Cafe Society

Tip skippers need a Sharpie lesson

Welcome to In the Weeds. Kyle has generously agreed to give me a shift or two on this column. I've been in the food-service industry for eighteen years, back and front of the house. Waiting tables is one of those jobs that make you want to gnaw on the end of a shotgun. Here's just one of the reasons why.

Anyone who dines in a restaurant, gets good service and doesn't tip the server deserves to be held down while a black Sharpie marks their forehead with this sentence: "I am a cheap, inconsiderate asshole."

My first serving job, right out of culinary school, was at Olive Garden. I was being cross-trained from a line/production cook to a server/hostess so that I could eventually go into management, and I'd never worked a front-of-the-house job before. I had always been under the impression that servers were lazy, whiny brats who didn't work very hard, and their sole function was to annoy the piss out of me and make my job harder with their constant demands.

My fourth day out on the floor, I got my ass handed to me on a big brown serving tray with a side of breadsticks and dipping sauce. Thirty minutes into the lunch rush (during the never-ending pasta bowl promotion, might I add), my starched white shirt and brand-new tie were soaked in sweat and Italian dressing, my eyes were blurry, my brain was a quivering mass of short-term memory overload, and no matter how hard I ran, I couldn't seem to get every customer everything they wanted when they wanted it.

By 2 p.m. it got better. I had a cigarette, swabbed most of the salad oil off of my shirt and took the older, more seasoned servers' advice about smiling even when I wanted to carpet-bomb the entire dining room with boiling-hot meatballs, sauce and all. And that's when "that couple" was seated in my section.

I didn't know it at the time, but "that couple" was a pair of regular customers; the waitstaff knew who they were, and like feral animals that can sense danger on the wind, the other servers scattered -- leaving only me to greet them and offer them beverages.

The man and woman, a decently dressed and jovial married couple, ordered an appetizer and two entrees, and eventually even succumbed to my clumsy upselling tactics by having dessert and coffee. The perfect table, the perfect end to a grueling day, and I was happy as a lion with a mouthful of zebra guts -- until I brought the check.

They gazed at me sweetly, and the woman, in a dulcet voice, said, "You were so nice. I hope you won't be offended because we don't tip." My usual stock of clever retorts was temporarily out of service, and all I could manage to blurt out was, "Ummm...what do you mean?" The man piped up and said, "Nothing against you; we just don't believe in tipping, because that's just giving out extra money for doing a job. I mean, I don't get extra bonuses for doing my job."

Then his wife added: "We don't want you to get discouraged. You were great."

I backed away slowly, eying them suspiciously, and headed back to the alley, that spot between the kitchen and the dining room where servers congregate, to ask the first co-worker I could find if I was being hazed.

An older female server, a veteran of both the restaurant and the lunch shift, saw me coming and gave me a wry grin. "Sorry, girl," she said. "Nobody wants to wait on those cheap motherfuckers, but we always pawn 'em off on the newbies."

Now, the five bucks they withheld from me didn't destroy my faith in humanity (high school did that) or keep me awake at night sobbing for redress from the unfairness of those two breadstick-gobbing ingrates. But it did change the way I treated tipped employees, and the way I treat people who don't tip.

Servers deserve to get paid for doing their job, and if you don't feel that way, then stay home and have a Manwich and some tater tots, because servers have rent to pay and groceries to buy, just like you do. And friends don't let friends skip tips, so carry a Sharpie.

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Jenn Wohletz
Contact: Jenn Wohletz