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Note to my double birthday couple

I knew I was screwed when you were sat in my station at around 6:15 last night.

The bottle of wine that you brought in, a bottle that would cost around $300 on our wine list if we offered that year of that vintner, was the first tip off.

The second was your first comment to me – “We are going to be here for a long time” was the second.

The third was your demeanor. I think the word would be “dour”.

Now, how could a couple celebrating their shared birthday be so sullen? I really don’t know. However, I shifted into a mindset that refused to share this sullenness and gave in to the idea that they didn’t want to be rushed. I probably heard it three times that “We’re in no hurry”.

So I played to that. I asked them when I should bring their appetizer. They told me, “In around 10 minutes. She wants to finish her sherry first”. Cool. So that’s what I did. I didn’t even take the rest of their order until after their appetizer was finished (dismembering each of the 4 shrimp took her about 5 minutes – I didn’t know you could cut them into such small bites).

When I took their entree order, I asked them, “Should I wait to bring their salads”? they said, “You can bring them whenever you want; we’re in no hurry”. “Does that mean that you want me to wait a few minutes”? “No, you can bring them now if you want”.

So that’s what I did.

Of course, it took them around 20 minutes to eat their salads. That was fine – I was resigned to dragging this sad excuse for “celebration” out. I didn’t have anything else really going on anyway.

I carefully metered their wine from the decanter that I had provided for them, making sure that they didn’t run out early. This meant watching the levels in their glasses so that I only poured a tiny bit of wine just before they were finished. this was the only way I could make the wine stretch for almost 3 hours.

When I cleared their salads, I told them, “Once I call for your entrees, it will take about 5 minutes. Would you like me to wait”? “No, you can bring them out”.

So I called for the entrees and sure enough, about 5 minutes later, I brought their perfectly cooked steaks out for them. “That was fast”. I let that little bit of passive-aggressive slip go right by.

When I cleared their entrees, I asked them if they wanted to see the dessert menu (I already suspected the answer, because this was a ploy for me to surprise them with a free birthday dessert). “No,” he said, “we’re full”.

So, around 10 minutes later, I brought out the free dessert, complete with candle.

She ate most of it and then asked me to box up the miniscule portion left.

No problem; that’s exactly what I did. It was now around 9:15.

When I presented the bill, he pulled out a free entree coupon.


Their bill was $160 after taking off the dessert and the entree. The original amount would have been around $220, not counting the free dessert, which I wrote on the bill and the credit card slips.

Why was I not surprised then when I got to close out the credit card transaction for a $25 tip?

I checked the percentage and it was 16% of the pre-tax total on the new amount.

They probably thought that this was an appropriate tip for outstanding and patient service for their 3 1/2 hour meal (they left at 9:45).

So, thanks a lot.

Now, why wasn’t this an appropriate tip? Let’s look more closely at this.

They took up my table for almost 4 hours.

They brought their own expensive wine, which I carefully decanted and served, paying particular attention to always having just the right amount of wine in the glass.

They got a free entree and a free appetizer.

These are all things that a reasonable person would compensate for. Hell, at least leave 20% on the pre-tax total to send the message that service was top-notch.

But even that mediocre response to being catered to hand-and-foot would have been somewhat of an insult.

Here’s the deal – if you get a free entree or complimentary food, service isn’t included, so you should tip on that unpaid amount. If you bring in a bottle of wine, you should, at the bare minimum, up your tip. Real wine people, the kind that buy bottles of boutique California cabernets with 9 years of age, tip on the amount that it would have cost them had they ordered it off of the menu. I know, because I’ve served most of the serious wine collectors and drinkers in this town. But I would appreciate just an extra $10 tip for the service for that $300 bottle. That’s the least that they could do.

These folks will be back, of that I am sure (they are in our reservation system as being semi-regulars).

I have their name and should I wait on them again, they are going to get the type of service that they pay for. No caring about the pacing of their meal. I won’t be asking them how they want to be served. I will provide the kind of service that will be robot-like and just speedy enough for them not to be able to accuse me of “rushing them”. I know exactly how to serve them so that they are a minimum distraction to me or my other guests. In other words, I will revert to being an order taker for them.

They are, what’s called in the retail business, a loss leader.


Interesting takes on the verbal tip from Waiternotes

From our friend at, a pair of missives on verbal tips and how they are possibly becoming a new way to avoid the responsibility of a proper tip during economic hard times. It’s not a new phenomenon as servers have become wearily used to guests using phrases like “Thank you for your great/excellent/perfect service” as a substitute for part or most of the tip. I’m sorry, but if you enthuse to your waiter that you just got great service, a 15% tip isn’t appropriate – that’s the appropriate tip for just average, do just what is necessary to get your food – hell, at least bump it up to 17% if you want to do the bare minimum to back up your words. It’s an outrage for this phrase to accompany anything less than 15%, especially if it’s on the pre-tax total. His point is that he’s seeing it used by people that you wouldn’t expect it to be coming from and he posits that it’s becoming a coded apology that times are tight and “I’m can’t tip as much as I used to” as much as it was always a way to assuage guilt by guests who knew that they weren’t going to be tipping very well. He presents his theory pretty well between the two posts.

His most recent posts as of today (6.8.09) are on the subject (there are two so far). I hope some guests read this, but I suspect that the ones that read his sort of blog aren’t the type of people to display this rather sad-sack behavior.