Oh, this was a LINE?

Short post today, it has been a long week and while I still have many peeves to cover, I intentionally chose a short one today.

A few weeks back two friends and I were on the hunt for steampunk clothes and stopped by a Taco Bell to grab lunch.  The three of us lined up behind the lone customer at the register while he sorted out his order.  As he was ordering an older man walked in the door, looked right at the three of us (making eye contact with me, the first in line), and promptly chose to stand right in front of me.  My jaw dropped, and I hesitated, for perhaps he was just planning on asking a quick question, or something he felt was worthy of cutting in line.

A few moments later, the first customer shifted down the counter to wait for his order to arrive, and the older man stepped forward and began to order.  "Sir?!" I interjected rather loudly, "Sir - we were in line ahead of you!"  He soundly ignored me, acting as though he couldn't hear.  The cashier looked at us, looked at him and I shrugged at her.  She mouthed "sorry" to me while he began rambling his order off.  After he had paid he stayed firmly planted in front of the register as the cashier looked at him with a confused "Why are you still here, I told you to move down to wait for your food" look. 

I stepped up, caught his eye and asked "Sir, if you're done ordering, could you let those of us who were ahead of you in line actually order our food?  You pick it up down there once you've ordered."  I motioned to the other end of the counter. 

"Oh, you were in line?  I didn't even see you!"  Was this guy's only defense.

My jaw drops again, and I composed myself with my best "customer service" deep breath.  "Yes, sir, we were.  Could you please move out of the way and let us order now?"  He slid half a foot away and I turned to the cashier, who apologized.

Now, in my head I was screaming "YOU LOOKED RIGHT AT US!"  I know he saw us, I know he was aware we were a line, and I know he chose to ignore that fact because he figured he could play the "I'm old" card and get away with it.  And you know what?  I hate him.  I hate him for reinforcing a stereotype that the elderly are weak and deserve to cut and can do impolite stupid things because of their age.  My grandparents are not weak, they would never cut in line, and they certainly would never do something impolite just because they knew they could get away with it.  It is offensive, rude and messed up.

And I hate him.


