimes. No problem. I’ll fix it.”

And as he was walking away, I realized the absurdity of what had just happened, and I changed my mind. Although the service had been fine, this asshole just told me I need to tip more. While a 10% tip is low, it is a fucking tip, not the price of something I bought.

I asked around the table if I was just being stupid or if I should be a little offended by that. It was unanimous from a table full of folks who had collectively spent years working in retail and/or for tips that the manager was out of line.

The waiter came over and asked me if I would like a new receipt, and I said, “Yeah. I think that will work.”

When he returned, I said, “Hey, we really enjoyed the meal and our service, and you were great. What I am about to tell you is going to suck, but your manager needs to know that his choice of action is bullshit. The low initial tip was totally my mistake, and I apologize, but it was a baseline tip, and he should be smart enough to take that and hope for better next time.”

Really I was sort of talking to the waiter about his actions, because I know the manager wouldn’t have said anything if the waiter hadn’t run crying to him about his crappy tip.

“Yes, but he doesn’t lose any money if I don’t get tipped, I do.”

“I understand that, and I apologize if this is going to ruin your night, but the tip is staying where it was, and your boss is the one to blame for that.”

“But you said it was your mistak…”

“It was my mistake. A mistake that I shouldn’t have made, but people mess up now and then, and you still got a tip. Not a great one, but it is a gratuity and not really required at all.”

Now I was passively hinting that it could go to zero percent if he wanted to keep talking about it.

Meanwhile, Angie was over there giving the manager the what-for. I don’t know what she said to him, but she’s Messican and they know how to get jiggy with the verbal beatdowns. The manager was staring at her as she walked away and sweat was beading up on his brow. Meanwhile her husband Chris, who is a large guy who used to play college football, was returning his stare in a sort of “Go ahead and say one goddamn word, you sorry mother…” kind of way. I love having good friends.

So I guess this is yet another of my battles against stuff that shouldn’t be. The service industry may need to be reminded occasionally what a gratuity is, and that a minimum amount is not legally owed to them even for spectacular service. Acceptable service should get you around 15%, and sometimes people are going to be dicks, make mistakes, or just not pay you much for your help. It’s socially unacceptable, but still their choice.

56 Responses to “Never look a tip in the mouth.”

  1. on 07 Mar 2009 at 3:13 am Liza

    I agree that the manager should of never questioned the tip , it is unprofessional and among drinkers, trouble. Eat it, I’m sure the waiter never complains about the 40% tip, it all evens out in the end. But this person apparently never had to work in this exhausting industry (got lucky) because you would never even of posted this story. What would happen if your boss or client or whoever you were expecting pay from, said,”Sorry but I don’t think you didn’t do a good enough job so instead of 2000.00, I’ll give you UMMMM Ummm… maybe 900.00. Hows that… Have a nice Day!!

  2. on 07 Mar 2009 at 3:16 am Liza

    Oh and what kind of establishments are you dining in?

  3. on 07 Mar 2009 at 12:26 pm Jennifer

    A similar thing happened to me when I was in college. My roommate and I went on a double-date on Valentine’s day to a nice restaurant in Chicago. The nice boys who took us out really had to save up to take us to this joint, as the food served there was infinitely better than the ramen and pbj sandwiches we normally ate in the dorms. Anyway, the boys accidentally left a 10% tip because they were 19 and didn’t really realize that 20% was customary. The assbag manager angrily followed us to the lobby of the restaurant and “scolded” us for leaving such a shoddy tip. At first we were embarassed but afterward we were just pissed. I mean, 10% tip is better than no tip.

  4. on 07 Mar 2009 at 7:39 pm Michael

    @ Rabjet:

    Maybe “culture” was the wrong term to use, but the spirit of what I was trying to say is “Here, we do it this way.”

    If I were a guest at your gentlemens’ club where gratuities are considered repulsive, I’d consider it a favor if you told me about that, so I could avoid making an ass of myself.

    Some people here appear to be arguing that if any tip at all is left, no matter how small, it is a gift and the waiter should feel blessed to have it. All I’m saying is: that’s not the way we do it here.

    Waitstaff here earn a living and support families on tips and, assuming the service was satisfactory, leaving a tip is not optional, it’s part of the expense of dining out.

  5. on 07 Mar 2009 at 7:54 pm Michael

    @ Kerrmudgeon:

    Please note that Dusty said it WAS his mistake that caused this whole thing to begin with. He DID intend to leave a more substantial tip.

