Tip Your Waitress, Or: How To Be A Less-Loathed Customer

The life of an on-again, off-again waitress is full of pratfalls: bad tables, bad tips, bad outfits. I’ve worn waitress outfits ranging from a midriff grazing t-shirt paired with a pony-tail directly on top of my head (Think Pebbles from the Flintstones with a splash of stripper) to a two-sizes-too-big thrift-store tuxedo. I have been harassed, swatted, hit on by men old enough to be my father, then hit on by men old enough to be my grandfather. I’ve carried the heavy plates that bend your wrist the wrong way and whiten the tips of your fingers. I’ve worked for ten hours, sometimes 12 or 13, with only a break long enough to smoke a cigarette and devour a pilfered chunk of stale bread.

Now, as an off-again waitress and an almost daily customer, I’m nice to waitresses to the point that it’s weird (Somewhere, one of them is writing a blog about being hit on by men old enough to be her father, and maybe nervous shiny-foreheaded women her own age). Because being the girl with the steaming tray propped on my shoulder taught me a valuable lesson: Don’t be a bad table. Being a bad table makes you universally awful, disliked by friends and servers, and a target of food, spit, and wrath. If none of that matters, how about this cautionary tale? When I stopped waitressing, I started a new job in a totally non-service related field. At networking events and on business trips, I ran into old customers all the time. And why wouldn’t I? I hadn’t moved, neither had they, and the world is small, so there we were. I had the upperhand since they had no idea who I was out of uniform. But I remembered them: Birdlike woman who stiffed me on a tip when a leaf fell in her water glass, brassy big talker who wrote his hotel room number on the back of his receipt, perpetually drunk guy who once yelled at me for not receiving enough scallops. They were all interested in the organization I worked for, hungry to make connections, to get that sweet, sweet networking on. I wanted nothing to do with them. I saved that sweet, sweet networking for people who hadn’t thrown a scallops-related hissy fit or contributed to my rent being late.

Maybe you’re a delightful customer, the kind everyone looks forward to slipping a free refill. Maybe you’re a hapless customer, committing accidental faux pas left and right. And maybe you are the much-loathed terrible table. But you don’t have to be a terrible table forever. Here are a few facts I’ve learned from legendary screamers, non-tippers, and temporarily unlikeable human beings.

You pay for service: My hourly wage is $2.10. Is this your fault? No. But it’s not my fault either. So if you want to cause a scene and then refuse to tip, do not sit around for another hour and make conversation. I have no reason to refill your water or clear your table or lower my voice when I’m talking about you. You did not pay for service, you paid for drinks. Remember that.

Hop off that high horse: Everything in your dining and retail life teaches you that you’re important. You walk into a store and people flock to you, offering assistance. You walk into a restaurant and someone fills your water and brings you food. Everyone is smiling at you! Everyone is serving you! Your day-to-day life is monotonous, your boss bullies you and your family is tired of hearing your stories, but here you are king. In a restaurant, you are somebody.

You cannot treat people however you want because you deigned to eat at their restaurant. If you’re nice and you treat your server like a person, you will get better service. Guaranteed. Remember: Just because you can have your water refilled all day, it doesn’t make you somebody — it just makes you somebody with water.

I see you: You might think you only see me, that you are the only observer in our hour long relationship. But when you get drunk and yell at your kids in front of me? I see you! When you show up on Tuesday with your girlfriend and Friday with your wife? I see you! And when you blow your nose in your napkin and use it to wipe your mouth? Yeah, I see you. And it’s gross.

I hear you: I took your order. We’ve communicated. Obviously I hear you. You have a comment about my ass? You’re not getting enough water? You need a steak knife? Figure out which of these things are appropriate to say to me and just say them. But don’t act like a petulant 9-year-old and half mumble it while I’m walking away.

I remember everything: I spend all day memorizing multiple, often complicated orders. When I’m in the restaurant, I’m a sponge. So yes, I may forget my dry-cleaning or my grandmother’s birthday, but I sure as hell remember how much you drink, how well you tip, and how much of a jerk you are everytime I see you.