I'm just a teenage dropout, baby

Once upon a time, while working at the game store, I encountered the perfect example of a customer who treats retail employees as beneath them and worthless.  While this is an extreme example, I want everyone to pay attention, because it has at it’s core many great lessons as to what you shouldn’t do to your retail friends. 
It was a quiet Wednesday night, and per normal, I was working by myself in the store.  The owners of the store had a fairly strict policy that we were required to approach customers at least every five minutes while they were browsing in the store to check and ensure they were finding everything alright.  This is a fairly normal policy, however, this game store was very specific about the time period, and the owners were in the habit of having dinner at the restaurant across the hall to watch and make sure their employees were following procedure, so it was vitally important to my future survival as an employee to make sure to follow this policy to the letter. 
About an hour before close a woman and her two teenaged children walked into the store.  It had been a quiet evening and I’d managed to get every display straightened except for the perpetually disarranged novelty shot glass display.  I was in the process of meticulously sorting the various glasses into the appropriate spot on the display stand as they crossed the threshold between mall and store.  Reasonably happy to see my first customers in over half an hour, I greeted the very dour faced mother with a cheerful, “Good evening! Let me know if the three of you need any help finding anything!” and smiled warmly at the group. 
Dour-face looked me in the eye as I greeted her, then turned to her kids and motioned to them to look around with a sharp, dismissive wave of her hand, all without acknowledging me.  The kids headed toward the board games along the right hand wall of the store and started browsing.  Dour-face followed a few silent steps behind them as they excitedly started looking through the games.  I glanced at my watch, quickly gathering that this woman clearly didn’t want anything to do with me, and made a mental note of the time for our five minute rule.  The kids were vigorous with their search of the games, and I watched with an inward wince as they picked up box after box and put all of them back down either upside down or backwards.  I returned to sorting out shot glasses, making sure to watch the group to see if they suddenly had the standard, “I’m looking for help” body language.  The kids seemed pretty content to sort out which games they liked for themselves, and dour-face was intent on ignoring me, so I let them be for the next five minutes.  Glancing at my watch I knew it was time to confront dour-face again, and I was lucky in the fact that at the exact moment that I was to check in on them, the daughter had wandered over to the shot-glass rack.  “Still finding everything alright?” I cheerfully inquired of the young girl. 
The daughter gave me a smile and lazily answered, “Yeah, I’m good,” casually spinning the rack around to look at the shot glasses organized by novelty phrase. Dour-face came over to insert herself between me and her daughter before I could reply, “Let me know if you have any questions,” so the phrase died halfway through my reply.  I moved off to the counter a few feet away, checked my watch, and settled in to wait for the next five minutes to pass. 
I have a personal rule that if I’m working in a slow store I won’t straighten up after customers until they’ve left.  I think this is an important customer service issue, since most customers don’t like having it rubbed in their face that they don’t know how to clean up displays after themselves.  Since the store had been straightened to perfection just before these customers had come in, I was simply making a mental map of where they were interfering with this perfection, knowing that after they left I’d probably have plenty of time to clean up after them before the next group came in.  Given how slow this store was on Wednesday nights, I would be lucky if I had any other customers this night.  I busied myself filling out the paperwork to show that I’d done my shift’s required deep-cleaning (pulling out all the puzzles in the back, left hand section of the store and wiping down all the shelves and box tops to prevent dust).  I also checked the daily sales totals about five times to look like I was keeping myself busily away from the woman and her children, and then just pretended to straighten the small items up at the cash wrap, which they absolutely didn’t need.
The seconds ticked by, and five minutes passed.  The kids were no closer to deciding on a game, and the mother was starting to look more and more annoyed.  I had made sure to keep occasionally glancing their way, to ensure they weren’t reaching that important questions stage, and every time got an evil glare from the mother, so I made sure to keep my distance.  However, five minutes had gone by, and I knew that meant I needed to actually speak to the group.  I casually approached them and from about five feet away just called out, “Still doing okay?”
Dour-face turned into angry-face as she quickly crossed the distance between us, leaning down over me and putting her face a few inches from mine.  In a very low, threatening voice said, “Look, I didn’t come here on the first custody visit I’ve had with my kids in two years to be incessantly harassed by some high school drop out sales associate.  Because you couldn’t fucking leave us alone, I’m taking my kids and my business elsewhere.  Enjoy your miserable life.”  She then turned, walked back to the kids, who had actually come very close to deciding on a game, grabbed the game out of their hands, threw it to the floor, and grabbed the two teenagers by their arms and forced them out of the store. 
In the years since this incident I’ve naturally come up with about four hundred responses I could have had to that situation.  Instead of a witty response however, I just stood there, shocked as the woman dragged her kids out of the store.  I remember the apologetic look they had on their face, and I honestly just couldn’t say anything. 
