A Disturbing Tale (and, Please Be Kind to Your Server)

A Disturbing Tale (and, Please Be Kind to Your Server) January 12, 2012

So the Palm Beach gazillionaire John Castle apparently broke his waiter’s finger for bringing the bill to the table (as, reportedly, his wife requested) instead of charging it to the account.


Treating restaurant servers kindly is very, very big in my book. Once upon a time three times, I was a restaurant server, and there are plenty of people in my life who have done that very same work.

It’s harder work than you might imagine it would be, if you’ve never tried it. What’s involved varies from restaurant to restaurant, but it’s always more than taking orders and carrying plates.

In one place I worked, we cleaned, set tables, refilled condiments, prepared salads to order, garnished soups, cut bread, rolled silverware, sliced lemons, and poured certain drinks. That, and we had to watch the timing of our diners’ progress, decide when to ‘fire’ the next course, and multi-task, prioritize, and re-prioritize endlessly.

CC licensed; credit here.

And that’s without the obligatory friendliness and small-talk. It’s hard work. I wasn’t particularly great at the logistical side of serving, but I enjoyed the interpersonal part of it.

Except sometimes. Because people really can be mean to the server. Sometimes it’s for no reason. Sometimes it’s because they’re unhappy with the food, or how long the wait is.

(By the way. Most of the time? Those things are not the server’s fault.)

Which is reason #2 why you should not dock your server’s tip for slow service. Chances are, it’s not his fault. And though it’s popular to assume that tips are for rewarding good service or punishing poor service, it’s not really quite fair to do this, partly because of Reason #1.

Reason #1 is this: in most states, servers earn a pittance–well below the minimum wage. Tips are their salary! Sound unfair to you, the consumer? Well, maybe it is. It would be better if servers were just paid more and restaurant prices were automatically surcharged 20%. Because here’s something most non-restaurant folk don’t know: the server doesn’t pocket all the money that you tip! Most–no, probably all–restaurants require the tips to be split and/or shared among all the servers plus the bar (if there is one) plusthe bus-persons. ‘Punishment’ and ‘rewards’ don’t really work when this is in play (as it usually is).

CC licensed; credit here.

Beyond all this, there’s the fact that servers are, well, your neighbors. Yeah, you’re paying them to ‘serve’ you, but they are just like you: worried about their bills, worried about their kids, trying to make it through school, trying to make ends meet, trying to keep it together, feeling tired, feeling lonely, juggling a thousand things at once–you get the idea.

And so love your server as you would love yourself. Treat them as you would like to be treated. Most of the time, they want to do right by you. So do right by them!

And remember: the way someone treats a server is telling–

If you’re on a date with someone who seems nice, but is a jerk to the server, they’re probably a jerk.

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