Recently, after lunch at Anis, I found myself amid a scene that occurs too often. I sneaked my usual peek at a friend signing his credit card receipt. He was leaving a $3 tip on a nearly $25 bill. This is usual for my friend. I seldom say anything, but I erupted this time.

“How do you do that?” I asked. “Do you not realize these people are working for tips for a living?”

“All right, all right,” my friend said. That’s part of the incomprehensible part to me. He knows fully well that such a weasley tip is offensive. It’s especially embarrassing at a place like Anis, where I’ve been dining for years. So, chastened, he changed the $3 to $4. I love my friend, but WTF?

When I first started writing about restaurants almost 30 years ago, chief among my stupidities was a relative lack of respect for servers. As was typical of the time, I called them “waitrons.” The term was not considered insulting then, partly, I think, because the profession was widely regarded as something you unhappily did before you got a “real job.” Employers treated servers like robots, and a gender-neutral term like “server” had not yet replaced “waiter.” In my weekly Creative Loafing column, “Grazing,” I regularly awarded a “Waitron of the Week” designation that actually became coveted.

Not everybody was amused, though. In fact, when I wrote a satirical column about waitrons, someone began circulating a petition to have me fired. Soon after that, I began to pay more attention. I became amazed that anyone can even work as a server without going insane.

Eating constantly in restaurants became a lot like viewing theater of the absurd. I watched, and still watch, diners punishing servers with outlandish demands. It’s as if they’ve purchased a slave for the evening. They haughtily chastise the server for not bringing ketchup with their lobster. They send their entree back to the kitchen because their whole fish has eyes. Servers maintain their cool when these people deserve to have their comped desserts rammed in their faces.

Then the slave-whipping diner leaves a 10 percent tip, before taxes.

I’ve asked my friend why he leaves such small tips and have never received an answer, unless throwing an extra dollar on the table is an answer. He travels a lot, so I’ve wondered if he thinks that servers here are paid a living wage like they are in Europe, where it’s customary to leave a small tip. Maybe he doesn’t understand that most servers here receive extremely low hourly pay and are dependent on tips to pay their rent.

It’s true that with the increase in fine-dining restaurants in Atlanta, waiting tables can pay pretty well these days. Ditto for pub-style restaurants where tabs are heavy on the booze (on which many restaurants are dependent for profits). But, for most servers, it’s still grueling work with low pay and without benefits.

Employers are not particularly sympathetic. Decent-paying shifts may be hard to come by or too many servers are on the floor at once. And I’m not even going into the absurdity of the new “no-tip” restaurants like Panera. True, these places are all about counter service, but at least let the diner have a choice about throwing some money in a tip jar. Or let diners enter tips on credit card receipts. Even Starbucks won’t allow that.

My rule? Tip at least 20 percent, after taxes, on full table service. If you get truly lousy service, it’s rarely the server’s fault. For God’s sake, don’t punish the server because the food sucks or takes forever to get out of the kitchen.

The only job I had that was even close to a server’s job was at Six Flags Over Georgia, the summer after my senior year in high school. I was hired as a “relief worker,” circulating among various fast food stands. I got called to the office once because I had prodded customers into line with a broom handle and, at another time, impersonated a redneck to her face when she ordered seven or eight hot dogs, each with four different toppings. I was not fired and I knew why. Nobody in their right mind would have taken that job for what it paid. Things haven’t changed.

Cliff Bostock, PhD, besides being a longtime Atlanta dining critic, is a psychotherapist-turned-life coach, specializing in creativity, midlife transition and gay issues.
 He offers individual sessions and group workshops. www.cliffbostock.com

One Response

  1. Springs1

    “If you get truly lousy service, it’s rarely the server’s fault. For God’s sake, don’t punish the server because the food takes forever to get out of the kitchen.”

    This is just SOOOO NOT TRUE AND YOU KNOW IT, so please STOP LYING! Here’s why you are wrong since you have ZERO COMMON SENSE TO SPEAK OF:

    Ask yourself these questions as a server:

    1. WHEN do you put in my order? Do you wait or do you go put it in immediately after taking it? If you are double sat or triple sat, you can still go put in each order into the computer after taking each table’s order. By not doing that can result in a much longer wait and that would be YOUR FAULT.

    2. FORGETTING to put in an order. My husband and I have experienced this for REAL that servers ADMITTED to our faces they have FORGOTTEN TO PUT ORDERS IN. All of them were appetizers, bar drinks, and a cup of soup.

    3. Did you put in the order CORRECTLY into the computer? Have had many times servers ADMITTED to our faces they did not do that correctly. Have had wrong entrées before due to our server putting in the order wrong. Have had wrong bar drinks too due to the server putting in the order wrong.

