Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Tipping Point?

The intersection of service tips and social media has made it into several prominent news stories this year.  

Two particularly noteworthy stories were the Drew Brees story (really a 'no-story' if you ask me) in LA, and the lesbian waitress story in NJ.

For the unfamiliar, a waitress at a Chinese restaurant took to social media to complain about the inadequacy of a tip left by the Saints QB on a takeout order.  The lesbian waitress story centers around a woman named Dayna Morales, who fabricated a $0.00 tip receipt with a lengthy explanation for the lack of tip (..'we cannot support your lifestyle...')  She took to Facebook to complain, and soon she had received thousands of dollars from around the world, which was supposedly bound for the Wounded Warriors Fund, but somehow never made its way there.  Shortly after her story hit the news, the couple that had supposedly written the comment produced proof of the ACTUAL tip, via a credit card statement.  It was generous, and they quite calmly pointed out that they had no way of knowing -- let alone caring -- about their server's lifestyle.

Anyway, both the waitress from LA and the waitress from NJ were fired for their actions, one of which just showed bad judgement, and one of which crossed a completely different line.  

Locally, I can't help but notice that the baristas at my favorite caffeine-before-the-train haunt are making a habit of posting detailed information about the tips that they do (or don't) receive.  Inevitably, those posts are followed by long strings of the 'string 'em up' variety, with each commenter outdoing the last about the cluelessness or evil spirit of the bad tippers. (For those who don't live in Lowell, this is a strictly service-at-the-counter establishment -- not a place where people are paid sub-minimum wage because of an expected pourboire).  Some of the best comments are the ones where people complain about "just getting the change."  I'm not a math guy, but if your throughput is dozens of people per hour, and you're getting "just the change" on top of your base wage, that ain't so bad.  

They may be tipping some customers right off the edge.  

Here's why:  I already have a hard time justifying a $2.87 habit, as much as I love the iced coffee there (whaddothey put in that stuff...seriously?)  Especially when I face down the reality of my own fiscal cliff, coming in about 5+ months, when I lose that 'break-from-reality' status known as 'full-time student,' I'm going to have be more honest about where I can cut some corners. Even if I (correctly) justify my 6:30 a.m. habit by saying I want to get out, stretch my legs, and breathe some outside air, I can do all that with a walk around the block, homemade cup in hand.  

The thirteen cents I get back, I could part with.  Sure.  But if THAT is somehow still not enough, what is?  A buck? Again, not a math guy, but that looks like a 35 percent cost increase to a habit that I already know, deep down, to be a guilty pleasure.  

The easy answer is to just start putting that fancy-pants Cuisinart coffee maker I got as a wedding gift three years ago to better use.  


kad barma said...

I consider my $5 beers to already be $6 beers before I even leave the house. If I were drinking $3 cups of coffee, I might consider them to be $4 cups of coffee depending on the care and service with which they were delivered, but I would never mistake what it's like to try to earn a living on minimum wage service jobs.

I might suggest, in pursuit of this argument, that you stick around the counter next time you're down for a cuppa, and estimate/observe what goes in the change cup over the course of an hour, thirteen cents at a time. I'll bet it's far less than you think.

The New Englander said...

Fair enough. But I think part of the issue is the customer's expectations.

Having worked as a restaurant server at a TGI Friday's and in an all-purpose role at a bagel shop, one key difference is that in the former case, I earned a sub-min. wage because the industry allowed it -- I depended on tips.

At the bagel shop, I made the princely sum of $6.00/hr, and I don't remember tipping ever being part of the equation.

Prior to all these posts on FB (the one I responded to yesterday is not the first I that I saw), I honestly did not understand the expectation at Brew'd. I thought that anything -- even the $.81 on, say, the change from a $4.19 order paid with a $5 -- was considered extra.

If I really stop and think about it, a lot of when I do or don't tip is just about what I understand the societal norm to be. Cabbies? Always. The cashier at Market Basket? No. The guy at the commissary who helps carry bags to my car? Yes.

From all of this discussion (and I read a lot of comment threads on various sites last night to try to better understand the issue) I'll come away with a better understanding of all this, and will adjust my tipping for coffee-at-the-counter from a haphazard practice to a standard practice.

Which also means I'm serious about that Cuisinart thing.

kad barma said...

It's why they sell beer in package stores. ;-)