25 July 2012

On tipping and overtipping.

When I go to a restaurant—which is rare lately; I’m on a tight budget—I prefer to overtip. And by overtip, I mean go over the 15 percent gratuity that American custom dictates waiters should expect.

However. Whenever I go to restaurants with other people, most of them do not share my view. Quite the opposite. Some of them resent this custom very, very much. They believe waiters don’t deserve a single thing more for doing their expected job; they treat tipping as if it’s welfare, and they definitely don’t believe in welfare.

Fact is, restaurants deliberately underpay their waiters. They assume the waiters are getting tipped. Waiters can’t live on what they’re underpaid. Don’t like that? Want your waiters paid a decent living wage so that you won’t have to tip them for doing their job? Fine: Pass a law requiring the restaurants to pay them decently. Of course, that’ll cause the price of your meal to be raised… at least 15 percent or more, I would think. Might be cheaper in the long run to just tip them.

But instead, for no good reason, the annoyed customers take it out on their undeserving waiters and shaft them. Some of the reason I overtip is because I have to make up, to some small degree, for all the Christian jerks who have shafted my waiters in the past. Don’t think the waiters don’t know you’re Christians. They heard you praying. They heard you bless the food. (But not the restaurant. Why don’t y’all bless the restaurant? Pray it stays open? Pray it pays its waiters more?) They saw all the Christian jewelry. If you came in after church, they saw all the church clothes and hairstyles.

…And inside, their hearts died just a little. ’Cause they knew their friendliness and good service would go all for naught. They were getting tipped, at best, 10 percent. At worst, a tract. One with a verse in it about storing up treasures in heaven. God bless. Be warm and well fed.

Many Christians are of the firm opinion that if 10 percent is good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for your waiter. And those are the generous Christians.

Years ago, when I first started overtipping, I didn’t let anyone in on my intentions. I wanted to be subtle—one of those “right hand doesn’t know the left hand” kind of benefactors. So when I went out to eat with fellow Christians, we’d get a bill for the group. We’d each figure out what we ought to pay for the meal, and then we’d each figure out what we ought to contribute towards a tip. Let’s say my meal was, after taxes, $15. So my contribution would be $20: A nice 33 percent tip instead of the usual 15 percent.

Well, that didn’t work. When you don’t tell anyone you’re overtipping, and your tip goes into a giant tip pot, what will inevitably happen is one of them—usually the money-handler, who was making sure the bill got paid—will say, “Wow, the waiter has a pretty big tip here. Better take some money back.” And, no fooling, they would. They’d take the $5 I meant for the waiter, and pocket it. Or they’d take all the one-dollar bills and pass them out to people, regardless of how much (or if) they tipped. Kinda like how the rich get tax breaks that have nothing to do with their tax brackets.

Yes, this is stealing. I gave that $5 to the waiter, not to the money-handler. Yet Christians do this all the time.

So after I witnessed this two or three times—steaming in frustration, I might add—I got clever. The next time the check rolled around, I put in my $20, but insisted on getting my $5 back. I put in nothing towards the tip. The money-handler sorted out the bill and paid it. Then the tip was sorted out and left behind at the table. And, as everyone was filing out the door, I surreptitiously snuck back and dropped my $5 atop the tip money. Ka-ching.

Yeah, likely everyone else undertipped, which means my contribution only balanced things out. Or it took a 9.8 percent tip and raised it to 9.9 percent. Well, nuts. But my heart was in the right place… yeah, for all the good that does.

These days I try to get separate checks. Waiters hate the hassle, but they really shouldn’t. In fact, their attitude should be just the opposite. Separate checks means separate tips. Everyone is accountable for their own tip. That means everyone is accountable for their own undertipping. You can’t get away with it without the waiter knowing exactly who’s being stingy. So more people are going to be fair… and I can overtip and actually make some impact instead of none. “Hey, at least this guy was generous.” They might not remember me specifically—I’m not a regular anyplace, not even Starbucks—but they’ll remember at least one Christian at the table actually behaved like a Christian.

And if the waiters do specifically remember me, I won’t get the salad with all the pubic hairs hiding under the dressing.