    4. Did you FORGET ANYTHING I ORDERED such as a SIDE DISH? We have had this happen a number of times as well.

    5. Did you DROP anything I ordered? Luckily, we have not had this happen, but I have seen a server once drop some fries from a plate before and I did have a waiter spill some margarita martini when pouring into a martini glass. In other words, it is possible, not likely, but very possible.

    6. Did you remember to GET my food? We have had a server do that before. Also, we have had a number of servers forget bar drinks.

    7. Did you bring out my food obviously correctly if you bring my food out? Do you realize how many times OUR OWN SERVER brings out DUH mistakes like the side dish is wrong, the entrée is wrong, something obvious is not correct bacon that isn’t covered up isn’t extra, extra crispy when you can clearly notice that it isn’t without touching anything, etc.? Every DUH mistake you bring out is YOUR FAULT I am waiting for what I did order by you wasting my time bringing me the wrong item or wrongly prepared item or forgot something. While we all make mistakes, I would have to say a good 90% of the time, servers NEVER COMPARE THE WRITTEN ORDERS TO THE FOOD, because they are TOO LAZY and DON’T CARE!!

    8. Servers DO wait to put in entrée orders when appetizers, side salads, or cups of soup are ordered. THAT *IS* THE GOD’S TRUTH! Sometimes it’s TOO LONG THEY WAIT! If it’s another server, it still doesn’t make it the kitchen staff’s fault I have the wrong side dish for example since that is something that’s obvious. It’s either my server that didn’t put in my order correctly or this other server that didn’t compare the ticket to the food or that this other server did compare the ticket to the food, but just missed it(HIGHLY UNLIKELY, but possible).

    9. WHEN do you come to GET MY ORDER? That part is covered in #2 below.

    10. WHEN do you DECIDE to LET ME ORDER? That part is covered in #4 below.

    11. WHEN do you decide to DELIVER MY FOOD? That part is covered in #1 below.

    12. Do you, because they are out of something, decide to assume everyone wants the closest thing so you do the ordering for me? That part is covered in #3 below.

    1. Once, we had a Red Lobster waitress had our 2 entrées on the tray as well as 2 side salads that were for a couple that wasn’t even there when we ordered. Anyway, instead of bypassing their table to hand us ours first since WE DID ORDER FIRST(common sense would tell you that it takes more time to cook food than it does to fix a side salad anyways even if it wasn’t our server that delivered our food, but it was our waitress that delivered our food), she decided to hand them theirs first off the tray. THAT IS SOMETHING THAT IS IN THE SERVER’S CONTROL TO HAND OUT THINGS OFF THE SAME TRAY IN THE ORDER IN WHICH IT WAS ORDERED IN!!

    2. Once, we had a waitress that greeted us which we ordered an appetizer as well as our drinks when greeted. I saw she tucking in chairs at empty tables and pretty much doing everything but coming back to get our entrée order. Well, I found out what happened. She brought out our appetizer and when I asked she said that she wanted to wait to put in our entrée orders. The thing is, that delayed us more by not at least coming to GET our orders. That way, when the appetizer was ready, we wouldn’t have gotten delayed eating our appetizer since we then had to give our entrée orders when we could have given our entrée orders WELL BEFORE THAT and we would have gotten our entrées faster due to that she could have just left to put our entrée orders into the computer after delivering our appetizer instead of taking time to order when our appetizer was sitting in front of us. The point is, SHE delayed our entrées as well as to be able to start eating our appetizer because she could have at least TAKEN our entrée orders and then when our appetizer would have been brought out, could have immediately gone to the computer to put our entrée orders in.What she did was make us wait while our hot appetizer was sitting in front of us, we couldn’t touch it, because we had to order our entrées and could have done that wayyy before that. She also delayed our entrées because we had to spend extra time AFTER our appetizer arrived to give her our entrée orders when we could have done that wayyyy before that.

    3. Once, we had a waitress that assumed that because they were out of raspberry topping for a cheesecake slice when we had ordered dessert that she’d bring us strawberry. Turns out, she knew when she put in the order that the computer had it the manager told us. So she did it on PURPOSE to be so lazy and uncaring as to not come to ask if we wanted the next closest thing. We didn’t, we sent it back, so she had MORE WORK. Also, she didn’t even think about what if someone is allergic to strawberries. I just honestly can’t believe someone would do that. If they are out of something, common sense would be to come to see if the next closest thing is ok. Not everyone wants the next closest thing. So it wasn’t like it was just getting the order wrong by accident or by not verifying the written order with what she was bringing or putting in the order wrong by accident, this was on PURPOSE to be LAZY and to ASSUME. I didn’t know at first that she did that. I thought at first she just was that stupid(or truly just messed up(highly doubt it)) to bring us strawberries on top of a cheesecake when we ordered raspberries.

