It’s definitely tempting, I’ll admit that much. Every time I get poor service at a restaurant — dining experiences during which I’m reduced to sucking on ice cubes to quench my thirst, my server is unfriendly and impatient with me or I’m left sitting waiting for my check to get picked up for 20 minutes at the end, I think about how sublimely satisfying it would be to just leave a big, fat, vengeful zero on the tip line when I finally sign it. Yet, I never do.
I always leave a nice tip when I eat at a restaurant because I figure there is always a reason to leave a nice tip. Some days I feel morally obligated to leave a nice tip just in case some jerk before me left a really bad one, and other days I remember that the server is just another human being, who probably has financial obligations such as paying for school, whose failure to refill my water shouldn’t count as an unforgivable enough crime to warrant my petty adolescent vengeance.
Plus, there are other things to take into account too — if I’m walking into a greasy Waffle House diner at 2 a.m., I should hardly expect to be treated with the same service I would expect at a glitzy upscale restaurant in Midtown. And if I’m trying to cram my way inside of a tiny, crowded breakfast restaurant with a party of five guests at noon on a Sunday in spring, I really shouldn’t complain that the hostess takes too long to seat us or that my server doesn’t have time to sit and chat with me about my cats while I eat my meal.
On top of all of this, I can recognize that serving is hard work — it’s a demanding job, both physically and emotionally. It’s not uncommon for a server to be on his or her feet for eight hours at a time or to clock in six miles on a pedometer in a single shift. And I haven’t even begun to fathom how infuriating it must be to deal with certain customers — hunger tends to bring out the worst in people. As Steve Dublanica described it in his bitingly sarcastic memoir Waiter Rant, your hungry guests treat you as if you are threatening their very survival when you can’t get food to the table quickly enough or when you mess up their order.
Despite all of this, poor tippers still exist in the world, and to me, they’re on the same level as people who spit on babies and kick flowers. I guess it’s not entirely their fault though. Restaurants practice barely any transparency with their policies, and people who have never served really have no idea of knowing how the tipping system works.
According to Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America, written in the style of investigative journalism by Barbara Ehrenreich, the average server in America is paid $2.15 an hour — significantly below the minimum wage of $7.25. This is only legal because servers are being tipped in addition to hourly wages. This way, the meager two bucks that the restaurant doles out almost always goes directly to taxes, leaving the server with a paycheck that ironically says “not a paycheck” at the end of each payroll.
I read Nickel and Dimed when I was 14 years old, back when I was still a fresh, impressionable young’un living off of my parents’ allowance. The surprising information Ehrenreich documented during her experiences as a dive diner waitress hit me hard — when people don’t leave tips (they actually aren’t legally required to do so), they probably don’t realize that that’s what comprises more or less 100 percent of the server’s income. It’s not always obvious.
Plus, the 15 percent tip standard has been around for decades — isn’t it time the food servers of the nation finally got a raise? After all, if you can’t tip 20 percent for excellent service, maybe you shouldn’t be spending your money on eating out in the first place. There are a slew of reasons to tip well; lots of servers are students who are trying to put themselves through school, or maybe you just need some good karma for yelling at that homeless person in Little 5 last weekend. Plus, it’s undeniable that Emory students are often profiled by the rest of the Atlanta community as being some spoiled rich kids who don’t know the first thing about making a living — let’s not perpetuate that stereotype by being insensitive restaurant guests.
But the situation isn’t always so dire. Dublanica goes on to detail the little ways he managed to exact revenge for his own peace of mind — all the times he “upsold” rude customers and hustled them out of their money while making helpful suggestions for the nicer ones at the next table. And let’s not even talk about all the things Dublanica, and probably thousands of servers all over the nation, did to that pasta in the back room before bringing it out to that yuppie couple that always tips poorly at table 12. I’ll leave that up to your imagination the next time you’re figuring a tip while eating out.
Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College sophomore from Atlanta.