I’m going to insert here that I was not even remotely a high school drop out.  In fact, I was working this job in the evenings after school.  I was in advanced placement classes and had already been accepted into college.  Working retail, however, the automatic assessment that most customers make is that any associate is a drop out.  The nasty truth is that most stores won’t even look at your application if you aren’t currently enrolled in school or have graduated.  When sorting through the hundreds of applications we would get at the game store, applications without a graduation date listed or with “GED” automatically went in the discard pile.  Years later, this story sticks with me because of exactly how hurtful this woman was.  I don’t care about the lost sale, I don’t care about the millions of other small pet peeves this woman violated, but the insult that I was a drop out has stuck with me for years. 
Retail is a tough job, and the number of employees I’ve watched wash out because they couldn’t handle the pressure is staggering.  Yet on a regular basis I would have some irate customer who would pull out the classic, “I can’t believe you messed this up, your job is so easy a monkey could do it!” I’ve always wished I could challenge every customer who says that to actually stand in my position for a day and see how well they handle the job.  I know for a fact that every customer who has ever used this line would likely crack under the pressure long before finishing the day.  This principal is true in service as well – servers are the best multi-taskers you will ever encounter in your life.  The amount of intelligence necessary to keep track of four or five tables worth of orders, drinks, pacing in the meal, whether table 1 has a special event, table 2 has an allergy, and table 3 would like you to always have four cherries in their Shirley temple, is pretty daunting.  In retail you have to be totally immersed in your product, you have to know exactly where everything is in the store, you have to know the company rules, how to run the computers and you also have to be an expert at interpersonal interactions to maximize sales.  I’d have to watch to make sure I could clean up after my customers, and I’d have to multi-task while assisting numerous customers.  For example, while working at the shoe store, if I was helping more than one customer I’d have to recall that one customer was a size eight, one was a size nine and a half, and one was a size five.  I’d have to remember exactly what event or reason each person was looking for shoes to make sure I was providing appropriate suggestions.  If the size five needed a two inch heel, and the size nine and a half wanted flats, it would be embarrassing to bring out a size five flat and a size nine and a half heel because I got their requests mixed up.  Meanwhile I have to juggle my company’s desire to bring out four styles of shoes to every customer, making sure to present care items to everyone, and making sure I gave the appropriate amount of attention to everyone.  I would have to maintain this level of focus every day I came to work, and I would have to be cheerful and upbeat.  Less than a week after a death in my family, I had to work the busiest shopping day of the year in my store.  Despite my recent loss I was expected to be the epitome of customer service, a vibrant, excited associate.  Imagine having to do that for a typical office job.  Most professions have a decent amount of lee-way for when you have a bad day – retail and service can’t afford that lee-way because of the nature of their business.
In addition to these mental hurdles, retail and service employees face huge physical hurdles.  I’ve watched employees manage to juggle the mental gymnastics necessary to be an adequate associate, and then crack because of the physical demands.  Working retail your average shift entails eight hours on your feet, usually walking back and forth for your entire shift.  If you’re lucky you get a job that doesn’t involve lifting, but those are few and far between, so typically you’re having to lift ten to twenty pounds worth of merchandise repeatedly during the day.  We usually don’t get regular bathroom breaks, particularly in the smaller stores where associates are expected to work their shifts alone and without closing the store.  You typically get one meal, and as most stores don’t provide refrigerators or microwaves to their employees, it is usually mall food or something really basic from home.  When I was working in solo operations I usually would go my whole shift without eating at all, rather than have to chance mall food.   The same principal applies to drinks.  Since we spend most of our day out on the sales floor we don’t have many opportunities to grab a sip of anything. So your typical employee is usually very exhausted physically, hungry and thirsty. 
Oh, and on top of that, we have to deal with all the different types of people this blog is cautioning you not to be.  So now we have a mentally demanding job, a physically demanding job, and a psychologically demanding job.  There is no doubt in my mind why I got to watch roughly half of my employees disappear after a few months.  Yet this is the industry that is widely stereotyped to employee the majority of the drop outs and failures.  We’re assumed to be unintelligent and uneducated, when typically most of my co-workers were earning complicated degrees or had already earned them.  It is a magical person who actually enjoys this torture, and thrives on it.
So the next time you walk into a store or restaurant, please consider the basic level of consideration you’re giving your associate or server.  Pay attention to exactly how physically demanding the job actually is, and how mentally demanding as well.  Put yourself into that job and try to think through how well you would be able to manage all those details.  When your associate slips up a little, don’t berate them or treat them as though one slip up makes them unintelligent.  If you wouldn’t want someone disrespecting you in this manner, don’t disrespect those around you in this manner.  Because if you treat us like drop outs, we’ll hate you.  Without being even a little bit sorry.

