Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Here's a Tip...

The summer after I graduated from college, I moved back to my hometown for a few months to plan my upcoming wedding.  I got a job as a waitress at the local restaurant, not only to earn some much-needed cash, but to gain some experience as a server.  I knew that once I headed to NYC after the wedding, I'd probably do my share of waiting tables as I pursued my career in theater.

Boy, did I suck at being a server.  No, really, I mean it.  I was terrible.  I am a horrible multi-tasker, so I'd run literal laps around the restaurant as I tried to remember to bring each requested item to each separate table.  If the host sat guests at more than three of my tables at a time, I'd usually panic, hyperventilate, and/or cry.

When I finally DID move to NYC that Fall, I humbly admitted my server-challenged abilities, and decided to go the temporary secretary route instead.  The restaurant world breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Some good did come of my short-lived waitressing experience, however. I have an enormous respect for those who do this job well, and I tip generously.  Actually, I've always been a pretty big tipper (if I do say so myself!), even when the service is sub-par.  I may leave a little less, but I know what it's like to hold a job where your salary is low because your employer knows your pay will be supplemented by gratuities.

When I receive service that is poor, I try to understand that maybe the waitress (or hairdresser or nail tech) is just having a bad day, and I still leave something.  Maybe the customer before me was abusive and surly, or maybe she's just exhausted because this is her second job and she was up all night with a crying baby who refused to be consoled.  Or maybe he's a college student who forgot to put a lemon in my Diet Coke like I requested because he's distracted by the fact that he has a really important final tomorrow.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when at 47 years old, I am once again working for tips! That's right, in my current position as a ghost tour guide, my paycheck is pretty meager, because my employer knows I will receive tips each night.  There is even a portion at the beginning of the script I recite each evening which refers to this.  That's where I remind my guests that "gratuities would be greatly appreciated" at the end of the evening.

Because of this, I work very hard at making my tours special for each of my guests.  I memorized, word for word, ten (TEN!) pages of an intricate script, involving dates and historical facts.  I try to add my personal flair to the stories (without changing the facts) so that they are sure to be entertaining.  I take my guests to the best places to capture "orbs" with their cameras, and I wildly "ooh" and "ahh" when said orbs actually appear on their digital screens.  As we walk from location to location, I ask them about where they're from and what they do for a living.  I listen with wide eyes and gasps of fright as they tell me about their ghostly encounters experienced in their own homes and places of business.

A few nights ago, I had a effervescent woman on my tour who gasped and showed me her "goose bumps" after each story I presented.  When we arrived at the last location, she asked me to go slow because she was so sorry the tour was coming to an end. As I finished, she shook my hand, thanked me for a wonderful time, and left. Without leaving me a tip.

This happens time and time again, actually.  People smile and laugh through the majority of the evening, tell me they had a delightful time, and then refuse to tip me.  They watch as others press some folded bills into my hand, watch as I tell them how much I appreciate it, then turn and walk away without giving me a second thought.  Now, I must tell you, I'm not a single mother who desperately needs this cash to put food on the table.  My income is just a supplement to what my husband makes.  But still, it stings.

My husband has worked in every capacity of the restaurant business for the majority of his adult life.  He told me that this is just how it is when you're working for tips.  He told me that it often happened when he used to tend bar, putting himself through college.  He said he'd take special care of his customers.  He'd prepare the drinks just the way they liked, engage in witty conversation, and provide excellent, prompt service. Then, they'd get up and head for the exit, leaving no tip at all.  He told me he learned not to take it personally, and that I shouldn't either.  But I do.

So, what's your theory regarding gratuities?  Are you a generous tipper?  Have you ever worked in the service industry?  If so, how did you get past the sting of being "stiffed?"  I'd really love to hear it.

In the meantime, I hope that the next time you leave the table, the salon chair, the pedicure foot bath, or the wonderfully informative, tremendously entertaining ghost tour, you'll think about us poor folk who tried to go the extra mile for you, to make your experience special.  And I hope you'll show your appreciation with a little monetary token of thanks!  Also,

Thanks for Reading!!

