My wife and I sat down at a local restaurant, a rare night out. When we
saw the Paul Bunyan servings, we decided to split a meal.
The waiter showed up once we had time to read the menu and raise a
"My name is Eric. Can I start you off with something expensive
He chuckled as if we were chuckling with him. Eric described the specials
in great detail, all the way down to how the lobsters felt when they
were trapped in the ocean. I don't trust specials. It has always struck
me as a euphemism for "leftovers."
I told Eric that we would split the steak and shrimp platter, and
the smile oozed from his face. He jotted my order with half-closed
Garfield eyes, glancing up only to see what a cheapskate looked like.
Eric was concerned with how much we were not spending.
"Are you aware of the split-plate charge?" he said.
I consulted my wife in private.
"What do you think, honey, should we order twice as much food
so that Eric gets a bigger tip or stick with what we want?"
She turned medium-rare red and ducked behind her menu. Eric couldn't
hear me, but he suspected. He suspected.
Over dinner, my wife and I discussed tipping from theory to practice;
and although she made some good points, I was louder.
The crux of my philosophy is this: Tipping stinks. When I visit a
restaurant, I expect the servers to be cordial because that is their
job. They don't have a doctorate, so they have to be nice. I don't
want to be bullied, however subtly, into buying something I don't want.
Servers call it "upselling," an evil part of commission-based
My wife said that serving is based on performance, but what job is
not? Should I tip the grocery clerk for directing me to the Q-tips
or the pilot for landing the airplane or my shrink for paying attention
(was that out loud)? We perform our jobs well for integrity and for
not getting fired.
Eric passed by and gave me the stink-eye. Oonga boonga.
My wife argued that servers, who are not paid well, rely on our tip,
and here we arrive at the chewy center. Restaurant owners have counted
their money behind this curtain for too long. Why can't they pay their
employees like the rest of the world? It's not for want of business:
My wife and I had to be paged when our table was ready. Even the word "tip" suggests
a choice, but who are we kidding? Tipping is optional the way it's
optional to call Mom on Mother's Day.
Everywhere you turn, it's the same thing. We throw money at cab drivers,
bellhops, hairdressers, card dealers, paper boys, pizza guys, bartenders,
skycaps, chambermaids, DJs, ushers, wine stewards, restroom attendants,
and all because Miss Manners says so. So it goes.
My wife and I finished dinner at odds. I tried to meet her halfway
by suggesting that every table come with a "tipometer" to
measure the level of service, but it only put more creases in her forehead.
Donning our coats, we decided to leave the conversation behind. And
just as we hit the refreshing night air, we were confronted by a young
man holding our car keys in one hand an itchy palm in the other.