Monday, June 2, 2008

Scaredy cats

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.


  1. LOL -- I can't believe you were followed out of the restaurant because of the tip. I would have been mortified. (yikes!!!)

    Many years ago I'd gone for a meal with a friend before heading to the cinema. In our rush to get there on time, I neglected/forgot to leave a tip. Halfway through the film I realised this, (literally let out a loud gasp) and felt awful for the rest of the film. Later on, I returned to the restaurant and gave the server a tip. She laughed, but was most appreciative. Having waited on us before, she said she figured it was an oversight.

    A friend's very "high strung" daughter was working in a suburban breakfast type restaurant during her junior year of high school. She'd waited on a family of 7, who were very difficult, loud and demanding. They ran her ragged, stayed too long, and left her a one dollar tip. She ran out after them to the car park, holding the dollar bill in the air, while shouting.." forgot this!!!!". She handed the money to the father and added.."you must need it more than I do"....and ran back inside.

    Quite the drama queen -- she was known as "Sara Heartburn"...

  2. I must admit I usually mess up tips - either too small or too large! The recipient usually sees me cringing as I put the money down. Sometimes building up to it - overshadows the whole meal! You give a good account of it here and if I ever go to the US it will sure help! Thanks.

  3. By the way, "Happy Birthday to the Little One"..

    I hope his birthday is filled with all things good!!

  4. I agree tipping should not be mandatory, and if the food/service is not up to scratch they don't get one. And, I tell them why they're not getting one,otherwise I'm just perpetuating the problem.

  5. Lillie - I may have to steal the name "Heartburn" for my eldest. Hilarious! And the little one is 5 today - and even told the garbage men this morning. Very excited.

    Hadriana - I so understand how the tipping can spoilt the meal. If I don't have change I usually fret, forgetting that I can just add it to the credit card payment!

    Janet - we should all take a tip (sorry!) from you!

  6. Well you see that's why I think I should have been an American all along, 'cause I do complain about food/service etc!

    Plus I am totally with you on the tipping, the Hubster and I always discuss first, generally do 10% as the normal, zip if it's really bad and 15% if exceptional.

    I agree poor service = poor rewards

  7. It was tipping the bar staff in the equivalent of a pub that caught me out. Here it's easy, double the tax.

    I like the 'brief life history' of the server's introduction, so true, so true.

  8. Thx for the congrats - and yes, I find the art of tipping in the States truly a nightmare x

  9. I used to really resent feeling obliged to leave a tip, and then I had a housemate who was waitressing her way through school and I found out what she made per hour. I had no idea that minimum wage does not apply to waitstaff! She was paid something insane like a dollar and hour and was expected to work hard to get tips.

    After that I didn't feel so resentful about tipping - but I still make an effort to have the tip reflect the service we received. (Especially if someone went out of their way to be helpful, or the children were particularly obnoxious.)

  10. A funny story about tipping (if I may)

    This happened during my first visit to London (10 years ago), on the first day there.

    I went to the theatre with an english friend (hubba hubba). On the way there he paid for the taxi, and I insisted on paying for the taxi for the return trip. It was £7. I didn't know what to tip, so I gave the (Grandpa-like) driver a £10 note, thanked him, and walked away. (I know I know.. I'm an idiot)

    He called me back.

    I returned to the window, and he handed me three £1 coins. I stood there frozen, with the coins in my extended hand, not knowing what to do. I whispered out to my friend "what should I do"??

    And he instructed me to give him £1.00. It didn't seem like enough. So, I gave him £2.00

    My friend later said.."I bet he was kicking himself for calling you back"....

  11. I'm surprised he called you back to be honest. When my husband was the American in London, they used to try to drive him all over the place before he told them he lived there and knew the road home!

  12. That, as I'm certain you know, is very typical for Chicago cabbies, especially at the airport.

    A number of years ago I was collecting a friend's Mum at O'Hare, when I heard a frenchman (loudly) arguing with a cabbie.