    4. Your server delays coming to get your order or delays you ordering due to personal conversation. We have had that before as well. Once, we had a waiter that we didn’t know after waiting 15 mins. for a table on Mardi Gras day ask us BEFORE we ORDERED ANYTHING “How’s y’all’s Mardi Gras” “Go to any parades.” See, I don’t mind chit chat with a stranger, but be considerate to do it AFTER we have our orders into the computer so you don’t take up our time.

    We have also had servers not come to get our order due to playing around. Sometimes taking a long time or a longer time has A LOT to do with the server:My husband and I have had 3 TIMES where servers FORGOT to put food orders into the computer. We also have 6 times servers forget to get bar drinks from the bar. Once a waitress forgot to put in a bar drink into the computer. Two of the 3 times it was an appetizer and the servers ADMITTED doing so. The third time was a cup of bisque which is normally served before a meal just like a side salad is. My husband and I also have had delays due to that the servers delayed putting orders into the computer when they COULD have such as deciding to buss a table first or decide instead of a mini-greet(I’ll be right with you all), one waiter I saw decided to take a party of 6 people’s drink/appetizer orders instead of putting in our food orders into the computer. I can understand if they call you over, but if they don’t, you should be putting that order into the computer not delaying our food. The longer you wait to put in orders, the LONGER WE WAIT!! So truly think about that MOST of the time when you wait a LONG TIME for your food or bar drinks even, it could be the server’s fault. 9 times out of 10, your server had *SOMETHING* to do with the delay in most cases! That’s the GOD’S TRUTH!

    90% of the time it’s the SERVER’S FAULT:

    1. They can put in the order wrong into the computer or if it’s a written ticket they submit, they could have written something down wrong or hard to read.

    2. They could have forgotten to put in the order in the first place.

    3. Servers can also misunderstand what the customer is saying such as 2 times when I ordered 2 sides of bbq sauce and the stupid idiot servers thought I didn’t want bbq sauce on my ribs when I NEVER ONCE SAID I didn’t and I didn’t say “ON THE SIDE”, I SAID SIDES, which means extra. One of those times I said extra even.

    4. Most mistakes with food are visible:

    A. Condiments of any kind regardless of who brings out the food can be brought out by the server ahead of time.

    B. If someone orders extra crispy bacon with their pancakes, then the bacon looks limp, not stiff, and you can even see some white fat on it, guess what? MY SERVER COULD HAVE SEEN THAT TOO AND TOLD THE COOKS IT WASN’T CORRECT, TO RECOOK IT INSTEAD OF BRINGING IT TO ME WRONG IN THE FIRST PLACE!

    C. Any wrong side dishes or entrees are the fault of the server if they bring out the food even if they put in the order right. You can tell the difference between a baked potato and mac n’ cheese, yet, a waiter at Logan’s Roadhouse was so stupid as to bring me mac n’ cheese when I ordered a baked potato. I noticed it within 5 seconds of the food hitting my table. Like DUH a baked potato looks completely different from mac n’ cheese.

    D. Any MISSING side dishes, appetizers, condiments, or entrees ARE the server’s fault if they bring out the food as well. Have had that happen a few times or so. Our servers aren’t blind, so they can tell if something is missing or not.

    E. I have seen a red steak delivered to someone before at Outback which means let’s say the customer ordered their steak well done, that the server could have noticed the color difference as in your example “Steak cooked rare instead of well done ? It’s not your server’s fault, they didn’t cook it, it’s the kitchen’s fault.”

    F. If something LOOKS burnt such as a piece of bread with the food and the person didn’t order it burnt, my server is at fault for serving me that.

    G. If my server forgets an item that an entree or appetizer comes with, that’s their fault if they brought me my food without the item such as a side dish or ranch.

    H. I have ordered at Outback my fries “lightly cooked” “Not overdone and yellow not brown.” I have had their fries before cooked the way I like them before many of times before this time I am talking about. This stupid waitress decided to blame the kitchen staff for REALLY DARK BROWN FRIES as if she was blind or something and my husband even told me he could see that they were really dark. My husband may not agree with me on every subject of course, but with that, you could EASILY tell just by LOOKING that those fries were overdone and very dark. She said she put in the order correctly. I am thinking, SO? I wish I could have said “Are you blind?” That was HER FAULT she DECIDED TO SERVE ME THOSE FRIES THAT WEREN’T CORRECT. I noticed the mistake within 3 seconds of my food being placed in front of me.

    http://www.bunrab.com/dailyfeed/dailyfeed_images_feb-07/df07_02-04_baconn.jpg

    You can tell in this picture above the bacon is very crispy just by simply LOOKING at it.