Listen, I hate you:
  • You assume I'm stupid because I work retail
  • You assume this job is easy
  • You wouldn't last a day in this field of work
How to be likable:
  • Respect everyone you encounter
  • Realize that every job is a tough job (except ice-cream taster, I mean, that's awesome)
  • Keep your grumpiness to yourself


The Floor of Invisibility

The other day I was riding the bus, hanging out in the back like one of the cool kids, when I noticed someone taking advantage of a unique property of public floors - the fact that they make things invisible.  This kid hopped on the bus a few stops after me, half empty Pepsi bottle in hand, backpack slung over one shoulder, and settled into the seat opposite me.  He quickly polished off the rest of his drink and started slowly peeling away the label.  As the pieces tore off he shoved them down between his legs onto the floor of the bus, slightly kicking them away.  When the label was totally gone, he set the bottle on the seat next to him and just looked out the window for the rest of his ride.

I was seething on the inside, because this is one of my particularly major pet peeves.  Working in restaurants I've noticed a tendency for people to let things that fall on the ground become invisible.  In fast food it is their napkins - used or not, the moment they hit the floor they disappear!  I am honestly startled any time I see someone reach down and pick up napkins that have fallen to the floor around them, because the standard is to just leave them where they lie.  Receipts and other paper goods also magically become invisible once they touch the magical floor of invisibility.

But the floor's magical properties don't just extend to paper goods.  Parents are particularly good at this trick - when you are getting ready to leave a table and notice that there are crumbs, or just chunks of food scattered all over the surface, someone will inevitably take a napkin and try to "clean up".  This form of "cleaning up" usually involves brushing everything off onto the floor and then ignoring it.  I mentioned parents are good at this trick, right?  That's because every time I see the disaster area that a child once inhabited, the table will be conspicuously brushed clean, while the floor for a two foot radius will look like a mini food-tornado hit. 

When closing at my restaurant I have to sweep under all the tables and chairs.  We're pretty busy, so while we do make an effort to sweep up messes during our shift, usually only the really major ones get picked up.  I'll pick up enough napkins off the floor to fill an entire dispenser over any given shift.  By the end of my shift as I'm sweeping up the debris of the past four hours, I usually end up with an enormous pile of discarded food that could make an entree all by itself.  These are the discarded pieces of food that the floor renders invisible. 

How can you avoid this?  Obviously you aren't going to get down on all fours and pick up every single lost tomato chunk, or piece of rice, or breadcrumb that you drop.  Eating can get messy too! You can't help occasionally dropping something (it's okay, I drop some food here and there occasionally too).  However, I tend to notice who has worked in areas with floors of invisibility due to some simple clues.  First, when they are brushing off a table, they'll brush it off into a napkin or onto a tray, which then gets dumped in a trash can, rather than on the floor.  They'll pick up their napkins off the floor if they fall (usually they don't fall at all, because people who have had to clean up after others tend to be more careful themselves).  Finally, in general they tend to eat more neatly - when my co-workers and I take our breaks, after our food is gone we can pick up our baskets and generally not have to wipe down our tables.  This is because we know how to carefully eat our food so that chunks don't go flying off into the distance.  I honestly don't know how people manage to eat their food such that half of their entree ends up on the table and floor.  It baffles me.  But people making huge messes when they eat is a completely different entry!

The real problem here is the same one that leads to littering.  Once you decide that the mess isn't your problem, you don't have to pick it up.  The restaurant pays someone (me) to pick up your napkins for you when you throw them around like confetti.  The bus hires people to clean up the trash you leave behind.  Someone is going to pick up that can or cup you left sitting on the wall.  Trash cans are always too far away, whether 10 feet or 2 feet from where you are standing.  No one believes in the "Pack in in, pack it out" philosophy - "I brought this onto the bus, so I should make sure I take it off the bus when it becomes trash"

Rounding back around to that kid on the bus.  About a half-dozen stops from my own he pulled the cord and grabbed his pack to leave.  His bottle and label remnants were all set to be left behind.  I stopped him, told him to pick up his trash and that he should be ashamed.  He did so, and a small part of me is hopeful that next time he'll be a little more careful about how he treats his trash. 

Listen, I hate you:

  • Trash you don't want isn't your trash anymore
  • The floor makes things invisible
  • You make a huge mess when you eat (More on this later!)

