Saturday, May 30, 2015

Here's a Tip: Buy Low, Sell High

There seems to be a lot of back and forth when it comes to restaurant tabs. 

On the bad side, there have been insults from patrons about the wait staff or insults about the patrons from the wait staff on credit card receipts. It's nice to know that in this modern age of Twitter and Facebook, we can still send messages by passing notes. 

But on the good side, we've seen stories of the big tips and messages of support and gratitude that appear on credit card receipts. The most recent of these to make the news is the story of the $93.00 restaurant bill... and the $2,000.00 tip! (Click here for more on that story.)  

My experience with being a tipper did not get off to a great start. My first time paying for a meal in a table service restaurant, I did not leave a tip. Why? Because I was stupid, that's why. When I was kid growing up, the big culinary excursion for my parents and I was to travel 20 miles north of my hometown to eat at Hardee's. And not even IN Hardee's. No, we would eat in the car. To be fair, I kind of thought that was cool. 

But I think I can count on one hand the times we actually went to a proper restaurant where we sat at a table and was served by a waiter or waitress. And either I wasn't paying attention to the act of tipping or my dad didn't leave a tip. 

In my defense, I think that when I was a kid, the idea of tipping wasn't a universally understood thing. It was one of those things rich people did in fancy restaurants on TV or in the movies. Maybe tipping became more of a thing because we wanted to show off like movie stars. "Thanks for the meal, babe, and here's a fiver for your trouble." 

Tipping is a lot easier with credit cards. If you spend $10.00 on dinner and all you had left was 3 bucks and that was for gas to get home*, well, sorry, lady or lad, but I can't cover the tip. With the advent of credit cards, tipping became easier. You could be generous to your waitress, even you had no change in your pocket and your credit limit was buckling from the stress. 

*Clearly this in 1970's money. 

Still, I tried to be meticulous with tipping, calculating down to the penny what I was going to leave for a tip. "OK, the tip comes to two dollars and 47 and a half cents. Ah, live a little, make it 48 cents!"  

When my wife and I started dating, the standard for tipping was 15%. I was good with 15%. I mean, anybody can figure 10% then add half of that amount to the total, voila, 15% tip. 

Over time, the range for tipping has inched up to between 15% and 20%. Some restaurants will helpfully calculate choices for tip amounts for 15% ("you cheap bastard!"), 18% ("you picky bastard!") and 20% ("Thank you, sir! Next time, we won't spit in your food!")  

20% seems to be the accepted standard. But my wife still keeps trying to calculate 15% whenever she pays for dinner. "David, what's 15% of $30?" she'll ask and I'll tell her $6.00 so the waitress still gets her 20% and my wife thinks she's saving money. Everyone's happy! 

But these big tippers showing off with their $100 tips or $500 or even $2,000? Are they setting up an expectation for servers that anything less than a miracle largess is less than satisfactory? God, I hope not. I can't tip in that league. 

I did go a little happy with the tipping a few times last summer and fall. The El family was venturing out from the Fortress of Ineptitude to watch Doctor Who episodes at the Geeksboro Coffeehouse & Cinema. On the same block is an Elizabeth's Pizza so during that 12 episode season of Doctor Who, we ate at that location 4 times. I would've been glad to eat there every Saturday; Elizabeth's has great Italian food. 

So we got a waitress named Amber who looked just like Jenna Coleman who plays Clara on Doctor Who. And Amber was funny and friendly, the whole family just enjoyed having her as our server. So when I settled up the tab which was about $30.00 (not bad for the best pizza you'll ever eat plus salads and drinks) and wrote in a tip for... $10.00! 

Yep, I tipped our waitress 33%! 

But we loved Amber (seriously, I think we would've adopted her as a daughter if we could!) and we asked for a table in her area in our next visits. The problem was I had set a precedent as a big tipper! A full 20% tip would make her think she did something wrong. So I reigned myself in and only tipped her 25%. Which is what I tipped her the next time. My wife picked up the tab for the last meal.  

"David, what's 15% of $30.00?"

"Uh, $8.00."

"I thought it was $6.00."


"Oh, okay." 

We haven't been back since Doctor Who's last season ended. It seems like every Saturday has some other plan or obstacle that keeps us from going. And what if Amber's gone? She was working her way through college and maybe she's moved on to bigger and better things. Which would be great for her but would suck for us. 

Except I would be able to save money on more reasonable tips. 


Hey, I brought up Doctor Who and that segue-ways us into tomorrow's post as present another installment of this blog's celebration of Doctor Who's 10 years back on the air. Tomorrow, rank and review the episode of Series 2, the first with David Tennant as the Doctor.

Until next time, be good to one another. 

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