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