Advice to stingy customers: leave a tip, not an excuse

Illustration by Aaron Logan

Less than two weeks ago, St. Louis waitress Chelsea Welch was fired from her job at Applebee’s for posting a customer’s receipt on the popular website Reddit. The bill, which included a mandatory 18 percent tip because the diner was part of a large party, quickly attracted attention because of what was scribbled under the tip line: “I give God 10%, why do you get 18,” the customer wrote, making sure to add “pastor” above the signature. Reddit users did some research and identified the customer as St. Louis pastor Alois Bell.

Welch said she posted the receipt, which belonged to a coworker who waited on the party, because she thought others would find it entertaining, a Jan. 31 Consumerist article by Chris Morran reports. Welch alleges that when the receipt went viral, Bell called the Applebee’s demanding that everyone, from the servers involved to the managers, be terminated immediately. As a result, Welch lost her job.

In a Jan. 31 interview with The Smoking Gun, Bell stated, “I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.” She couldn’t be more right. The faith-employed Bell didn’t feel bad when she stiffed her server or when she got Welch fired. No, Bell is embarrassed because she was caught doing what so many patrons already do to their servers — and all in the name of God.

There were more than 2 million waiters and waitress employed in the United States last year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. Considering that their minimum wage has been frozen at only $2.13 for the past 21 years under the Fair Labor Standards Act, you’d think that people would treat wait staff with more respect.

Sadly, many people in the U.S. stiff or mistreat their servers. Just last November, Huffington Post reported on another infamous receipt. Apparently, the woman had a dinner that totalled $138.35. You’d think that with a bill so hefty, the server would get a decent tip. Alas, on the tip line was simply, “Single mom, sorry,” followed by a, “Thank you, it was great,” below the signature.

Although we don’t know the whole story, this was a single mother who supposedly went out for a $140 dinner — an amount of money that could surely have been better spent on groceries for the kids she raises alone if she is tight on cash. She’s free to spend her money how she wants, but using the “single mother” excuse on the tip line for a $140 bill is pushing it.

Let’s go over what it is restaurant servers have to put up with in order to make your dining experience as pleasant as possible, keeping in mind that more than two-thirds of them are women. You can be certain that at some time in the last year, a server at any restaurant has been harassed, demeaned (especially if female) and treated like a child, suffered the juvenile anger of a patron who keeps sending food back, tolerated bigoted and belligerently drunk customers, put up with unruly kids and served a customer who is certain not to tip.

It’s no wonder movies like “Waiting,” based on the fantasy of getting back at disrespectful customers, exist. If you treat those handling your food like crap, it’s as if you’re asking for them to mess it up somehow.

To help yourself and the staff at any establishment, there are some simple things you can do to improve your experience as well as that of your fellow customers and the staff:

  • Maintain eye contact. You’re ordering from a person, not a machine.
  • Have manners. “Please” and “thank you” go a long way.
  • Learn the worker’s name. It shows you care.
  • Maintain some semblance of control over your kids.
  • Try to make clean-up easier for the staff. Stacking your dishes helps.
  • Always, ALWAYS leave a tip.

Some may argue the final point and complain about wrong orders or slow service, but the fact is that problems like these are probably due to an overworked staff or inept management. If you notice your servers aren’t constantly smiling, remember that they have probably been on their feet for hours and that it’s unfair to punish someone for not appearing happy at all times. Don’t take perceived slights out on the server.

To people who make less than minimum wage, a courteous tip can help relieve some stress over bills and make their job of smiling constantly while serving customers a little better. In a town like Manhattan, waiters and waitresses are often working for tuition in addition to rent and bills. Most of the waitresses, baristas and bar staff that I know are college students who can use any help they’re able to get — and honestly, if you can’t afford to tip, should you really be going out at all?

Tyler Brown is a graduate of K-State. Please send comments to [email protected]