I don’t own the restaurant: People always seem to think their waitress has added additional charges to their bill, as though the waitress profits from what the restaurant sells. Please. Trust this– you are not important enough to warrant the energy it would take for a server to create a false charge and then steal the money you paid from the restaurant. That level of ineffective double-thievery is too much effort for a person whose probably been on her feet for the past ten hours, and needed to pee for at least six of those.

You need to tip: Next time your options are “stay at home with a box of macaroni and cheese” or “go to a restaurant but don’t tip,” stay home. I don’t like you, nor do the many people I pool tips with, from a hostess who won’t take your reservations anymore to a kitchen staff who are no longer interested in getting you your food on time. And then there are servers at other restaurants. Because of our vampire-like schedules, servers spend a lot of time with other servers and chefs from nearby restaurants. Those people are like war buddies, who pay you and later get you drunk for free when you visit them at work. And what are the stories we trade? Bad tables and terrible tippers. So now a neighborhood’s worth of people who handle your food despise you. I’m sure that macaroni and cheese probably sounds delicious right now. TC mark

image – DJ Bass

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  • victoria elliott

    how did restaurants ever manage to worm out of paying their employees the regular minimum wage

    • http://twitter.com/xsssy xsssy

       seriously!

    • Guest

       They reimburse us if the amount of tips we declare don’t add up to equal minimum wage.
      But I agree. It’s evil.

    • Guest

      tipping became a cultural norm. when the restaurant industry boomed, it was not allowed to unionize. don’t quote me but i think president reagan is responsible for this. so now with the assumption of tips they can pay servers practically nothing. while they must reimburse servers to make at least minimum wage if it is not reached with tips, it is averaged over the whole pay-period, and even then, making minimum wage or close-to is still very very very difficult, added on top of the stress of unusual hours that servers tend to have, often multiple jobs and often school/parenthood/whatever too. it’s fucked up. 

  • http://artfeedsmia.blogspot.com/ mia nguyen

    THIS WAS PERFECT. 

  • Guest

    Yes. I’ll add that as a guy in college who has waited tables for two years, I work just as hard and need the money just as bad as the servers that have boobs.

    And no matter who you are, leaving a phone number/smiley face on the credit card slip doesn’t count as an actual tip.

  • Sub

    Seriously, the grammar is appalling in this. There are so many mistakes. Also, already been done (to a higher standard) by Fagan.

  • blah

    yes yes yes also when people leave bible verses on the receipt instead of a tip or when they tip with large amounts of quarters, pennies, nickles

  • http://wellgroomedhippie.blogspot.com/ Deanna

    I’ve never waited tables but I’d like to add one: If you bring your children to a restaurant, please, for the love of all that is holy, do not allow them to spread their food in a five foot circumference around their chair. Teach them proper manners and if they do accidentally drop a cracker on the floor, pick it up. 

  • Guest

    So very, very true.
    ALSO, Five dollars is not a standard tip! I feel like the public should learn this as well; If you’re going to leave five dollars on the table when you rang up a hundred dollar bill, that’s humiliating. We are tired, hungry human beings who have to pay rent and utility bills just like you. I can’t pay my landlord in compliments, so why should you pay me in them?

    • guest

       ugh yes, the verbal tip.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jade.orlich Jade Mitchell

     I don’t know that I enjoyed the article. These jobs, these experiences build character – they’re nothing to “bitch” about.

    You have it all wrong. You are an employee of the restaurant – paid to provide service. I will not tip someone who provides poor service (it’s not my job to be buddies with you) – that’s all there is to it. The consumer is king in service-related fields – I’d like to keep it that way.

    • Guest

       I hope a server or cook takes a shit in your food, you pathetic excuse for a human being.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jade.orlich Jade Mitchell

    It is not a consumer’s responsibility to pay your bills. Really, you should find a different job if you don’t like it. It’s your employer’s responsibility to pay you, not mine. You bringing me a sandwich isn’t going to want to make me pay your rent. I usually just tip to be polite.

    Take it up with your employer, the restaurant, and let them know that you feel that $2.10/hour isn’t satisfactory. Why? Because no one else really cares.

    • Guest

      Right. I’m just going to take on an entire corporation and let them know to pay me more right away. Thanks, Jade. You’ve inspired me.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jade.orlich Jade Mitchell

        This article was basically “taking on” the consumer asking for bigger tips.