How to be likeable:

  • Pick up your garbage
  • Put your garbage in the trash
  • When you try to clean up messes, don't just brush them onto the floor


Hang on, gotta take this Cell...

Boy has it been a busy morning for you! The office just won’t quit calling, your kid has his birthday this weekend and you have to find a gift, and your spouse is alternating calls with your office trying to make sure you get the right thing for your kid.  It’s pretty hard to believe that just a few short years ago we survived without that blessed invention – the cell phone.

Or perhaps you just happened to be out shopping at the exact moment your mom decided to call for the first time in a few weeks and you just have to catch up with her.  You know you can’t be rude to her, because you’re such a likable person, and thank goodness that we invented cell phones so you can do so while you’re trying on shoes at your favorite department store.

Perhaps even more familiar to you is this scenario: You’re stopping by your local fast food restaurant and you can’t remember what your spouse wanted for dinner, so you call her while at the counter to quickly check, ordering while on the phone.  What a miracle that we’re able to do this now, rather than having to guess or remember what our loved ones like to eat!

Cell phones are a fantastic invention.  When I’m not at work, I’ll admit – I’m pretty attached to mine.  Whether I’m texting non-stop or using it to keep in touch with my family who live a few states away, my phone and I are rarely apart.  That being said, the moment I set foot inside the door of a business my phone gets slid into a pocket and I don’t look at it until I walk back out again.  If I’m shopping I keep it on vibrate and only answer it or text with it when I’m far, far away from a sales associate.  Because there is no singular thing I can think of that makes me hate you more than you talking on your cell phone when you’re in my store.

When I started working retail cell phones were still a commodity.  Occasionally I’d run into a customer who would be on their phone trying to track down their spouse in the mall because they were on their way to the food court for lunch, with my store as their last stop.  Or perhaps a quick call to check on what exactly was the name of the board game they were supposed to buy.  But generally my encounters with cell phone customers were few and far between.  Always there was an embarrassed apology, a quick step to the door or corner to quickly finish their call, and they always finished the call before resuming a discussion with me.  I liked those customers, and I still like them to this day, which is exactly why I strive to be one of those customers – someone who only uses their phone in an absolutely urgent situation if I am in a store.  Someone who doesn’t try to maintain a conversation with an associate (clerk, cashier, employee) while I’m on the phone.  And I never, never try to pay while on the phone.  I have been known to hang up the phone when I reach the cashier at even the biggest of big mega mart stores.

Somewhere in the year that I was away from retail this standard practice changed.  All of a sudden customers were trying to keep a conversation going with me while their phone was cradled against their ear.  It became common practice for me to have to interpret erratic hand gestures and mouthed words.  Suddenly I was having third person conversations.  “Well, she’s looking for a shoe that has a strap on it, but not a thick strap… Oh, wait, it’s not a thin strap either.  And it has a heel?”  Cell phones are now everywhere, and rather than it being a rare customer that rudely tried to talk to me while maintaining a conversation on the phone, it became a rare customer that politely hung up the phone to converse with me.

Cell phones are a problem.

A big problem.

If you’ve ever been in a store with a cell phone attached to your ear while a sales associate was trying to talk you, trust me, you’ve been hated.  If you’ve ever ordered food while carrying on a conversation with your mumsy, you’ve been hated.  Have you ever had to gesture silently toward something, generally frustrated that the associate wasn’t magically getting your meaning because you were too involved with your conversation to hang up?  Trust me, they hate you.

If I could install a cell phone jammer in every business in which I’ve ever worked I would do so willingly, just to foil the average cell phone user.  I have been known to use horrible guerrilla tactics with cell phone users.  When I was working in the shoe store I would hold off on letting people actually try on the shoes until their conversation was over.  “Oh, don’t worry, I can wait until you’re finished.  I don’t want to interrupt you!” is the polite customer service speak for “Hang up your phone you idiot, I’m tired of dealing with you already.”  As a cashier I’ve intentionally given people the wrong change, knowing they were too busy on their phone to actually look at the bills being set in their hands before it was shoved mindlessly into a pocket.  People on cell phones don’t tip – so the dollar I took out of your change became my tip for having to deal with your idiocy.  Are we running a buy one get one sale?  Could you have saved a significant amount if you’d been able to listen to me explaining the sale to you? Too bad, because you’re on a phone and I’m not going to mention those savings to you.