20 comments:

Debbie(single;complicated) said...

hmmm..this made me think! I do not think its personal...I am that single mom, and sometimes I have not tipped when I had a choice , based on lack of funds. This made me think again in this area! I always tip at restaurants...but there are other places I have not! Thanks for the reminder!

Randy said...

Great post Joan. I waited on a lot of tables back in the day in NYC. It was amazing how people wouldn't tip.

I also remember that guests at restaurants are quick to blame the server and almost never take into account that the server is mainly the "middle man" - they don't cook the food and most of the time the server has NO power to get it done faster. I waited tables in a lot of restaurants where I was at the mercy of the ego-centric chef and would sometimes PLEAD for them to get my food out. And then I would be the one who would get stiffed. Mind you, the chef got paid his salary...

In a related way - as a Realtor you'd be amazed at how often I have potential clients come ask to go look at several homes - which takes hours to compile a list and then take them around to. And then get insulted when it comes up they haven't been pre-approved for a mortgage (which of course means I had just wasted all those hours).

It would be great if everyone thought just a moment about whether or not they are wasting working people's time. Or would at least tip their entertaining guide at the end of the evening...

Shady Del Knight said...

As I'm sure you know Joan, "tips" stands for "to insure prompt service" and tips were originally meant to be given before instead of after a service is rendered. Every once in a while I enjoy giving a tip up front because it's a class thing to do and I perceive myself as someone with class.

I can tell that you are a top notch docent and I wish that I lived closer so that I could take your tour. Some tour guides that I have encountered are robotic and ramble through their memorized speeches in a monotone, acting as if they can't wait to get through it, get your group out the door, and bring in the next batch of losers. It is obvious that you are a breed apart and that you earn your tips. I can understand how much it stings when you get stiffed. I am a generous tipper. In a restaurant I leave a baseline 15% tip for mediocre or poor service and considerably more for good or excellent service. When I compensate someone generously it makes them happy and makes me happy. In the back of my mind I am aware that my generosity helps to offset the poor tipping habits of others. Why can't people understand how rich and abundant life can be when you give?

Red Shoes said...

My son and daughter have worked in such environments... I became more aware of what I was leaving when I had a better understanding of how hard they were working and how little they were getting paid... I even tip the person who brings my cherry limeade to me at Sonic... The last time, the young lady told me I gave her a $1 too much... I told her that I hadn't... that it was for her... she just beamed!

~shoes~

just call me jo said...

I try to tip generously. Sometimes, I just don't have a plentiful tip available. I would tip you profusely if I were on your tour. I find you most entertaining. Consider yourself tipped extravagantly for this blog--cha-ching!

ReformingGeek said...

For the longest time, I didn't realize tips were not just appreciated but expected from tour guides. It would help if the tour documentation would have something about this up front because sometimes when you're on vacation, you don't always have enough cash.

Now that I'm more aware of tipping for tour guides, I make sure I have the cash available.

At restaurants, if the service is average or sub-par, they may get 15%. I realize people have bad days but I still expect them to be pleasant (not bubbly) and refill my drink correctly, get the bread I asked for and check in periodically.
If the service is excellent, I may tip as much as 30%.

Good Luck!

Rachel said...

I can appreciate how hard it would be to multitask like that! I have always been a good tipper, just because I cannot imagine being on my feet like that and having people be grumpy/hungry/impatient.

One of my friends who was dying of cancer... made a point of leaving large tips for friendly restaurant staff that he knew could use it. The memory still makes me smile.

Stacie said...

I served almost the whole time I was in college so I can definitely relate to this post! I hope the people you lead on the tours start to get the hint, there's no way they could have a better tour leader!

I Wonder Wye said...

When I moved west I ended up waitressing out of college at a ski resort and you're right it was HARD work. And I was just as lousy a waitress as you! I tried but it just wasn't in my DNA, either. I think people who have worked in service-related jobs always tip generously b/c they have been on the receiving end and realize the difficulties involved. No matter my financial situation, I tip. Afterall, if you can afford to get whatever service you're getting you can leave a stinking tip. Some of the people I couldn't abide were the ones leaving a 'statement' tip like a penny or a quarter, if something happened that cheesed them off -- like it was the waitresses' fault if the chef or cook messed up their order...