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_vv2IGE5obwk/RwVi-0hZziI/AAAAAAAABjc/m6bP-Te_wJE/s320/IMG_8338.jpg

    You can tell in this picture above the bacon is NOT CRISPY, just by simple LOOKING at the bacon.

    While the server didn’t “COOK” the bacon, it’s obvious to the *SERVER’S* EYES that one batch of bacon is crispy and the other isn’t to decide to BRING the food to the customer wrong or not. It’s my server’s fault if they decide to bring me the bacon that’s like in picture 2 if I ordered it crispy that she or he didn’t tell the cooks it was wrong and get them to cook the bacon more instead of SERVING it wrong. WHY bring it out only for the food to be sent back?

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_DzuAhw_RcXU/TAyZ38A67EI/AAAAAAAAALo/R6zLKIKy1do/s1600/DSC_0006.JPG

    You can clearly see the fries are overdone in the picture above if the customer ordered them “NOT OVERDONE, lightly cooked.”

    http://www.orthogonalthought.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/dsc_6087_550.jpg

    In this picture above, you can see the fries don’t appear overdone and the bacon is NOT CRISPY. If a customer asked for their bacon to be crispy, I would REFUSE to serve it and I would have enough CARING and COMMON SENSE to get that fixed **BEFORE** I brought it to the customer only to have the customer send it back or leave me a bad tip for not caring about their food.

    My server’s job isn’t just to bring out what the kitchen staff gives them, it’s also getting the order OBVIOUSLY correct to the table as much as possible in order to get that good tip. As someone said on a blog or forum “They just want to be tipped well and will do pretty much anything reasonable to get your money”, which that IS VERY REASONABLE to think OUR SERVERS ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THEIR TIP TO GET THINGS RIGHT TO HAVE A BETTER TIP!!

    http://www.akronohiomoms.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/cindy.jpg

    You can notice a lot of things on her plate in the picture above like if the customer asked for no sour cream, well DUHH, it’s STARING in your face. If the customer asked for a side of ranch(I would have), it’s missing, DUHH!! If the customer substituted fries for rice, well DUHH, that’s not on the plate.

    Get what I am saying here? MOST of the mistakes happen due to either your server if they bring out the food or another server that doesn’t compare the ticket to the food(assuming the order was put in correctly by the original server of course).

    You also can notice if someone has wing sauce “On the side” vs. “On the wings” themselves. This isn’t rocket science.

    Most of the things that are wrong with the food can be caught by the server if they bring out the food, even if they didn’t cook it. If it’s another server, they can catch obvious errors on the ticket and menu(such as menu states the item comes with bbq sauce and the ticket doesn’t say “no bbq sauce”) if the ticket was correctly put in by the original server that took the order. Condiments(in bottles or on the side in containers) can always be offered to be brought out ahead of time REGARDLESS of WHO brings out the food to the table.

    So most of the time when the food has something wrong with it, chances are, your server or another server could have caught the mistake before it got to you in most instances. I NEVER said ALL, but in most cases, it can be caught BEFORE bringing out the food(unless another server brings out the food with the ticket wrong), because then the original server that took the order is at fault for putting the order in incorrectly into the computer.

    There are few rare cases where the food being wrong is the kitchen staff’s fault such as raw food(such as raw chicken), slightly undercooked or overcooked food that you’d have to CUT into to know if it was under or overcooked, or anything the server cannot see with their eyes unless they were to TOUCH the food. Things such as a pickle under a bun the server can’t notice unless they lift the bun, so unless they put the order in wrong, they wouldn’t be at fault, but in general most food mistakes can be caught BEFORE bringing the food to the table.

    What I am saying is, MOST mistakes ARE PREVENTABLE by the SERVER if they bring your order to you that they can NOTICE things wrong by comparing those written orders to the plates of food.

    Once a waiter at Chili’s said “The kitchen forgot” when I had ordered 2 sides of mayo and 1 side of mustard. The thing is, my waiter brought out the food, so NO, HE HE HE HE HE FORGOT, the kitchen staff didn’t step out the kitchen to bring me my food and forget obvious missing containers from my plate that aren’t covered up by anything. MY WAITER DID THOUGH!!