      • http://www.facebook.com/GingerBrandon Brandon Beall

        wait, you didn’t address this person’s point at all.  You’re not teaching a corporation or business that they shouldn’t pay people 2.10 a hour, you’re just hurting the individual.  If you want to protest, then don’t eat out.  That’s a much better action to take.

    • Jackson

      Wow, obviously someone’s never worked in the service industry. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/jade.orlich Jade Mitchell

        No, I have not. $2.10/hour is below the “acceptable” threshold for personal income.

      • tired.

        How do you have so much to say when you haven’t been a waitress yourself?

    • Guest

      If you don’t want to tip, this is simple. Cook and serve your own food at home or get take out. Don’t come in to a restaurant, occupy an hour and a half of my time and effort and decide not to compensate me properly for it. (Asshole.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/jade.orlich Jade Mitchell

        Whose responsibility is it to compensate you for your time? Mine? No. I do tip. Frequently. Believe it or not, I’m actually a HUGE tipper. (more than anyone I know)

        If “paying you for your time” is a problem, take it up with your employer. Until I declare myself a LLC and you fill out a W9 – wages are your employer’s responsibility.

      • http://www.facebook.com/GingerBrandon Brandon Beall

        Wait, you don’t believe you should pay people for their time but you tip?  Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?

    • http://www.nicholeexplainsitall.com EarthToNichole

      Servers are paid $2.10 (or 2.13 where I live) because tips make up most of their income. And they do SO much more than “bringing you a sandwich”. Do you enjoy eating in a clean restaurant? Thank your server who is there mopping the floor until 1am.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jade.orlich Jade Mitchell

        You can thank your employer who is paying you $2.13/hour – did I ask you to mop the floors?

      • http://www.nicholeexplainsitall.com EarthToNichole

        If you expect to eat in a clean restaurant free of cockroaches and vermin, then yes. But you obviously have no grasp of how proper tipping/being a decent human being works, so I’m not going to waste my time engaging in pointless arguments with you. 

        Please come eat at my restaurant though, and make sure to ask for Nichole!

    • Jennifer

      You’re a troll, right? This is trolling? Because I know you’re not as completely mentally disabled as you just sounded. Even the people who agree with you are smart enough to keep their mouth shut about being a cheap piece of shit.

      You’re right. You’re not obligated to pay my rent. You can always choose to stay home and cook yourself. But when you come to my place of work, force me to do my job — and you do force me, since I can’t refuse to serve you, at least until I learn for the first time how completely selfish and ridiculous you are — and then refuse to meet even the bare standard of tipping, you’re completely in the wrong. 

      You’re not “tipping to be polite.” You’re tipping because you know everyone else is doing it and you’re scared to do stand out as “that asshole.” And you know why everyone else is doing it? Because it’s how the service system works. Literally, the US service industry is built around the idea of tipping (see: adjusted minimum wage for servers.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/jade.orlich Jade Mitchell

         “Force you to do your job?” – it is your job to bring me food. You were not hired by me. Like I mentioned in another reply, I’m actually a fairly good tipper.

        I’m not scared to do it at all. If the food or service is sub-par, I will complain and not leave a tip. Simple. I’ve done it numerous times.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jade.orlich Jade Mitchell

         Even better – the penny tip. There have been cases in which it took forever for the waitress to get to my table, I didn’t get any refills, and the food was cold (and not particularly good) – no tip. If the service is flat-out bad, I leave a penny tip. Anything above marginal gets a 15%-60% tip. (my employer gave me a gift card to an Italian restaurant and the total was ~$50 for me and a few friends – I left a $10 tip, and each of my friends left $5.

        Tipping should not be a standard. A tip should not even be expected!

        (see: I don’t really care what your employer pays you, what bills you have, etc.)

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZMQ3HPVQBZV6DV4RN6TXVWSJBQ momo millenium

        You must have AIDS from all the shit servers put in your food.  Yuck!

