A lot of people think of waiters are transient folk who would much prefer to be occupying themselves with more desirable work, but as the status of chefs has become more elevated, the role of the waiter is changing too. It may be disheartening to toilers in the hot kitchen to discover that more people go to restaurants because the service is good than because the food is fabulous. Guests want to be served, not merely fed.
Every now and again there is anguished talk about elevating the public’s perception of waiters by offering them a decent salary and benefits, and entitling them to paid vacations. Sensible as this proposal seems on the surface, it continues to face implacable opposition from almost everyone. Management claims that if the extra costs were added to the check at the end of the meal, the public would be shocked, (shocked!) at the total. This way of thinking seems to suggest you can fool all the people all the time and the notion of the expectation of a tip will always come as a complete and unwelcome surprise. You might think that the restaurant industry, that has 120 million employees and generates $520 billion in annual sales and forms the “cornerstone” of the American economy, could figure a way out of this quagmire but many waiters don’t want to change the system either. In some exalted palaces of gastronomy, particularly those with grand banquet facilities, they can count on a very large “gratuity” indeed.
There is a notion too that guests like to exert their power by grading the waitstaff performance and deciding whether to leave the customary 20 percent. The total is rarely more. Sometimes it amounts to considerably less. Research has shown that men tip more if the server is female and women tip more if the server is male. Rural servers in the South take home less than those in northern cities. A single guest usually goes for 20 percent. At a table for 5 or more when the check is split, the tip is usually close to 13.2 percent. The larger the party, the greater is the likelihood of a reduced tip (unless the amount has been agreed in advance).
Apparently it makes little difference whether the server “advises” the guest to select the baby back ribs or the scallops, whether he provides his name or grovels or vanishes inappropriately, or asks “Who gets the lobster,” inquires “How’s everything folks?” or addresses grandmother as “signorita.” But as sure as sure, the tip will be significantly reduced if the waiter kneels to take an order, or touches a guest on any part of their anatomy, or decorates the check with a smiley face.
A Cornell University study reveals professional conduct and prompt attention do little to guarantee a big tip from the vast majority of restaurant goers. Instead the tip is influenced more by the size of the check and the fear of disappointing the server than as recognition of good service. If this shocking news is true, then it follows the quaint notion that good service is an incentive for a hefty tip is invalid.
In most other “civilized” countries, France included, service is included in the check so no one need engage in arithmetical speculation.
Basically though, waiting is not compatible with the American view of equality. At the First Symposium on American Cuisine, the audience was invited to come up with a new gender-neutral title for a person who brings food and takes away the plate. After much introspection it was determined that person is a “Mommy.” The term didn’t catch on though.
Democracy is the word that is hovering on every lip. It is seen in living action in fast food restaurants. You march up to the counter with your mind already made up. The giver and receiver stand face to face. The more you give, the more you receive. “Gi’mme a Whopper,” you say. And that’s what you’ll get. No tip is given or received.
Fortunately, there is still a rewarding place for a great server who works in a great restaurant especially for those who have a well-honed sense of humor.