Spring-boarding from a recent post by A Brit Out of Water, (some might call it stealing an idea, but I see it as developing a theme), I was thinking about how wimpy Brits versus Americans are. BOOW (unfortunate acronym) was discussing the fact that when served a bad meal and asked by a waiter how it was, most Brits simply smile and say "Fine thanks" while Americans tend to give a blow by blow account of its failings and probably get the waiter fired into the bargain. (He said it much better than that BTW.)
However, there's one area of dining where I find Americans to be complete and utter wimps. And that's tipping. Now, any Brits planning to dine out in the States should know that there's a 15% tipping rate, at minimum. I believe in New York and LA it may be more. You can even get little tables the size of credit cards that will calculate 15% of almost any amount. (If in doubt, it's 10% then half of that again! Sometimes a bit hard to keep in your head but you can often write on the paper table cloths, thus enabling the "one" to be carried to the next column.)
Unless you're in a "party of 6 or more" there is usually no service charge added to your bill, so tipping is the only gratuity the waiters and buss boys* get. Legend has it they make most of their money off these tips. This seems to hold the entire country to ransom despite any crappy service, or cold food that comes its way. I have been in situations where the waiter was so lippy I could've slapped him, yet at the end of the meal, I was the only one who could even contemplate not tipping him. Apparently such cruel and unusual punishment would also affect other staff, which of course wouldn't be fair. Well, perhaps it might teach surly waiters to curb their sarcasm and cop a better attitude? Perhaps if they knew the entire kitchen staff would beat them to a pulp, they might remember that those pesky customers are responsible for putting bread on their table, so to speak. (Deep, cleansing breath.) In the same way, if the kitchen is at fault, then one never, ever takes it out on the waiter. If the food is slow, cold or inedible Americans will not hesitate to send it back, but the tip will never be ommitted even if no apology is given.
I suppose it's a cultural thing, but I for one, don't think that a "gratuity" should be manadatory. I have had more than one instance over here however, where I have been followed out of a restaurant for leaving an inadequate tip. The first time it was a genuine mistake. I was new here and I left a dollar instead of ten. Come on, they're all the same size and even the new ones which are meant to be a different colour are only a shade off the original. The second time though, I let rip in true American fashion! One of these days I'll probably get myself shot!
* Buss boy - is the youngster who sets the table, clears the glasses and generally appears mute. He (usually male, but not always) does not take requests for food or drink, so best wait for your waiter, who will have introduced him/herself and given you a brief life history when you first sat down.