    • anon

      first of all, the hundreds of servers that read this article have memorized your face and name and will now probably refuse to serve you shall they ever see you in their restaurant. 
      secondly, it’s now a CULTURAL NORM to tip servers, the reason their wage is so low is because of this. by not participating in this norm you are deeming yourself something of a sociopath, no matter if that’s really the only thing making you one, and you will be vehemently regarded by your fellow citizens as such. should you not choose to follow this cultural norm, and act of respect, cook your own food and stay at home. do not take out your ignorance on someone who works extremely hard. this is now the way things work in this country, and if you don’t like it, once again, you can stay at home and cook your meals. 
      and finally, if you really think just talking to a restaurant manager is going to make them pay their employees more, you obviously haven’t got a lot of job experience. your lack of understanding is very apparent, especially to those around you, those who serve you both in restaurants and other retail services, and it reflects poorly of your character. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/jade.orlich Jade Mitchell

         It’s my “WALLET NORM” to not give away money unnecessarily. It’s not my issue to take up with your employer – it’s yours. If you have a problem with your wage (I’m not your employer, I’m not a company, and I do not have your W9 on-file), I suggest you speak to your boss – not me!

    • Crein

      I’m pretty sure that the government of michigan says that it’s the customer’s responsibility to contribute to the server’s hourly, otherwise the minimum wage for servers would be the same as the standard minimum wage. It’s like sales tax, and the government has its own way to make sure people aren’t stingy pricks because they would sure as hell get pissed if you didn’t pay them. If it makes you feel any better, look at tipping as a form of welfare. No wonder why you think minimum wage is so easy to live off, because you short your servers and dominos drivers. Do you really think a server could ask a restaurant for a five dollar wage increase? Incedentally, that would drive up the price of your sandwich so you would be forced to pay it’s full cost if you didn’t want to eat macarroni and cheese at home. Tipping is just the way things are in the states and it’s expected to be the server’s main source of income. If you don’t like it, get fast food somewhere where you have to pick the food up yourself.

  • bummer

    jade mitchell, you’re a f^cking idiot

    • Que?

      Now really, was that necessary? 

      • http://www.facebook.com/jade.orlich Jade Mitchell

         Probably not. I assure you, I won’t be tipping him.

  • Larry

    Right you are, Bummer.  My guess is that Jade (is that a name for a male?) is a little yuppie puke who never had a job until he got out of college that his parents paid for, and never had to work for anything in his life.  He thinks he’s “special” because his rich yuppie-breeding parents told him so.   

  • http://stefmagura.wordpress.com/ Stefanie Magura

    And not exactly the same but it could fit in this discussion:  Tip your food delivery person when you buy from a takeout restaurant which delivers.

    Good article. :)

  • MM

    I was a hostess and I got a lot of flack especially when I said “there is a wait” and people would get snappy and say “but there are tables right there”

    Here is one for the hostess: If I ask Table or booth, and you say “I don’t care” then don’t change seats to another section because I put  you at a table. 

  • Southernvtgal

    Sometimes we would go out as a family when we had enough money and we were always polite to our server…but we could not always afford a good tip…because going out was a treat. We would always leave what we could and apologize to our server. 

    • Jamie

       If you did not have enough enough to tip, then you did not have enough to go out to eat.  If it means you need to eat out less, then you need to eat out less.

  • http://twitter.com/SystolicArray I'm wonderstruck

    like a shell upon a beach

  • Anonymous

    I believe everyone should hold a job in the food industry at least once in their lives.
    It teaches you what hard-work really is. You see a side of people that you’d never expect. 

  • May51165

    im a waitress /i try to be attentive / some people u cant please

  • matt good

    this exact article is posted every few months and the comments are always the same: you’re totally right, waiters maker less than minimum wage/it’s not my responsibility to pay your bills.

    ok time for something original!

  • Que?

    How does she only make $2.50 an hour? Is that legal, or am I missing something being from Canada….

    • Que?

      *2.10 sorry but seriously, does she mean $12.10

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Teresa-Grodi/20908188 Teresa Grodi

        No, she means $2.10. When you work a job where tips are expected, your employeer has the right to bay you half of minimum wage, assuming that you will make at least (usually well over) minimum wage with your tips. Every waitress claims her tips at the end of the day, and if you don’t make minimum wage by the time they cut your paycheck, the employeer is required by law to make up the difference. Honestly, I waitressed and bartender for 10 years – you usually make WELL over minimum wage and your paycheck usually end up being basically pocket change compared to the cash you take home. 

