Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Little Tip For You

The Lovely Steph Leann and I love to eat. We have no aversion to cooking for ourselves, but frankly, we just don’t want to many times, which is why we ended up in a booth at Don Pepe’s Mexican Grill tonight. We had just finished watching “Public Enemies”

Quick review… “Public Enemies” is an excellent film. Starting out in 1933, it chronicles the bank robbery days of John Dillinger (Johnny Depp, in a great role) who was, of course, Public Enemy #1. He breaks out the penitentiary, meets a woman, travels with Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd and a few others. Chasing down Dillinger is FBI agent Melvin Purvis and an assembled team of agents. The movie progresses, with the Feds getting everyone except Dillinger, leading to a final showdown. The movie is light on sexual scenes, light on language, but heavy on mobster violence, including a few close ups of dying criminals, bleeding from being riddled with bullets.
It does a great job of picturing Dillinger as the folk hero he was to the American public, and shows Purvis (an excellent performance by Christian Bale) being a masterful detective in his efforts to track Public Enemy #1 down.

It seems like Michael Mann, the director of this and many other excellent films like “Collateral”, had his casting director call up every B-movie actor who needs work and planted them in this film… it was like That Guy Junior Varsity Team with Leelee Sobieski (Aldys in "Never Been Kissed"), Giovanni Ribisi (Phoebe's little brother in "Friends"), Matt Craven (Zimmer in "Crimson Tide"), Lili Taylor (List in "Six Feet Under"), Emilie de Ravin (Claire in "LOST"), Billy Crudup (Blue Wang in "Watchmen"), Rory Cochran (Slater in "Dazed & Confused") and Stephen Dorff (Deacon Frost in "Blade")… actors you may not know, but you’ve seen. Oh, and music from Diana Krall didn't hurt. Good stuff.

Anyway, back to my other story.

I love Mexican food, though really, I love only certain Mexican foods. Not being a fan of spice, I usually settle down with a big quesadilla, or an enchilada or even a taco or two… all heavy on meat and cheese, covered in sour cream. I nibble on chips (and sometimes, like tonight, I do a little dipping in the queso dip) and of course, suck down a few glasses of sweet tea. Mexicans make the best sweet tea, I tell ya.

Our server was a guy named Miguel, who took forever to get there. Strike one… though let’s face it, sometimes things happen, sometimes it does take a minute or two for a server to get to the table. Miguel finally came around, we ordered our drinks and food at the same time, then patiently waited to be fed. Lucky for me, the sour cream came out with the cheese dip. The majority of the time, I order sour cream to go along with my quesadilla, but when they bring my food out, the sour cream is nowhere to be found. I have to remind the server that I ordered it (and am going to be charged anywhere for 75 cents to $1.50 for it—which is a racket, by the way, cause after dinner, The Lovely Steph Leann and I went to Publix and among our groceries was a 16 ounce tub of Daisy Sour Cream that cost about $1.95… so when I pay $1.00 for three spoonfuls of ice cream that’s about a $15 profit on each tub… sorta like paying $2.50 for OJ at a Cracker Barrel or Waffle House when a half gallon of Nature’s Best would cost you $2.95 at Wal-Mart)… where was I?

Yeah, I am sitting there with my food in front of me, cooling, awaiting the one condiment that can make my dinner perfect. Tonight, though, he brings it out with the cheese dip… it does make me wonder that had I not ordered the cheese dip, if he would have brought it out, but hey, that cancels out taking forever to come to our table.

I dig into my quesadilla and half of the enchilada, The Lovely Steph Leann is chowing down on the other half of the enchilada, we’re both tossing back queso covered nacho chips, life is good.

That is, however, until I run begin to run out of tea. Miguel stops by, asks if we need anything, and I politely say I would love some more sweet tea. He says okay, and disappeared. Cut to at least ten, maybe fifteen minutes later, the insides of my mouth filled with cheese and salt residue, glass empty save for some ice cubes and me looking around, wondering where Miguel is with my tea.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the sweet tea pitcher is brought over. By this time, I’m nearly done with my food, so I only need a few swigs to finish it off. We get the bill, its around $15, and I tell The Lovely Steph Leann, who has our eat-out money in her billfold, to give me $17. She hands me $18. I say, “I think $17 would do it. The service has not been stellar.” She insists I leave the $18.

This opens up a brief discussion on the merits of rewarding a server on both great and not so great service. The Lovely Steph Leann holds the belief that, unless the service is just filled with racial epitaphs, coffee thrown in your face, a kick in the shins and a poorly told “Your Mama” joke, you should leave the 15%. Maybe a little more. They work hard for their money, don’t they?

I worked for about 7 years in a little home town restaurant called The Wright Place, back in Samson. The first year I washed dishes, the second year I bumped up to waiting tables, depending on tips for my wages. I knew that if I didn’t put the extra gravy on the steak, or have the onions left off the cheeseburger, or have the eggs served over hard (whatever the heck that means), it is not the cooks fault—its mine. If the tea glasses got empty, if the lemon didn’t make it to the table, if the 2 creamers weren’t at the table with the coffee, then not only did I not get a tip, I really didn’t expect one.

My job as a server is to bring food from the kitchen to the table, and to make sure that food is prepared and served just how the customer, who is paying for it, wants it. Sometimes I did a great job, and got little… there was a big lug named Robert Pritchard who was on the football team, and when he came in and got his hamburger steak, his tip, along with anyone else who is sitting with him, usually was written on a napkin, with words of wisdom like “Don’t play in traffic” and “Use an umbrella in the rain”.

