So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Tipping in US vs. Europe Round 2

2) Tipping demeans waiters.

Across the entire service industry, from the cable guy to the auto mechanic to the barber, the person performing the service is, for the duration of the service, in a lower social position than the client. The client has requested something, and just sits there while they service provider is doing all the work. But the temporary difference in social standing is much greater for someone putting food on the table in front of you. It’s one thing to say, “Bring me food,” but it’s another to say, “Bring me food, and if you are slow or don’t smile at me, then I’m lowering the negotiated price!” Suddenly the waiter’s social status has plummeted. It’s demeaning.

Now that I think about it, I can’t think of any other non-tipping-based service where the client has the right to raise or lower the negotiated price after the service has been provided. To anyone who has not grown up in that culture, the idea is ridiculous!

My reply:

As far as the second point, I think it’s a bit presumptuous to decide for someone else what they might find “demeaning” or might actually *be* demeaning.

The tip turns a subservient service position into a sales position, which affects the “social standing” somewhat. The tip is somewhat analagous to a commission in the sense that it’s based on a percentage of what is sold. It’s a little different in its application of course, since it’s not only broken out separately and not included in the price of the product, it’s also”voluntary”. Many commissions can certainly be negotiated (auto sales being one of the primary examples, but having been a sales representative I know that commissions are often negotiated in other areas as well).

I am happy being compensated on the quality of my service (generally speaking, of course). If I”m a salary person, I’m no better than a *true* servant. Personally, I find this more “demeaning” than getting paid for the quality of my service directly by the guest who received my service.

The fact that someone might, on rare occasion, act like you describe, it’s far more common for the guest to appreciate the type of service that they’re being given. We have a big responsibility to the guest, and most of them are appreciative and aren’t at all like “master and servant”. I’m speaking from the viewpoint of someone who has waited on over 10,000 tables in three different levels of restaurants for over 11 years as a server and 4 as a manager in a restaurant (I got the job during my first waiting job after I got back from Europe – I also had over 2 years as a server in the early 70s and 2 years in 1980 – 1982.)

I also think it’s a plus to be able to pay a true price on a product that reflects the amount of service that you received and it’s probably one of the most efficient, as the consumer gets to pay for the service that they receive separately. I usually don’t get a lower price on my tune-up if I’m ignored when I bring my car in and I have to wait an extra hour to get it finished because most of the mechanics are on lunch. I don’t get a lower price on the widget that I buy in a department store if a stocking clerk was rude to me.

If I’m in Germany, I’m going to have to pay the service charge whether I get good service or not, unless I “negotiate” with the owner. So, “negotiation” isn’t a distinction that is unique to tipping. If I am surly and slow, then I probably shouldn’t get compensated as well as if I were pleasant and efficient. Sadly, inefficiency and unengaged gets a pass way too often in our commercial interactions. I’d argue that tipping gets an advantage in this area. I don’t see tacking on a mandatory service charge which pays the wait staff has any inherent advantages.

chain gang

BTW, you used to be able to buy this “uniform” at www.buycostumes.com. It’s proven so popular that it’s now unavailable. They’ve got others though, many with fashionable stripes.

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