"Why I Got Stiffed" Guy's Waiter Blog chapter 5

in food •  last year

 You may remember from my last entry that I reported being left a $0 tip on a $200+ tab earlier this week by some European guests. I also said that I was pretty sure why they stiffed me, and that I'd be telling you why today.

I'm not going to make you wait to find out, or build it up (so not like me, I know!)...

They stiffed me ... because ... I brought them their check.

Yup. My bad. Just what in the hell was I thinking?
 

"What?" you say? "But how could doing that cost you your tip???"


Well, it's like this. I don't remember how many years ago or even what restaurant I was even working at - it's been that much time - when I was serving a small group from Europe. They had finished their dinners, and their after-dinner drinks, and their espressos, and had also told me twice that no, they didn't want anything else. 

So I routinely walked up to the table and unobtrusively put their check down, planning to walk quietly away until I was needed again.. but I did not see coming what happened next.

The guy went near-ballistic. "WHATTT?!?!?" he exclaims. "You trying to hurry us out of here? Do we have to leave now, or something?" 

Ummmm, no. 

"Then why you are bringing us check? Who says we are "feenished?"


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The level of offense and hostility this man exhibited had me feeling like I had just spit on his mother's grave or something, and - suffice to say - left quite the impression on me. I was a bit confused by his reaction, so he and I actually had a nice little ideological chat about the matter. 

Right there, in front of everybody. 

This gentleman let me know that where he's from, they are there to talk.. to enjoy one another's  company. The meal is just what brings them together - but not why they are there. He concluded his lecture by telling me that the evening is far from over "when food is gone."

I explained to him that that is somewhat different from the way "we" often do it. 

"We Americans" are so often is such a hurry to be somewhere else ... that "the meal" is sometimes just a necessity that precludes the "main event" - like a movie, or concert, or any other event that brought us together. And that we're probably running late for already.

(Oh yeh, I remember. This was when I was working at The Prime Cut on 2nd  Avenue, Downtown Nashville Tennessee, where there was always some big event going on that had people rushing out our doors on their way to, after dinner. At this particular place, we routinely heard, "Hey. We're  in a bit of a hurry. Do you think you can get us out of here kind of  quickly? We're going to see ......."  

It was honestly hard NOT to say "Yeh, you and the other hundred people in here. They're all in a hurry too. And they were here first. I'll do what I can.")
 

So... in this culture... presenting the check is sometimes a genuine courtesy (if the server has read the situation correctly, that is. Which turns out I had not in this case). 

The intent (often) is to keep the guests from having to wait for, or find us, once they're done eating or need to leave. People are *of course* welcome to stay as long as they like, but they are also free to leave quickly as well, if they need to. 

So that's how I explained it to him at the time. Yeh.. maybe I was  back-pedaling a bit, but he bought it. Things smoothed out, they all chilled awhile longer, left with no hard feelings, and tipped me.. well,  like Europeans.
 

I'll just leave it at that for now. That's a different topic. But for a good decade at least, I had learned my lesson.
 

Back to present day. I'm serving three European guests. They're done with their dinners, their after dinner drinks, and their espressos. And  we're closed now. All of my other tables have paid, and I routinely drop off the check unobtrusively, and walk away until I'm needed again.

It's just what we do here. Sure, sometimes it's a hint, but it doesn't always mean you have to leave. Unless a manager says so, it's still pretty much your choice. I've got maybe an hour of "closing sidework to do" and I'm going to be "in the back" and out of sight for longer periods of time now, especially if I know you don't want anything else (at least for awhile). This is just me placing your check on the table for when you're ready. Basically, I'll leave you alone to talk until I see your card sticking out of it.

It's just what we freaking do here.
 

Thirty minutes later, the host places his credit card in the check  presenter. I return with it, and wish them a nice evening. Ten minutes  later, they're still talking, and I unobtrusively pick up the check  presenter. Open it up at the computer, to close the check out, annnd  "goose-egg."

$0.
 

Am I mad?  No. 

Hurt?  Yes. 

Does that make this guy an asshole?  Absolutely 100% Yes.

But I immediately acknowledge my mistake. 