Now, this is not to say that if you are given bad service, you should be a prick. Not in the least… any number of things can relate to bad service, from a bad supporting staff to the server just having a really bad day. As a customer, you should never be rude, for any reason. In my opinion, the tip left should be a reflection of the service. Your control, or zero point, is 15%. Do a great job, you get 18%. Maybe 20%. You do a poor job, you get 12%. Maybe 10%. If the service is horrific, you get nothing.

All in all, this is how the conversation ended…

Me: How else is Miguel going to know that not bringing tea in a timely manner to someone who clearly has an empty glass for a very long while is unacceptable? He gets a smaller tip, and perhaps he thinks, “Wow, I should have been a little better.”
The Lovely Steph Leann: Perhaps by leaving him a good tip, he’ll say, “Wow, even though I didn’t give great service, I still get a good reward.” Maybe that will make him do better next time.
Me: In my opinion, rewarding mediocrity is a problem. You’re telling them that its okay to just be so-so, you’ll still get a good reward.

Either way, Miguel got about 20% for mediocre service. And I’m guessing somewhere, at Don Pepe’s, someone else has an empty glass sitting on the edge of their table awaiting a refill.


  1. Ahhh...the perfect story for my brand new blog.

    I loathe bad service. ...and I agree with you. Miguel, or Michael for our English speaking friends, will continue to offer mediocre service until 1-Someone gives him some training and/or advice about his waiting skills or 2-He gets no tips.

    Tips are a way of paying a waiter for good service, and good service isn't what you got...well, then...he doesn't get paid. 15% is the minimum for what is expected of him...and since he didn't do what was expected, he doesn't get the minimum. Over and above 15% is for an over and above job performance. It sounds like Miguel wasn't even in the running for anything over 15%.

  2. hahaha...thanks d$. this led to a conversation at our house about welfare and rewards...that is, until Jiminy cricket appeared in the basement and i overheard my hubby talking to him. once he let the cricket go outside, i politely told him that since he'd "thrown out his conscience," he had no more say in the matter. :) actually, we're pretty close in our opinions, probably don't care anyway. ;) hehehe.

  3. I've always been taught if the service is downright horrible, then you tip a penny. Leaving nothing makes you look like a scrooge.

  4. yeah, you're right...leaving a penny shows you're quite the philanthropist. :) hahaha. sorry...couldn't resist.

  5. My angle on this (at least today):
    If you leave zero tip, avg tip, or stellar tip - none of those matter (well, except for the stellar tip) if you don't tell the server what they did right or wrong. If you leave a so-so tip they may or may not connect the dots of the relationship between their service (or lack thereof) and your dissatisfaction to the point of not wanting to tip as much as you normally would. Of course, this isn't for the faint of heart either, but still. So I guess it's what Amarilys said too - tell the server what they did well or not so well. Of course, leaving you with an empty glass for 15 min (a lifetime in meal minutes!) isn't something that anyone would expect when dining out.

    In my mind, there's another aspect of this. As a follower of Christ, it's good for me to be reminded that I am unworthy but for the blood of the Lamb. There is nothing that I can ever do that will make me worthy of what He did for me. I can't earn that - ever. (Romans 5:8)
    But I am always reflecting on Christ - sometimes reflecting Him (which is a good reflection) and sometimes reflecting myself (not a good reflection). I have started *trying* to consider this level of unworthiness and my impact on the image of God (to those I'm dealing with) when I deal with servers. You see, I too have been a server: had good days, bad days, and even great days in this line of work. Basically, a good tip is a good reflection on Christ. I think, in general, churchgoers have a reputation for being stingy or “frugal” (not in a good way). Ask any server you know if they like to work on Sundays and then ask them why. So if I’m giving good tips in spite of the service, it’s a way that I can show grace to those around me.

    I’m not saying that either you or Steph are right or wrong. And I’ve definitely been in both of your shoes before. I’m just sharing my perspective on this. And as I like to say, it’s all about perspective. Sorry for the verbosity of this post...

  6. I do need to be clear... Miguel wasn't rude, he wasn't terrible... its just that, in a Mexican restaurant I am usually undecided about my entree, but I know I'm going to get two things--sweet tea and chips. For either to run out is just plain unacceptable, unless the place is just jam packed and covered with people (and it wasn't)

  7. (I just read Mindy D'A's response. I'm now getting in my car to drive down Lorna Road and find Miguel so I can give him the keys to my car. Even though we already gave him 20%)

    That is a great point, though... on Sundays we usually always go above and beyond in tipping, if only because I know of the reputation that Christ Followers get when it comes to tips. Good thoughts.

  8. There must have been some great soccer game on TV, or they could have been short of staff. In a Mexican restaurant, typically, you have those that wait tables and those that only serve chips and tea. While Miguel should not have been rewarded over the standard tip for standard service, he might not be used to going back to the table to check for refills, as the other employee is hired to do...the way to nix this is to pay Miguel his worth, and leave a note or a suggestion card to the manager to make sure that the staff realizes and performs their duties. The other thing to do, is to befriend the manager and eat when he/she is will never have bad service again.

  9. $3 is a good tip? That is my "insult" tip. I do agree with you about tipping based on service, but $3 is crap (which is what he deserved)


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