Would you leave a lousy tip?
This week we hit one of our usual haunts. But this time, we had somewhat bad service, which is unusual given that we've mostly been pleased with this place over the years.
That happens - you never know what can go wrong in a busy dining establishment at dinner time. One tragedy, such as a failing oven, can throw the whole system out of balance.
In this case, we waited a bit longer than usual for a server to approach us - Problem #1. The dining room seemed a bit busier than we've seen, so I guess that was the reason. One server finally noticed we'd been sitting there and had not yet had coasters placed on our table, (the secret sign that servers use to tell each other that your table has been "claimed.")
"Well, I guess I'll help you since apparently nobody cares," she said, though I thought that was an odd statement to share with the customer, but then I don't know much about the business practices. We sort of felt honored, I suppose.
She brought our drinks and took our orders. But then Problem #2 came up. My meal normally comes with beans, but they were out of beans. No biggie, I guess, so I reluctantly chose from the alternatives she offered.
Our meals arrived somewhat delayed because of the great numbers of diners, I would imagine, but alas, so too did Problems #3 and #4. There was no silverware, and the fries weren't quite ready. She said, "Sorry there's no silverware - the kitchen's running a little behind. I'll be out with your fries shortly."
So there I am eating my hamburger, and my wife is sitting there with a more traditional meal waiting for her silverware. I got about halfway through my hamburger, wishing I had some fries to break up the monotony of that single item, while my wife sat there busily watching her food get cold when the server finally arrived with my fries.
I said, "Is her silverware coming?" She looked at me with a look that said, Oh, Yeah! Sorry about that, and ran off again. Now I had fries to eat with my hamburger, to which my wife helped herself, given that she was still staring at her ever-growing colder meal. The server returned with the silverware so my wife could begin eating. I finished my burger a few moments later, so I just sat and picked at the fries while she finished her meal so that there was some semblance of dining together.
Who is at fault?
So basically our dining experience was affected by at least four things:
- The delay in establishing an initial relationship with a server
- No standard beans with the meal I ordered
- No silverware
- No fries
Of these, which are the responsibility of this specific server?
Problem #1 - though we found it annoying that we sat waiting for our server, this particular server decided to break away from her station to serve us. Can't find fault with that.
Problem #2 - unless this server was somehow "pushing the beans," I can't think of any way this could have been her fault.
Problem #3 - she claims the kitchen was not producing clean silverware as they should. She went on to state that the dish washer told her that servers were discarding silverware, so it wasn't his fault. I'm not sure how that information was to add to our dining experience, but there it was. It's debatable at what point the silverware became available versus when this server found the time to deliver it, so responsibility for Problem #3 goes unclaimed.
Problem #4 - this is also debatable. Is the delay of fries the kitchen's fault, or the server's fault? She had no story about arguments with the kitchen over the fries, and it may be a standard in the restaurant business to serve fries when one is halfway finished with their hamburger, so this goes unclaimed as well.
How much to tip?
One thing that seems to add to the already controversial subject of tipping is the fact that in most cases, you're tipping your main server, but sometimes the service for which you are compensating is beyond the control of that server.
Is it fair to penalize a server who is delayed because it's extra busy at that hour? That's more a function that management is supposed to be handling. And THIS server stepped in. We cannot limit the tip from the person assigned to that table who never showed up.
What about the beans, silverware, and fries? Suppose those were entirely the kitchen's fault. The kitchen's not delivering, and who takes the brunt? The server who's not bringing out the items to serve our needs. How can we hold the server at fault for that? Yet many do.
But it is indeed the server to whom we turn to measure a restaurant's fulfillment of the overall dining experience, and the server to whom we measure the amount of additional compensation to apply in the form of a tip based on that experience.
All that said, a server does present the face of the establishment, and can go great lengths to turn problems into solutions. In our minds, this server's critique of her fellow servers and the kitchen staff left us with little belief that she was seeking to preserve much more than her tip.
However, perhaps that is the environment in which servers, the customer service representatives of the restaurant business, are placed in order to secure a living.
We took everything into consideration and ended up leaving her what we would have if service was more like what we have come to expect from this establishment.
But many would have left a lesser tip, or worse, because of the perceived lack of service. When thinking about what to leave as a tip, please consider who you're tipping, and why.