    Read the article again if necessary. It’s right up there.

    And we can only make assumptions about whether or not the waiter tattled to the manager, but it was made clear that he did a “great” job as a waiter. He earned his tip, then got screwed out of it. Simple as that.

  6. on 08 Mar 2009 at 10:10 am s. peterson

    Coming out of lurkdom for the first time to agree with the minority. Yeah, you kind of were being a dick by berating the waiter for a) something his manager did that b)was, by your own admission, an error on your part. But that’s not even what I disagree with most. You refer to a job waiting tables as “the job you signed up for” and state that “if you want your tip, you need to do your job. If you think it sucks and you don’t make enough money, find another job.”

    OK.

    I highly doubt that your waiter “signed up for” his job. It was probably the job he could get. For the record, I have a MA and ended up in a job completely unrelated to my field of study. It is a job where I have to deal with people who feel entitled to treat me like crap and are certain that I am not as intelligent or worthy as they are. It kind of sucks. And believe me, I have been trying to find another job for several years. I’m just in a catch 22 because all my work experience lies in this field, and not many employers are willing to give someone with no experience in THEIR fields a chance. Especially not at a rate of pay that would allow me not to be homeless.

    I also can’t agree with your assumption that the waiter had “run crying to [the manager] about his crappy tip.” Maybe the manager saw the receipt himself and unfairly assumed that his employee did a crap job. Maybe he saw the waiter looking dismayed when he saw the lousy tip you left him and asked what happened. And he came over to you to find out if the waiter had done something for which he needed to follow up with/retrain his employee, and when you acknowledged the waiter had done his job and done it well, went to bat for him to try to get him the payment he deserved. I assure you, it’s not the manager who’s paying the waiter that $2 an hour – it’s the owners of the restaurant/chain.

    So, because you didn’t like the manager’s completely justified handling of the situation, you decided to punish the waiter who’d given you nothing but excellent service, both by screwing him with the tip and berating him for someone else’s actions.

    Yeah. I’m gonna call that dick behavior. Sorry.

    Dusty’s Response to Peterson – You’re going to call that dick behavior…and I’m going to call you a professional point misser – apparently you don’t know any more about dick behavior than you do about the definition of the word tip, so I’m going to lay it on you. If you weren’t ignoring the most glaring fact out of this whole story, you’d see the basic truth that 1.) I LEFT A GODDAMN TIP and 2.) A TIP IS NOT FUCKING OWED TO ANYONE. If the manager is so goddamn concerned about his staff, he should pay them more.

    And don’t feed me bullshit about “I don’t think he signed up for his job” Was it forced on him by a mob of jackbooted thugs? I’m sure he was held at gunpoint and signed a paper while blindfolded to get a job he didn’t have any idea about. Shithead pussyass waiters all over the country do nothing but bitch about working for tips. You’d think he would have heard somewhere from someone how the pay was structured. But yeah, he was kidnapped into it. Your statement that he didn’t sign up for it means you are either stupid, or lying. With your Master’s degree I’d assume it is the latter, but your complete inability to grasp reality says otherwise. I graduated in industrial design and now make no money flying airplanes. I chose this job just like you chose yours. You’re not special or tortured. There are all kinds of jobs out there – people just don’t know how to hustle and end up making excuses.

    Oh, and I berated him? Point out which part was berating and then fuck off. He ended up with a 12% tip (cry me a river) because there was no way for me to take it out on the manager. Maybe the manager needs retraining.

    I was perfectly civil to the waiter, and apologized for the way things were working out for him, but in order not to be a fucking pussy like everyone else and just hand out more money because someone told me to, I am going to leave the tip, which was a positive number (just in case your math skills are as bad as your reading comprehension) as it was. I am the goddamn customer and the manager pissed me off. I didn’t punish anyone but the manager, who got yelled at. I gave the waiter a fucking tip (and let’s go over this one more time and see if it sticks) which is not required by any law anywhere, and it was a low tip, but it was a tip. So yeah. If you think what I said to him was berating him, you probably spend most of your life in an offended heap of tears.

    And for the rest of you, I’m sorry you can’t comprehend what a gratuity is, what it means, or why it is not appropriate to ask for more than someone chose to give you, best of luck navigating your way through what you will find to be a very unfair world. Please stop reading my blog so we can raise the common sense level around here.