Linda Myers said...

We were in a tiny town in Nebraska recently for three days. A very young server, living with her parents and her baby, was friendly and kind to us for each of our three meals eaten in her restaurant. She even remembered I liked extra butter with my potato. When we left for the last time our bill was $10; we left a $15 tip. She's got a long walk ahead of her.

Looking for Blue Sky said...

Brilliant post Joan. It's slightly different in Europe, but having read 'nickel and dimed' I would definitely tip if I was in your country. I've also worked as both a waitress and a tour guide. The waitressing work paid for my social life as a teenager and so both the pay and the tips were a bonus, but now I think back to the older women who worked there and how important the money must have been to them. Part of one of my later PR jobs involved giving guided tours - usually to foreign dignitaries - and like you I really used to put a lot of effort into them so the audience would be entertained. Tips were not involved, but I was often given presents, and I have an unusual collection of artefacts from around the world as a result :)

dana said...

My husband used to tip on the high range of high, which - to a country girl, seemed wasteful. After I found out how poorly waitresses are paid, I out tip HIM. And tour guides? They do what they do hour after hour, day after day. The tedium has to be horrible. Joe always pulls them aside and happily lets them know how important they were to us.

Shan said...

I am a very good tipper at all the usual places, but I will admit that I occasionally find myself in situations where I didn't realize tipping would be expected. I rarely carry cash, so I end up feeling like a schlub.

I Wonder Wye said...

p.s. Glad you came on over! Thanks so much! Wanted to say we share a love of the same movies -- have all those in my library!

Ally said...

even if i've had a horrible meal or my manicure wasn't that nice, i always tip a minimum of 15% ... it's like i'm guilty. i just have to tip. i can't not tip. i don't even know how to do that. there are times when i just like a waiter or starbucks kid so much because they were sweet or kind that i've given them an insane tip, like the bill could be $10, i give them $3. i'm not even working right now, i'm just funny that way i guess.

FourthGradeNothing.com

Mercy D'souza said...

I've never thought of tipping in that light before. It is interesting to see it from a different viewpoint.

Kellyansapansa said...

Tipping isn't standard practice here in Australia, but whenever I travel I make a point of finding out what the tipping etiquette is wherever I'm going. When I visited the USA I tipped about 20% for everything because I was so worried about offending someone!

Bluebird49 said...

Good post--I've never been a server, 'cept at home, where o got no tips! But--I-or we, if my husband's along_always leave at least 20%--no matter the service. More if the service is good. We don't have a big budget, but honestly, I have seen the way servers work, and they have a to to remember and SMILE along with it.

I wonder if men are better tippers than most women, cause when I've been out with other women--they all want everything separated on the check, and they count out tips in pennies and things! I just think it's sort of stingy the way they are--and they're not as cordial as men seem to be--and I'm not even the server--I'm just the served and observer.

Honestly--I'd have never THOUGHT of tipping someone who is a guide! Now--I thank you--because I'm going to Charleston this summer, and I will know how to act from now on!

Pastor Sharon said...

Excellent post! I am a big tipper. I have never waited table, even though I think I would have fun doing it. My son has. I have heard his stories and now yours. I always tip at least 20%. More if the service was outstanding.

suenosdeuomi said...

No doubt the way you write you must be a great and entertaining tour guide. Having worked as a massage therapist in spas, tipping can really vary and I made it a point not to expect tips, but my base income per massage was o.k.. Odd, though that the clientele of one spa would tip generously while in another spa the same service would get often no tips. It must have something to do with the social and financial standing of a customer. I would suggest a reminder at the end that tipping would be appreciated along with a mobile credit card device for those out of cash. Economic times are tough for many and not tipping may indicate not only a poverty of spirit, but also the pocket book. Don't take it personal!

I have considered playing tour guide, but stumble over the requirement for a commercial drivers license. I like the idea of welcoming people in various languages to our town.

Post a Comment

Wow! You're going to comment? Congrats, you are now, officially, one of the COOL people!! (And, thanks!)