Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Tip on Gratuity

I walked into a little ice cream shop this weekend with the woman of my dreams. The shop was quaint, opened in South Haven, Michigan as an ice cream parlor and soda fountain in 1958, and has blossomed into a local treasure, served in restaurants and shops across the southwest Michigan landscape.

As we walked in, an over-sized blue bovine stood majestically on the roof of the building, heralding the milk-based confectionery treats inside. The place was bustling with smiling children, young lovers, and courteous high schoolers in aprons and blue shirts that proudly bore the name “SHERMAN'S ICE CREAM”

As we strode from side-to-side, peering hungrily into all the cardboard buckets that stood deliciously behind neon-lit glass cases, these modern day soda-jerks truly impressed me. Instead of the ever-frustrating, disinterested rapport that I get from most attendants at eateries and shops I engage, these three ice cream-doling attendants were thrilled to help us make our decisions on dessert.

Let me share the way I approach my waitstaff. I enjoy engaging my servers. If I can glean an honest and enthusiastic response from a waiter or server, their chances of receiving not only gratuity, but also my heartfelt respect, increase exponentially. If, when I ask my server for a recommendation, they make an earnest recommendation, it truly impresses me. When you add value to my experience, rather than merely taking my order, you've immediately earned my respect as a person who cares about the service they provide.

This is a perspective that I gained as someone who's worked in a tip-driven industry. So when these folks at Sherman's offered this top-notch service, it was the least I could do to tip them each a buck or two. But as we walked out, I said to my wife,

"Someday, I'd like to be able to walk into that ice cream shop, receive great service, and hand each one of those kids twenty dollars. Not because I want to flaunt my wealth, but because I truly appreciate the zeal that they show for their jobs."
Some people may see that as a waste of money. Some may see it as a a silly way to spend ones hard earned cash. But I see it as true appreciation. I see it as commendation for a job well done.

That being said, I am not afraid to leave a sub-par tip for a server who is snooty, bored, or treating me like I'm an inconvenience to their evening. But more often than not, I am a sympathetic tipper.

I have this mentality because I have been tipped well after working my ass off. There's nothing that keeps you going like someone walking up to you, palming you a handfull of bills and saying,

"Thank you."

Then again, there was the time that a centenarian woman with false teeth slipped a twenty dollar bill in my apron pocket, kissed me on the cheek, and pinched my ass.

That was OK too. But I'll stick to tipping.



  1. I was working in a truck stop in Missouri and there was always this one couple that would come in just like clockwork. The first night I worked there the lady training me I would hate serving them because they were so cheap. I refused to treat them any differently than I would any other customer. It amazed me the love and compassion they had for each other. They would come in and order the same thing every evening, chicken fried steak with water and lemon. They only ordered one plate and they shared it. Their tip? Never more than a quarter, less if I didn't have their water ready when they walked in. But you know, I never hated this couple, in fact, I grew to love them. They gave me such hope in love...true...real...lasts forever love. On my last night, the cook and I were talking about how I wouldn't be back, and the couple over heard us. That night they tipped me a whole dollar :) But, none of that means anything compared to the lesson they taught me.

  2. Ha! That's a really great story Sarah... It kind of reminds me of old people at church who put a single dollar in the collection plate because that used to be a lot of money when they first started going to church.

    Chris, I'm totally in agreement with you, although the other day, I had some really sub-par service at a restaurant because I think my waitress was pretty stressed, so I tipped way more than I usually do in an effort to monetarily tell her "it's ok." I wonder if that sort of thing works or not...

  3. Sarah, you make a great point-the amount of the tip is relative to the customer. The key is that you make your waitstaff feel that they are worth your long as they are actually worth your gratitude.

  4. We try to tip well when we do eat out, especially at Breakfast. Eggs and pancakes are usually the cheapest meals on the menu and the morning staff works just as hard as the evening shifts. Even if my meal cost $3.00 I try to make sure I tip as though they had brought me their steak, or at least the chicken dinner. They had to be up earlier than me to bring me that meal.
    A very tough service industry to be in: Health Care Food Service. I worked as a Dietary Aide in a nursing home for a number of years, and we were not allowed to receive tips or gifts from anyone; residents family, friends. Occasionally a resident with dementia will leave you a cracker and a thank-you note written in crayon. You keep the note and hang it on the wall in the kitchen, but toss the soggy cracker.
    You do get paid at least minimum wage (or a little more, depending on seniority) to do it, but you also sometimes have to pull someone's dentures out of their oatmeal.