Clearly there are benefits to hanging up your phone beyond avoiding hatred.  Of all the bad habits that you might have, odds are this is the one that you have.  In this current world of cell phone ubiquity it seems that most people no longer consider exactly how rude it is to use your phone in the ways illustrated above.  The problem has permeated our society so completely that I now see businesses with signs requesting their customers to hang up their phones before conducting business.  Sadly I’ve never had the honor of being allowed to work in a store with one of these signs, and I worship every business that has one.

I’ll end this chapter with a favorite anecdote of mine, which illustrates both the frustration of the cell phone rule, and also hints at a few more of my pet peeves that we’ll be addressing in future entries.  Bonus points if you can figure out all of the pet peeves!

I was working in the shoe store when this gentleman came in.  I was helping another customer as he entered, and I saw he was on a phone so I smiled at him and nodded, not wanting to interrupt his call.  A few minutes later as I was ringing up my original customer, he came over, interrupted the other customer as they were asking me a question and thrust three pairs of shoes in my face.  “I need these in a size thirteen!” He said, phone still glued to his ear.  The next words out of his mouth were a hushed, “I’m in the shoe store, she’s going to go get some shoes now.” As he walked away toward one of our benches.

I set phone- customer’s shoes on the counter as I finished dealing with the customer I’d been helping originally.  As soon as I’d finished ringing her up I headed toward the back to get the man his shoes.  I quickly had all of them and emerged from the back room, shoes in hand.  He was still on his phone, so I set them at the edge of a table, and prepared to patiently wait for him to finish his conversation.  After a few moments, he paused in his dialogue and looked at me.  “Can I try them?” he curtly said to me.

“Oh, that’s okay! I don’t want to interrupt.  I can wait while you finish.”  My standard, ever so sweet salesperson reply.

“You’re not interrupting, I just need her opinion on the shoes while I’m trying them.”  He rolled his eyes and continued discussing his plans for the weekend with who I presume was his psychic on the end of the line.  Last time I checked, shoes aren’t something you can evaluate over the phone.

The next half hour was a drawn out torturous process of this man trying on a shoe, trying to ask me questions about the leathers, construction, and durability of the shoe, while also trying to get his girlfriend to look up the shoes online to evaluate their style.  At the end of the marathon event, the startling revelation was reached – one simply cannot shoe shop over the phone!  “I’ll come back with my girlfriend this weekend.  She can’t decide while I’m on the phone.” He humbly apologized, and left the store.  Half an hour of interaction, very, very frustrating interaction, and the only thing he learned was exactly what I could have told him when he entered – cell phones are not shopping aids.  They are shopping hindrances.  Disavow that phone and I’ll disavow hating you.

Listen. I hate you:
  • You’re on the phone while ordering food
  • You’re on the phone while shopping
  • You’re on the phone while paying
  • You’re trying to have a conversation with a sales clerk while also having a conversation with your phone
  • You’ve just gestured a cashier/sales clerk/server while on the phone because you can’t interrupt the conversation.

How to be likeable:
  • Hang up the phone
  • If the phone call is too important to hang up, then it is important enough that you shouldn’t be shopping or ordering food while having it.  If it isn’t that important, then you can just as easily hang up, shop or order, then call the person back.
  • Did I mention that you should hang up the phone?