    • kari

      Waiters/Waitresses/whatever don’t have to make minimum wage, as they are making money off tips.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Teresa-Grodi/20908188 Teresa Grodi

    I worked nearly fulltime as a waitress and bartender for 10 years. I know it feels good to read this article, because we’ve all been treated like crap by customers, but this article is only going to help the people who are total asses at restaurants, maybe, possibly, (but probably not) see the light. For waitstaff who read this, it will just breed resentment. The #1 #1 #1 thing a good server realizes (and crappy servers ALWAYS fail to realize) is that you can only worry about what YOU can control. I can’t control a customer’s attitude, but, guess what? I can control mine! If you treat me like crap, I will mirror back your injustice and treat you so sweet it will hurt your teeth and you, by default will probably feel like an ass, even if I never know it. You may think that this is my personal opinion, but any server who has actually liked and been good at there job will tell you that this is true. It’s the ones who hate their job, just want to get the hell out, and write articles like these, that YOU probably hate getting when you walk into your favorite restaurant. They are the ones giving you shitty service and treating you like you aren’t worth their time. Do you feel like tipping them? You probably still tip, but you know deep down in your heart you don’t want to…

    • Molly

       this is so true! I’ve been working in restaurants for a little over a year now, and have been serving for a few months and I already feel this way – I can’t control anything but how well I work and how I treat my customers so that’s all I worry about, or I would probably go insane…

  • Jenesuispasmorrissey

    Having worked for some time as a waitress I completely agree with this, except for one point. There were a couple of hints at spitting in customers’ food. No matter how poorly a table is behaving or how frustrated you are with customers, spitting in food is such poor form and utterly classless. I really hope you haven’t ever done that.

    • http://twitter.com/cmoshenb Claire Moshenberg

      Thanks! And I was genuinely kidding, I would never spit in food :)

      • Jenesuispasmorrissey

        Didn’t mean to come across as so pious there, but also so glad at the lack of spitting :)

  • JosephStash

    Mr Pink. 

  • http://thedivaworld.blogspot.com/ Debrah

    I always leave 20 percent, especially if there’s food involved. With a bar tab, there’s more flexibility.
    As a side bar, I read an article somewhere consisting of feedback from those in the service business — restaurants, hotels, etc… — and dentists, doctors, and lawyers (in that order) were listed as the worst tippers. Businessmen and businesswomen were listed as the best. I suppose those who know how the world of business works and are successful in it fully appreciate those who provide good service and reward it fairly. That, or they are less parsimonious.  :>)

    • Katya

      So true. I have a friend who makes three times what I do and I’m embarrassed to dine out with her because she’s such a bad tipper.

      • http://www.facebook.com/GingerBrandon Brandon Beall

        I had a friend like this and I call him out every time I go out to eat.  In the least I can force him to tip well in my presence.

  • Anonymous

    I work in the food industry, and there’s no phrase I detest more than “The customer is always right”. Umm… no. Hell no. It’s always the rude self-entitled moochers who break this phrase out. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/jade.orlich Jade Mitchell

      Yeah, it is. Actually, many large companies were founded upon that very phrase. Stop your whining.

      • Anonymous

         The fact that you keep coming back in here to justify being a prick really speaks volumes about you.

        I live in a country where servers get at least minimum wage, and tipping isn’t a clear cut percentage, so it’s not just an issue of money.  If you expect nice, polite and efficient servers then we hope that our customers will give us the same respect. If we get a little extra then thank you. Otherwise, don’t be a rude fucker just because you’re holding some cash. Businesses are allowed to refuse service too. It goes both ways.

  • Katya

    I don’t think it’s about the responsibility of the industry vs. the consumer, etc. It’s more about being a decent human being. We can’t all be missionaries and humanitarians. But we can be kind, generous and understanding in our everyday interactions. Every encounter is meaningful and makes a difference.

    Sadly, I’ve found that you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat people in the service business.

    • http://www.nicholeexplainsitall.com EarthToNichole

      Well said.

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