I have always considered myself a fair tipper, but lately I have run into very few servers who have qualified for any overage of 15 percent, and in several cases, I have met with a server who didn’t at all deserve 15 percent of a dinner bill that came in at over $100 for two. But, as usually, I hung my head, and did the ingrained calculation, and now I wonder, am I perpetuating a service issue?
Milwaukeeans are eating now in a city where the average dinner price is falling in somewhere around $18 per head (I have not done any qualitative research to find this figure; perhaps that is for another blog), and that is with menial or no appetizers or any alcoholic drinks. For a dinner bill for two, a server will earn anywhere from $5 upwards of $25 a head in addition to his wages, which are usually still a woesome $2.33 an hour.
The issue I see is that we have become so accustomed to tipping at minimum 15 percent, that the worst of the servers are still making nearly as much as those servers in Milwaukee who truly shine -- in other words, those who excel at serving are not being proportionally rewarded for their professionalism and extra attention to detail, because even if they do a sub par job, diners are ingrained to tip all servers at least 15 percent.
At some point in time it seems to me that gratuity became less an expression of gratitude from the diner for outstanding service than it became an expectation from the server to get 15 percent without putting in any extra effort.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some exceptional servers in Milwaukee, and they are truly the servers who deserve the 20 and 25 percent plus gratuities, which I urge you all to offer them graciously, and which unfortunately likely causes some of you to flinch.
But when I encounter instances like I did last week at one of Milwaukee’s highest rated restaurants, it makes me want to send all of us to the New York Professional Service School. I actually witnessed a waitress scoff at a customer that if he could afford to be dining at said restaurant, he should not bother even looking at the monkfish, but should instead just order the lobster tail. And she wasn’t remotely joking.
I am tired of receiving wine glasses with lipstick on them, dirty flatware, empty water glasses, and the pretentious attitudes that come with requesting these issues be resolved. I understand that mistakes happen, but part of being a server is actually serving the customer, and gladly remedying these problems when they are respectfully mentioned instead of turning up your nose or huffing and puffing. I’m the first one to laugh off lipstick, but not as quickly when the server is concurrently rolling her eyes at me.
Cornell and various other universities over the years have done studies and they’ve found that little nuances in serving like adding a simple “Thank you” or a smiley face to a dinner tab will exponentially increase gratuity, and it’s for a reason. We all want to feel special when we go out to dinner, and it is our server’s job to make us feel that way; that is why gratuity is not included at most restaurants, it is meant to be a compensatory reflection of a thank you for a job well done.
If we could all, diners and servers alike, remember this as we eat out, the compensation gap would quickly widen between those servers who are auctioning off food and those who are passionately aiming to improve our dining experience, and I think we would all be better for it.
Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.
The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.
Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to OnMilwaukee.com.