The Tipping Point

When I was in my teens I read a book by E.L. Koingsburg entitled The view from Saturday.  It is a fantastic book, and I encourage each and every one of you to pick it up.  One part of this book has stuck with me from the moment I read it.  In the book they discuss the meaning of different acronyms.  For example, the word “Posh” evolved from the acronym for “Port out, Starboard Home” which referred to which cabins were best to book when traveling from England to India.  More importantly was the word “Tip” which started as an acronym for “To Insure Promptness”.  This plays a part later in the book, and while I could fill in more details, this isn’t a book review, it’s a lesson on tipping.  

“To insure promptness” is a phrase which really emphasizes why we leave tips when we visit restaurants.  Whether they are your local Mexican food grab-and-go fast food style restaurant, or a full sit down fancy restaurant, or even just the café down the street with a tip jar sitting next to the cash register, to give a few extra dollars as tip is your way of guaranteeing that you will continue to receive top service.

As a waitress I’ve worked harder than necessary to earn a meager tip from a table of customers who feel they should be able to nitpick every detail and subtract percentage points off the tip for every time their drink dips below half full, or their plate has to sit empty for ten seconds before being bussed away.  I’ve worked in a complimentary continental breakfast buffet where I stocked the food, seated the customers, brought drinks and bussed tables, to receive no tip because the food was free.  I’ve worked in a counter-top based fast food restaurant with a tip jar to have many customers look at it shortly before thanking me for my great service and walking away without dropping anything in.

Why don’t people tip? Sure, it’s a few extra dollars a week, it isn’t absolutely necessary, and don’t you deserve a basic level of service without having to pay more?  These people earn enough money as it is, right?  I’ve actually read so many arguments online as to why people shouldn’t tip that it makes me sick.  Why should 15% be considered standard? If it is standard, why don’t restaurants just charge that automatically and take the guesswork out for customers?

Tips aren’t standard. I argue that you should never just automatically assume you’re tipping 15% or 20% when you walk into a restaurant.  As a former waitress I walk into a restaurant and don’t even consider the tip until the end of the meal.  I enjoy my meal and when the bill comes I think to myself – “Did I have fun tonight?” if the answer is “yes” then the server gets a fantastic tip (Usually between 25-30% depending on what the nearest full dollar is).  If the answer is “no” and it is because of something the server  obviously flubbed (Didn’t bring me the right meal, took 2 hours to bring me my food without explanation, was so rude I actually noticed it), I’ll tip between 1-5%.

Why do I still tip?  Because receiving a $0.20 tip says more to a server than receiving a $0 tip.  It says “You did something wrong and I wanted you to know it.” Not tipping at all simply says to the server “Hey, so I know I’m supposed to tip, but I’m not going to because I’m an asshole, or maybe possibly because you did something wrong.  Most likely its just that I’m an asshole.”  Plus, just because the server did something wrong doesn’t mean they don’t deserve some sort of reimbursement for helping you.  They still brought you a meal (albeit possibly the wrong one or a few hours late), they still filled your drinks (at least once, right?).  So even if you don’t give them a lot, give them something.

The reason I tip so much when I get good service is that I worked as a waitress and I personally understand that the only source of income that servers have are their tips.  You don’t have to tip this much if you don’t want to, but if you tip the standard 15%, your server will at the very best think slightly less of you as a person, but will most likely (you guess it) hate you.  When I get absolutely fantastic, amazing, blows- me- away service?  I’ll tip 50% as a minimum.  Great servers deserve to be told they are great.

