Snow

Don’t leave loaves and fishes as tips

asnow@newsobserver.comJune 30, 2012 

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column in which diners voiced complaints about the quality of service at some area restaurants.

Well, dear readers, today you’re getting what the late Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story.” Current and former restaurant food servers share with us the facts of life in their job.

For the most part, we, the dining public get good marks. But there are horror stories.

One waiter remembers a party of six half-tanked men who engaged in a rice-and-grits fight, flinging cooked food all over the place, then left without tipping.

Waiting tables is one of the few jobs in which one’s income is so dependent on the whims and generosity of the people they serve.

A tipped employee must be paid at least $2.13 an hour in direct wages, according to the U.S. Labor Department. If that amount plus tips received total less than the regular $7.25 per hour minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. .

In many restaurants, one waiter noted, tips are shared with the bartender and bus boys.

Dave Williamson of Durham, a Duke grad who waited tables while getting his master’s at Chapel Hill, wrote: “I do have a few pet peeves. One is against ministers who occasionally leave religious tracts instead of tips.

“Perhaps they believe that, as Jesus is said to have done, servers can convert these tracts into loaves and fishes and then into cash to pay bills,” he said.

Jane Burke of Morehead City, who waited tables during college and law school, reminds us that we shouldn’t hold the waitperson responsible for conditions beyond her control, such as a slow kitchen or a short-staffed restaurant.

“It matters not my personal feelings about the patrons I serve,” wrote Dotty Allen. “Whether they let their children cry, disturbing other diners, or expose cleavage beyond my decency threshold or lack the intelligence to use a pepper grinder, I give them the best service I can.

“I try to correct my mistakes. In other professions, a single mistake doesn’t affect a person’s paycheck as it does in ours.”

More than one respondent urged diners who are unhappy with their meal or service to contact the manager. In most cases, they said, management will be happy to correct the problem.

There are, of course, exceptions, such as my Surry County cousin who owned a popular restaurant.

One night, a passing salesman stopped in for dinner. As he was paying his check, Cousin Elbert, not known for charm and vivacity, asked, “And how was everything?”

“Well, since you ask, the steak was a bit tough and the baked potato was downright cold,” the fellow replied.

Cousin Elbert exploded.

“You come in here at closing time and we fix you a nice meal and this is the gratitude we get! Now you get your tail out of here and don’t ever darken that door again!”

No, waiting tables is not an easy job. But remember, it is the main income for many individuals.

As one reader noted, “The stereotype of working in the service industry being a second job or the means of working one’s way through college is just that – a stereotype. It’s their career. It’s a real job!”

I hope you readers have a new appreciation for what it’s like to depend on the generosity of strangers to pay the college tuition, put food on the table at home or pay the bills at the end of the month.

So, treat your waitperson with respect. And leave a fair tip of coin or cash, not something that has to be converted to loaves and fishes and eventually to cash.

Snow: 919-836-5636

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