That's a tip I'd like to give a few servers I've had to deal with over the years.
But servers -- tireless mealtime concierges, they -- expect some gratuity to be left on the table after we finish with our meal. It's a tradition in our country which, if you dare peek at the man behind the curtain, is rooted in our subsidizing the salaries of the wait staff, who generally are paid some ridiculous sum like two dollars and change an hour.
Frankly, I fail to see how anyone in their right mind would choose to be a restaurant server. Tips are taxed (talk about the IRS sticking it to the poor!), and owners are required to withhold a certain amount above the base salary for 'anticipated tips.' I've heard plenty of tales about folks literally getting checks for $0.00 because of all the withholding.
Maybe there IS a lot of money to be made in tips. That has to be the only explanation; don't tell me it's because people are desperate for jobs, no matter the sub-minimum wage. You can easily get a job behind the counter as a De-D'DEEEE!! at any fast-food restaurant and make at least $5.15 an hour (for now).
Some say a proper tip is 15% of the food total. Others say it should be 20%. I've long held toward the former, but lately I've tried to tip 20% when the service is good. This, of course, is for a "real" sit-down restaurant. I tip less for buffet restaurants where the server only brings me my drink ... I usually tip 10% there, and only if drink glass doesn't stay empty for more than a few minutes.
I like sitting down at a restaurant and having pleasant dealings with a server. One who anticipates my every need (contrary to what some of you might think, I'm not very difficult -- I only get that way either when I'm left twisting in the wind or the server sets a negative tone). One who has a genuine sense of humor, enjoys interacting with schmucks like us. One who doesn't condescend, or get all phony, 'tease-y' and 'chummy' with us. I can spot the genuine people from a mile away.
To give you a fer-instance, here's one such person (and this is her real name) we dealt with last Friday night. Alison at Logan's Roadhouse in Savannah. Alison even wrote a nice "thank you" note with a Sharpie on the take-out box which Seraphim requested.
Our tab was $32-some-odd. I rounded off the tab to $40, giving her a tip of more than $7.00 -- somewhere between 20 and 25 percent, if my math is good (and often it isn't). Alison deserved every penny, and then some.
Our recent road trip to Missouri involved a stop in Memphis, where we treated Tiger to a night at the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street. This woman -- and dammit I forgot her name -- went above and beyond the call of duty with her service. For starters, the Mountain Dew was out of soda water, so she took some out of another tap and mixed it with the syrup HERSELF. As she told us, "I know how Mountain Dew is supposed to taste, I love it, and I made it the way I think it's supposed to be."
No fewer than two (2) glasses of waitress-made Mountain Dew, and both were spot-on perfect. The fizz and syrup mix was flawless.
There was also another issue at HRC, and it involved Seraphim's order. The grilled chicken on her order was undercooked, to the point of it being quite raw in the dead center. We pointed this out to her, and not only was she genuinely apologetic (it wasn't her fault; the one who prepared it should apologize!), but she went back there and when it was all over with, Seraphim got her chicken actually cooked ... and it was COMP'd! Her dish was struck from our bill.
It was a wonderful experience. And the tip? Well, let's just say that I tipped 25% of not only the food tab, but also the sweatshirt I bought for Tiger and the requisite magnet we got for ourselves (for convenience, HRC will add gift-shop items to your check). About $20 tip on top of an $80 total bill. As with Alison, the woman deserved every penny. Here's another tip: consider a job as product testing for PepsiCo. No machine can make Mountain Dew better than you did.
From that night, a new phrase has entered the already-bulging Tal & Sera Dictionary: HARD ROCK TIP, or HRT for short. It's a tip in excess of general parameters, given only when service exceeds expectations on a grandiose scale, if a server goes way above and beyond in her duties.
These restaurant servers have earned those big tips. Yet, owners still pay 'em less than three bucks an hour?? That's f(BLEEP)kin' obscene.
I can think of two other incidents where I've tipped large amounts: 1) Denny's in Dublin, Ga. on 12/25/2001. On the way back home that evening, we stopped at about the only place open. The skeletal staff were very nice, gracious and attentive. Tiger, then all of nearly 10, put a dollar into the jukebox to hear a couple of songs. But then one of the wait staff decided to fire up the vacuum, rendering my son's selections inaudible.
However, before any of us could say a word, the vacuum jockey stopped by our table and lay a dollar in front of my son, so he could hear those songs again after she finished vacuuming.
What a wonderful gesture! We left a $10 tip on a check of roughly $25.00.
2) Shoney's in Jonesboro, Ark., circa October 1985. [back when they still had an old Big Boy statue out front ... by then they hadn't strayed too far] College town, Saturday night, 11:30 p.m. Four of us were enjoying a leisurely late-night meal. Or, was it? Come to think of it, I don't think it was even that. We might've been having tea. In any case, it wasn't much. Well, our group was one of maybe half a dozen in that restaurant. And this one waitress, poor woman, was the only one servicing the entire dining room!! Evidently, there were some no-shows that night. There was a patron in another booth who was giving her a hard time, and on top of that she was being bitched at by the manager for leaving him hanging. She was this close to tears, and probably ready to walk out herself. Through all that, she was as pleasant as could be to four college kids who didn't exactly order half the menu.
Our cumulative (wait - I work in radio, I should say "cume") check was less than 10 bucks. We all pitched in, and from that one of us - I don't remember who - produced a $20 bill and we left that on the table for her, with a note scrawled on a napkin: "Hang in there." As we left, we looked toward her as she saw our tip. I think we made her night. We smiled back at her and continued on our way.
Like I said, how anyone in their right mind would want to wait tables is beyond me.
These are the good experiences. I'll outline the ugly encounters shortly. Just you wait.
Wait. Hah. Get it?
Ciao for niao.
--Talmadge "Check, please!" Gleck
Chris Cornell, My mom, and Me
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