Complaint Desk

Tipping Point: It's Cheesy to Stiff For What A Server Can't Help

I am good at working for free.

That is not to say I am good at volunteer work. For one thing, I get bored bagging groceries at the Food Pantry. It's hard to feel good about what I'm doing when we run out of supplies and have nothing to give the late-comers but green beans and evaporated milk. Merry Christmas, sorry about that whole thing where you can't afford groceries. Want some Nilla Wafers?

But I can work for free. I just finished a semester as a dedicated unpaid intern. I've worked as a server for nearly a year, and I've almost learned to swallow my disappointment when I open the book and see a measly tip. Or no tip. Or worse yet, a handful of change.

Merry Christmas. Sorry about that whole thing where you can't pay rent.

Blogs are choked with holiday tipping guides, and it seems like nothing riles up commenters more than asking for their money. Nobody cries foul at the Salvation Army when they ask for donations, but when a server expects modest compensation for his or her work, suddenly a line has been crossed.

And I get it. There are some shitty servers who make you wish you had stayed home. Some are so bad that they barely deserve the fistful of sweaty pennies jangling in their unwashed aprons. But there are plenty of good, hardworking servers who still get stiffed by jaded patrons, and not in a good way.

There are people who say, "I'm not responsible for supplementing your income," (Oh, shut up. Take that up with society), "If I don't leave a tip, then servers will refuse to work in the food industry until restaurants pay them better wages," (What? Somebody failed economics) and "If you want to make money, get a better job!" (Burn in hell, please) Don't be these people. It accrues bad karma, and worse, it makes you look cheap. Your server will definitely remember your face next time he sneezes when slicing the lemon you asked for in your free glass of ice water.

But unless your server was shamefully rude, neglectful or set you on fire, I don't understand why patrons skimp on tips. The same way most patrons are nice people going out to eat, most servers are nice people trying to help them do just that. Servers aren't robots. The standard for a tip shouldn't be so astronomically high that only a stellar demonstration in perfect service can squeeze out 15 to 20 percent.

I can imagine that maybe the restaurant only had Pepsi and you wanted Coke, maybe your hamburger was reduced to shoe leather and maybe the infant at the next table squealed like a stuck pig and tossed his Cheerios with all the gleeful abandon of New Year's confetti.

You lost total control of your dining experience and had a terrible time. So it's time to gather up the reins and yank this situation back into your hands. Consult a manager? No way. Refuse to leave a tip? That's it. Feel better now?

No. Your server doesn't, either. And as you make your way home to spend time with your family, he or she still has to sweep up the Cheerios.

So what right does your hardworking server have to pick your pocket around the holidays? None, really. But you already spent $200 on a red Wii, so what's another few bucks to your server if they did a good job? Dismantle your server point system. Embrace the giving spirit.

Tip your servers, and tip them decently. In fact, it's the holidays. Everyone is spending extra money and working twice as hard, so tip your server generously. Twelve hours on their feet toting scalding plates, mixing chocolate milk and smiling through it does deserve a good tip. If you haven't tried it, trust me. It does.

At least I didn't ask if you saved room for dessert. (I hate that too.)

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Brooke Nottingham