Sunday, March 20, 2011

Here's a Tip: Do a Good Job

As a kid, I imagined someday starting a restaurant inside a plane. People had turned rail cars into a restaurant, I wanted to go big. But the catch was, above every table there was a little display. So if you were happy about your service, you reached up and pressed one button and the number went up. If you were unhappy, you pressed another and the number went down. And then the third button, of course, called your server. Now, I'm not sure if that idea would ever fly, but I always thought it was cool.

My wife and I are usually pretty good tippers, probably her even moreso than I. We've worked crummy jobs for low pay, we know how it goes. We've even seen what good service can do. (How many besides me have ever been tipped for working at the cash register before? I know! Yeah, yeah, flip side is that I, as a high schooler, have made other high schoolers quit in tears by suggesting that they shouldn't be there if they didn't care about the job. I've always cared about my job, whatever job it was.)

So tipping, despite it all, has always been a sore spot with me because I really want to be cheap. But I still feel obligated. Do a good job, get a big tip. Do a lousy job, get a poor tip. Do a horrendous job, get a tiny, tiny tip and a note about why.

And usually, for me, you have but one job. Keep my drink full. It's not a difficult job. I think the worst was a restaurant called Cheeseburger in Paradise in Hawaii. Refills were not free. I was well, well aware of that. But the food was good, plentiful, salty and it was a hot day. I don't want to tell you how much I spent on soft drinks that day, but I could have easily spent much, much more if they had just bothered to keep them coming. It was our honeymoon, so we had a bigger budget for stuff like that. But, still.

I don't know why, but it often feels like lately that great service is hard to come by. Now, in L.A., service could be inconsistently good or bad, but usually it was by restaurant. There were those that hired actors who wanted be acting instead of waiting, and then those that hired better actors who acted like they wanted to be waiters. (I say this because I have not heard of a lot of people who wanted to wait tables long-term. There are some that have made a career out of it, but for many, it's a stepping stones, a means to an end, a way to get the bills paid. Even so, you still have the choice whether to bring your A-game or phone it in.)

Maybe it's not as important up here. Down there, you never know who is somebody. Maybe your next break is the irritating guy on his cell phone who asks for egg white shallots off-menu. Or the woman eating alone reading a book may be someone who pre-screens screenplays for so-and-so. So maybe here in Washington it's obvious you are not a somebody and so there's no reason for pretenses. But it's felt lately like we've been pre-judged. We're out on a date without the children and you seat us on the enclosed patio with all the families with children. Take forever to bring us our food. Or our check. Or our credit card back.

But if you decide ahead of time that we're not going to be big tippers, we can tell. And then when you give us poor service and we give you a small tip, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that's just sad.

But, act like you want to be there, act like you're having fun, and we'll believe it. Keep my drinks filled and we'll reward you for it.

(That's not my receipt up there, just one I found on Google Images.)
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