    You walk in one room in your house with a plate of food, but forget the ranch. Even if your mom or significant other plated your food, which you even told her you wanted a side of ranch for your fries, but you bring it to another room. HOW IS THAT THEIR FAULT? It’s YOUR FAULT YOU LEFT THE ROOM WITHOUT THE RANCH AND DIDN’T NOTICE IT SINCE IT’S SOMETHING OBVIOUS YOU DON’T HAVE TO *TOUCH* TO NOTICE THE MISTAKE!!

    Even if he didn’t bring out the food, that waiter could have prevented that type of thing from being forgotten since it needs no cooking to bring it out ahead of time. It is always the person bringing out the food that is at fault for any type of mistake that you don’t have to TOUCH the food to notice the mistake, unless of course, the order was put in wrong by the original server that took the order with another server bringing out the food. Of course unless, the kitchen goofs up, making it correctly even if the ticket is wrong, but that’s highly unlikely scenario.

    I cannot believe you honestly think that the server is not at fault for most food mistakes. WE LIVED THROUGH THE “DUH” MISTAKES, SO WE CAN SEE WITH OUR EYES WHO WAS AT FAULT!!

    We had a waiter once admitted he grabbed the wrong entrée from the kitchen. It was just my husband and I. This waiter not only admitted he didn’t compare the WRITTEN ORDER with the entrées he was bringing out, but also we saw he had other entrées for another table that he didn’t ONCE get his pad of paper out to see WHICH ENTRÉE WENT WITH WHICH TABLE!! So 2 times he could have caught his mistake, but didn’t *****TRY HIS BEST AS HE SHOULD HAVE, because that’s HIS JOB**!!

    He admitted that he grabbed the wrong entrée from the kitchen. He brought my husband fried shrimp w/fries when he ordered crawfish au gratin w/baked potato. Those items look NOTHING A LIKE, but yet THAT WAITER WAS TOO LAZY AND UNCARING TO VERIFY *WHAT* HE WAS BRINGING US!! We still left him 17% BTW, just to let you know since he profusely apologized TWICE and FIXED THE SITUATION IMMEDIATELY just about. We honestly shouldn’t have though, because that really didn’t make him LEARN anything. If I had to do it all over again, I would have tipped 13%. It’s because since that happened(a number of years ago, maybe like 4), me and my husband have had some terrible experiences. We have had good ones too of course, but the servers need to LEARN that they can’t just hand you ANYTHING like McDonald’s cashiers do. They are there to EARN a tip, NOT to just hand you anything.

    It’s very rare that it’s not the server’s fault. Things like if I order no pickles if you took my order and brought out my food, which there are some pickles under a bun that you’d have to lift it to see it, unless you admitted putting in the order wrong, I will assume it’s the kitchen staff that is at fault and probably is.

    Things like raw chicken tenders aren’t the fault of the server unless they are pink or something.

    A slightly over or undercooked steak if the order was put in correctly is not the server’s fault.

    Also, some people assume things as well, that end up being wrong.

    If another server brings out a wrong side dish or if they are missing items other than condiments, no it’s not the server’s fault if they put in the order correctly, but it still counts against the tip. It’s part of the service.

    Why also is it when you say “no pickles” or “ONLY lettuce and onions”, they still have a pickle on the plate? WHY you servers can’t understand that if the customer states they don’t want pickles, that means on the plate, because otherwise, they’d specifically state they would have wanted it “ON THE SIDE.” Think about it. WHY do I keep having servers bring me some pickles on the plate when I ordered no pickles? NO SERVERS ARE BLIND OR ILLITERATE that they cannot determine any of the obvious errors that don’t have to be touched to notice the mistakes or mistake.

    As far as other things in the service, ANY type of OVERCHARGE *IS* the server’s fault unless the rare times that another server or manager would deliver your bill to you, but otherwise, that’s a server issue 100% no matter what kind of overcharge it is.

    Forgetting things you ask for *IS* 100% the server’s fault such as refills or bags or boxes, etc.

    When food takes forever, chances are your server had SOMETHING to do with the delay. It is VERY RARE it’s the kitchen staff quite honestly. When I see my server take my order then buss a table instead of going to the EMPTY computer, yeah, that’s delaying my food. When I see my server going to another table that didn’t call them over, that’s delaying my food if they have no previously ordered items to give to them just to check up on them. Turns it’s called. I can’t go interrupt my server while they are taking someone’s order, so why can’t I expect them to do the same by not cutting just as I won’t cut in front of another customer’s turn?

    “outlandish demands”

    No such thing. If you think that work is “demands” then you are lazy.

    So PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP LYING TO THE PUBLIC! You have NO CLUE OF WHAT THE HECK YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT! STOP WRITING ABOUT THINGS YOU KNOW *********NOTHING********* ABOUT!

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