Serving up manners, gratuity

By Chris R. Allison

Copy Editor



My first lesson about how servers should be treated came when I was on summer break in Venice, Italy.

“Do you think I have the strength in my arm to crack this shell?” the woman shrieked at the waiter. Her voice echoed across the Venetian canal and bounced off the partly-flooded building behind it. She was rather insistent that her crab should have arrived at the table pre-cracked. I cringed with the rest of my family at the scene and apologized to the waiter in the name of all Americans once the group left the restaurant.

I’ve spent the better part of my life behind a counter or desk offering my service to others. Notice I said “offering my service.” There are some of you out there who need some help with the concept. I shall elaborate for those of you in this shameful group.

Someone in the service industry is not your servant. On the contrary, they are there to provide you with a service of some kind. There’s a big difference between those two ideas.

Here’s the unwritten agreement between servers and the served: I, as your server, representative, hairstylist or whatever, agree to provide quality, respectful and timely service in return for a reasonable fee. You, as the served, agree to show me the same respect by behaving with decency and paying said fee.

It’s pretty simple, I think. Unfortunately, scenarios unfold frequently that demonstrate how difficult this concept is for some to grasp. They range in severity from the unsurprising to the shocking. All cause my frustration to build with each passing moment.

One lady is chewing out a barista because her coffee is two degrees cooler than she asked. Then there’s the keep- the-change type, who think their three-cent contribution to the tip jar will go down as an act of kindness when they ascend to the heavens. Finally, there’s the guy who’s just had a bad day and feels compelled to be rude, or difficult in the most inappropriate of ways, to anyone forced to interact with him.

Honestly, messing with the people serving you food or drinks should be off the table from the get-go. If you aren’t getting the picture, have a look at the movie “Waiting,” which features a mere handful of food service paybacks.

Here are some simple tips to help you along the path to becoming a positive, productive participant in the service industry: First, please be decent and respectful with your service industry professional. They are a fellow human being willingly trading their time for money, just like you. They have good and bad days, just like you.


Illustration by Vadim Dozmorov
Illustration by Vadim Dozmorov


Second, remember that many of these folks survive on tips and commission. The base pay is often minimum wage or below, so your generosity is important to their survival. Fifteen percent is the minimum acceptable tip amount for decent service. If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford the service.

A former friend of mine couldn’t order anything in a restaurant without loudly sending it back for some imagined flaw. After a few trips out with him, I’d had enough. Personally, since I’ve spent time on the opposite side of the counter, phone or etc., I aim to make it as easy for my server as I can. I treat them right and talk with them like they’re real people, and I seem to make out just fine. It’s all second nature for me after so many years. However, it seems a minute section of the population finds the concept tough to absorb.

For the habitual offenders of servers’ rights, I have a solution. Several countries still mandate military service for citizens. Could we not require two years of mandatory deployment in the service industry?

It would teach people how to treat others and how to tip properly – no matter who you are, where you are from, no exemptions. There you’d be, fresh out of high school, being paid to learn the valuable skills of interpersonal communication and financial management.

By the time they were 20, the next generation of entrants into the workforce would have learned two of the most important lessons in business. Plus, they would grow up to be easier to serve.

Now servers, you’re not off the hook completely. You still have to do your part. Don’t stare down into your cellphone checking your friend’s Facebook status when you should be taking me to my table. Please don’t let the last jerk you dealt with cause you to give me attitude. It was that guy, not me. I’ll overtip you, as long as you aren’t a complete disaster.

People, do your best to follow these suggestions, and all your service experiences could be more pleasant. You will live a better life, and I won’t get the urge to scream at you in the middle of a Starbucks. We will both be happy.

Servers, take good care of your guests or clients. To the served, relax a bit, will you? You’re actually meant to enjoy this, so smile, and try not to be so stingy when the check comes.