    When he noticed me looking towards him, he came over and asked if $75 was a fair price from O'Hare to the downtown area. (this was over 20 years ago). I told him it was highway robbery. Since he was so endearing, I just offered him a ride myself. It wasn't far out of the way from where I was dropping off my friend's Mum (although I made her go with me)

    Frenchie was very kind,and sweet, and as it turned out, was friends with the Cirque du Soleil people in town, which was the purpose of his visit, and invited me/us to attend. I wasn't able to go, but appreciated the invitation nonetheless.

    And then I got one of those "if you're ever in're welcome to stay with me and my family"..

  13. I usually get "Which way would you like to go?" meaning they have no clue and please would I give them directions!

  14. So much for the "Knowledge" huh?

  15. First time I tried to take a cab in London I was looking for Paddington Station. I had no idea where it was so I was relying on my usual method of getting in a cab and asking him to take me there. But when I told the cabbie where I was going he said it was just on the next steet. In NYC, I would have been given a tour of downtown and dropped off with a $50 fare.

  16. My husband used to be a terrible tipper and it took a trip to the US for him to understand the 10 per cent rule... Now he's as good as the best of them and we no longer skunk out of restaurants....

  17. I was shocked to hear you were followed out of the restaurant because of the low (according to them) tip you had given. No wonder the waiter wore roller skates on the Martini advert a few years ago!!

  18. I do resent having to fork out for waiters who are not courteous, helpful & good at getting the order right. I think I would have to say something! I would probably end up getting shot!

  19. I once went to a meal that was so bad we refused to pay let alone tip - the manageress fed us a sob story and we all said, so? Not our problem, pal... But it ruined the evening so wasn't worth it at all. Maybe we should have been British and kept schtumm...

    I've been enjoying your comments on my blog, thanks...
    and I've just tagged you for a music meme...

  20. Haha! I used to work with a girl who would follow people out if they didn't tip well, and I was shocked. The only people I ever followed hadn't paid their bill at all. Stupid kids... muttermutter.

    Love your writing! Thanks for stopping by mine... now I have a new expat blog to read!


  21. Tipping in this country always puzzles my European visitors. I remember once a Brit pal of mine was asked by the waitress (after he paid in cash) if he wanted any change? He was indignant, which seemed funny to me at the time. I kind of understand where he's coming from but the waitress had no ulterior motive aside from not having to check back with us unnecessarily if she was finished with our table. I do find Brits quick to bristle over small, perceived infractions of anything.

    I don't think there are many Americans who have not waited tables at some time in their life. Minimum wage does not apply to wait staff (or busboys with whom the wait staff share their tips). I have no problem leaving 15 to 20% if the service is good. If it's not good, I leave 10%. If the waiter is rude, I leave squat. It's why most waiters are good in this country...they're counting on that tip.

  22. I always feel pressured to leave a tip even if it's been rubbish. Just can't do the walk of shame without having left a bean, even if I'm resenting every step and every penny! But what I really object to is the enormous mark up on wine.

  23. Oooooh! How BRITISH of you to resent mandatory tipping.

    I used to get pissed off going into a pub in New York and having some snotty bartender say: 'Oh, you're British? Just to remind you, we tip over here in America.'

    To which I'd respond: 'Not after that little comment we don't.'

    But my wife was a waitress for five years and I worked in the hospitality industry myself, so I totally think tipping is great.

    Punish BAD service with no tip - but remember than waiters and waitresses survive on tips (normal wages are less than minimum and barely cover health insurance) and normally you'll get far better service in America than the UK because of tipping, so I'm surprised some people don't support it!

  24. It's actually much better, if the service was unsatisfactory, to leave a very small tip--a few pennies. It lets the waiter know what you thought of him, as opposed to making him think you just forgot.

    If you're in a nice restaurant with a bus boy, bartender, and hostess, you can make a point of tipping each of them separately, and cutting out the waiter. It's a lot of work, but it properly punishes the person responsible for the bad service.

    And it doesn't hurt to complain to the manager. There is no rule that says you have to tip at all. Period.

    I chalk up the cultural difference to being simply that Americans generally aren't comfortable ordering other people around. Europeans, I gather, thrive on it :) That said, I guess the guilt manifests itself when you get crap for food and service; you suffer in silence, figuring it's your just deserts. Meanwhile, since Americans are all on same terms, if the wait staff isn't playing fair--well, that's when all hell breaks loose with the complaining

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