The Wait Debate: Are Waiters Worth the Tip?
Waiters are a mainstay in the restaurant culture, and tipping is a social convention. But is it time to eliminate the tip?
It’s likely the House will fall to Republicans this November, so let’s remember what happened when they snuck into bed with Bill. School uniforms, NATO bombing the snot out of the Serbs, and — get your food stamps ready — welfare reform! Yes, Babar and Eeyore decided all handouts would have backbreaking strings attached.
Fourteen years later, it’s time to reform another welfare system: waiters. (Sorry, feminists – “servers” makes them sound like cost-saving robots.)
As anyone who has visited a food truck or hip burger joint can tell you, it’s not that hard to get your own food. Get a flashing pager thing, find a Pavlov and salivate when you buzz.
Waiters mostly exist to sell patrons on more-expensive “specials,” encourage you to buy high-margin booze, and theoretically make you feel pampered – as if the missing link from your home kitchen isn’t thousands of dollars and years of training, but a collared, coiffed community-college student.
“Refill your water?” Yes, thank you! Who needs a soda fountain with a water tab? “How’s everything?” Wonderful, now that you’ve put me on the spot and, spineless American that I am, I don’t want to complain! Yes, my burger is bleeding like Edward Cullen bit its neck, but who am I to demand that you correctly scribble “medium” like an cranked-out emergency room doctor? “Can I bring you the check?” Sure, now that I’ve drilled you with eye contact for five minutes, indicating I’m ready, while you avoid my gaze like a beeper salesman on “To Catch a Predator.”
For your waiter’s efforts that preempted your light exercise during a meal, you award him 15 percent of the check – and increasingly 20 percent, calculated after the tax. Thus every meal morphs into a progressive tax system, charging you more for having the courtesy to order more expensive menu items.
This is basically a modern version of gleaning, in which landowners skip over the edges of their farmland so the homeless can pluck the wheat. But God never let the landowners steal the pants off the homeless. Federal law allows employers to pay their employees as little as $2.13 because tips bring their wages to the federal minimum – a “tip credit.” Depending on your state, your tip may also get shared among all restaurant employees, even the lazy, incompetent waiter the table next to you is too polite to bring to management’s attention.
How is this not welfare, if not indentured servitude? If the Obama administration is so concerned about employers skirting wage laws by hiring illegal immigrants, why leave out white waiters from Walla Walla?
It’s time for civil disobedience, a nationwide strike against tips. Get your friends and families excited about paying the check and nothing else next time they go out. Tell them to scribble on the receipt, “The rest of the world pays waiters a real salary. Amend the FLSA.” Even without our own high-priced lobbyist, Congress can’t order us to tip on the check. They’ll turn on the National Restaurant Association and its wage slavery if we all play John Galt.
Will this cause menu prices to spike? Only if restaurants keep in place their bloated staffs and suite of superfluous services. Waiters of the world, untie your cash-pocket aprons! Wouldn’t you rather be a food entrepreneur like Chef Spike? If we pull over the food truck on our guilt trip, bright young culinaturals could spur an era of innovation focused on quality food, not propagating penury. We’ll go out to eat more often at a wider variety of establishments if we’re paying for good food, not starched shirts with tucked-in ties, sour smiles and obliviousness to performance-based payment on par with teacher unions.
More small businesses and local markets, fewer fat kids. Are you on board, Mrs. Obama?
Keep the Tip: The Wait Is Worth It
Not for nothing, but I can’t stand waiters either. First there is the neutering of the word: they’re called servers now, as if waiter is more perjorative; personally, waiter seems less injurious than the slavery implication brought on by “server.” You might as well call him “Boy,” or “Garcon!” if it’s a girl.
Then there’s the wildcard. At any given restaurant, the enjoyment of the experience is a complex equation involving the decor, table cleanliness, attentiveness, and not least, the quality of the food and the cost of the total occasion. The server is the loose spoke in an otherwise predictable machine.
Nevertheless, I’d sooner give up the ability to pee standing up than remove waiters from our restaurant experience.
Waiters rarely receive the praise of Solomon, only damnation (like Absalom), because a good waiter, like the architect’s monogram on a bronze plaque in a dimly-lit lobby of a fantastic new building, only leaves his or her name behind on the check; what we remember is the service, the helpful instruction–yet it’s not coddling–the easy performance as the dance is danced.
A good waiter will be invisible until the moment when you most need her, and then she’s there, like a genie who just wants to please.
And here we get to the meat of the meal. To remove the time-honored tip from the repertoire of our evenings out would be a crime against the angels of our better nature. Tipping appeals to our simultaneous need to be loved and our need to feel superior. Tipping a good waiter feels good, but more important is tipping a bad waiter. When we do so, we prove to ourselves that we are bigger than what capitalism tells us we are, that we see value in the person, not what a person can give us.
Moreover, tipping recognizes the inherent value of service itself, fulfilling one of the tenets of a Jesus-based faith; to reign, one must lower himself to the place of a servant. Servers are a challenge to our very notions of a risk-reward system of capitalism; we tip regardless, though we may adjust our tip arbitrarily to effect some measure of value on the service itself.
Moreover, waiters are worth more than their occasional appearance might seem. They are the conduit between the crusty Grahams of Hell’s kitchen and the Ambien-t atmosphere of a high-society dining area; without waiters, our meal experience would resemble Dawn of the Dead’s hordes, with crazed patrons ripping each other to shreds in an effort to retrieve their ticketed plate from the gleaming chrome of the service window. Waiters prevent chaos and madness, like Ayn Randian Gary Coopers roaming the feral sage. Their tip befits their general social policing.
Waiters also explain haughty food terminology, enforce drink refills and question the quality of our meal. Yes, we could do without these luxuries, but isn’t it the little things that count? Anyone can get their own refill. The richness of the dining experience insists that you should not have to. In short, waiters are the Great Equalizers, the benefactors of a social inheritance that lasts a few hours; while heirs, we are on a level plain with our betters.
From a purely communist perspective, tipping is the vaccination against higher food prices and luxury reduction while permitting people of all stations to enjoy the momentary feeling of wealth, taste, and a life of ease; it is our culinary penicillin against savage classism.
I don’t believe tipping encourages better service from waiters any more than Dollar Scratchers promote racial integration in low-income areas. But it is a necessary, even useful cultural tradition.
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Copyright 2010 The Moderate Voice