Working at a counter-based restaurant has its own difficulties.  This qualifies as any business where you pay at a cashier at a counter and then pick your food up at the same counter.  Or even more precisely, any place where there is a tip jar next to the cash register when you pay, rather than with a bill.  Tip jars are confusing territory for customers.  You can see that there are a few dollars in there, and a handful of coins, and you think, “Hey, this cashier has earned more than enough today! I don’t need to help out.”  Or you see that it is empty and you think, “Man, no one else is tipping so I don’t have to bother either!”  What most people don’t realize is that the tip jar they see sitting on the counter doesn’t just go to the cashier.  It will go to any person working behind the counter that day – and that includes the cooks in the kitchen.  So when you see $6 in the tip jar, and there are 3 people working behind the counter, including the cashier, at best the person you just thanked for their great service is getting $2 for 8 hours of work.  At worst there are 2 cooks in the kitchen and 1 other employee working on other projects – cleaning the back so you don’t get food poisoning, or working as a prep cook.  So that cashier you really like and think is awesome is actually only getting $1.  I don’t know how many shifts I’ve worked where I’ve had dozens of customers thank me and smile and look at the tip jar… and then walk away.  If every one of those customers had just dropped a quarter in the tip jar I’d have walked home with $2-3 extra in my pocket.  Not much, but it makes a difference.  If they’d all dropped in a dollar?  That would be the best way to make me really love my job and give just that little bit extra that would make your visit special.  I can like you for the whole time I’m ringing you up… but the moment I hand you your change and you don’t drop even your pennies into my tip jar? I hate you.  And don’t think that only ever paying with plastic helps – wherever I go as a customer, I’m always armed with a handful of singles, and I always drop one in a tip jar when I see it.  I’m also always actively searching for a tip jar, because “I didn’t see it” isn’t a great excuse either.

Working at the counter I know all my regulars.  And the ones that tip regularly often find I accidentally forgot to charge them for the drink with their meal, or that I charged them for the cheaper version of their entrée.  The regulars that regularly don’t tip regularly get charged for everything.  It pays to tip in the long run.  I also make sure to remember the “regular” for my regulars who tip – saving them time while they are waiting because they just have to confirm the regular rather than ordering every day.  “To Insure Promptness” has its greatest impact in the tip jar by the register at your favorite lunch joint or café, I promise.  You don’t have to always give a dollar, just toss in your change.  If you and every other customer just dropped your dimes, nickels, and pennies (not to mention quarters! We love quarters!) in that tip jar rather than walking away they would add up immensely over the course of the day.

Finally, a special note on free food.  Working at the continental buffet I did absolutely the same job I did working as a waitress in a popular family style sit down restaurant.  But because the breakfast was free (because we were in a hotel), people rarely, rarely tipped.  They would receive a free breakfast identical to one they would receive down the street at the local breakfast diner for $6-7.  If they had gone to the restaurant they would have tipped a waitress doing the same job I was $1-2.  But because the breakfast was free?  I got nothing.  In fact, because we didn’t have sections or tables, all the tips we did pick up off the tables were split between the entire staff that day, much like the tip-jar on the counter in the last paragraph.  So the handful of tips we did get were split 4-5 ways and became even more meager.

People don’t tip when the food is free, which is even more apparent to me because the company I worked for when I worked at the counter-top restaurant and my corporate office decided to make us have a free- food- day promotion.  We gave out thousands of dollars of free food.  Meals that any other day would be $6 were suddenly free.  And out of the over 800 people that stopped by my register so few dropped money in the tip jar that at the end of the night the 5 of us working the event each received $8.  I know I saw at least 3 people drop in $3 by themselves, so I know that the vast, vast majority of the people who were literally receiving a free meal were passing that tip jar by.  And for absolutely no reason – because they couldn’t excuse that dollar as breaking the budget because in the long run they were still saving $5.  And you know what? I hated each and every one of them.

When you are receiving food for free think about what you would normally pay for that meal and tip appropriately.  If your favorite lunch stop is running a one day promotion, make that your excuse to tip a little extra because of the little extra you’re saving. But don’t fall into the “0% of nothing is nothing” trap. Because you’re just punishing yourself in the long run.

Finally? Tip.  Because it insures promptness, it rewards someone who has worked hard for you, and because in the long run it makes you a better, nicer person.  And not doing it makes me hate you.

Listen. I hate you:

•    You only tip 15%
•    You ignore the tip jar
•    You think free means no tip

How to be likable:

•    Tip well for good service (20% is good, 30% is best)
•    Tip fantastically for fantastic service (50% or more!)
•    Drop that change on into the tip jar! (Dollar bills are better)
•    Tip based on the VALUE of the meal, not the COST of the meal