Now, it's not that I think he really had the right to do this ... but I do in fact know better by now

"Europeans hate being rushed." Right or wrong being irrelevant, as far as money in the bank goes, I screwed up,  and I paid the price. What's worse, is that in this particular case, I already knew that it's not just that "he's a foreigner who doesn't know our customs". I know this because I personally returned their bar tab to the  bartender once they were seated (and didn't worry about my tip just "because they were Europeans" in this case, because I saw it myself.. he tipped them okay). 

It's just that from his perspective, I rushed them, and he took  it personally.
 

I see that he wants to make it even more personal. 

The group hangs around afterwards, for another half-hour, talking amongst themselves, well after every other guest has left the restaurant. This guy however actually has the nerve to make more eye contact with me in the 30 minutes AFTER I picked up his voucher, than in the entire two hours prior. Drunken, self-satisfied, smirking, red-eyed, eye contact I might add. 

He's baiting me. 

I honestly think he wants me to say something about it. He's inviting a confrontation (similar to the one I had 12 or 13 years prior with my other European guest) .. but in this case, he just wants to "go off" on me because he's drunk, offended, and now he wants to make a scene.

Nope, you're not getting a peep out of me. I'm not giving you the satisfaction. You've failed to pay me for services rendered as it is - now you want free entertainment too?

Nope, not gonna happen.

I'm too long in this business to even let you see an emotional reaction. Twenty years ago..? Probably.

But today I've got a wife and two cats to support. I think about what's most important to me, take the abuse, and cut my losses. It's part and parcel of every server's job at one point or another. 

Whatever degree of satisfaction I might obtain by telling you how I really feel about your petty BS pales in comparison to what really matters in my life. This has already cost me $11 plus what you might have tipped, and I'm not about to let an altercation with a guest cost me my job on top of it.

Expensive lesson learned. Again.

As promised, the specific details of why this instance of "getting stiffed" additionally cost me $11 out of pocket - next time.

Follow.

Cheers mate. 


Guy's Work Blog : Chapter 4 "Why I Got Stiffed"
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Ch 1 ~ Ch 2 ~ Ch 3 ~ Ch 4 ~

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Stories about restaurant life, from my current & past waiter/bartender jobs. WHAT THIS ISN'T: I'm not here to complain about my guests, job, co-workers or tips. I love what I do (much of the time anyways, and I'm not mentioning names, except positively. I have around 25 years "in the biz," some fun stories to share, and at times some pretty unique life lessons to impart. Hopefully, I'm both informing and entertaining you as I go.
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Unconscionable to me to stiff a server - unless something went seriously wrong, like to the point where I personally witness them spitting in my food! Servers work so hard to provide a delightful dining experience, and deserve 20% or better. In fact, when my kids were little, one of our favorite traditions if we were traveling was to choose one meal where we'd give the "big tip" ($20 extra - which was a fortune to me at the time) to a server who'd somehow struck a chord with us. Sometimes the server would tear up... and of course, I would, too.

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Aw thanks for understanding, and such a powerful story and gesture on your part. You obviously get it, and that servers aren't "asking for charity" by any means. I appreciate your (now very precious!) upvote, and I will keep on posting to help other people understand the ins and outs of how the financial dynamics really work. The conversation often gets heated, so hope you'll stick around to comment as well.
Best, Guy

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My HLB (husband-like being)'s son has been a server for years - and I go a little Mama-Bear on this topic. It's not right not to tip generously for good service. If diners can't afford to tip well for good service, they should stay home.

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Ha, a common sentiment! So much so in fact it's my proposed book title....

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Excellent!

Europeans are a little prickly about being rushed anywhere , the Brits less so. Food is a massive issue to Europeans and they will stay 2,3,4, hours contemplating life and putting the world to rights - Shame you ended up out of pocket . Next time ( if there is one) - leave the keys with them and tell them to put through the letterbox when they have finished..!!

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THAT is great advice! And yes, it truly fits what I've learned over the years. Good comment LadyP ;)

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awesome advice !!!

Ok, this one is a fault on both of you. I have lived all over the world and yes it is offensive to bring a bill to a table without being asked in many cultures. The easy answer is to recognize the cultures you are dealing with. Now that you know this I imagine you won't make the same mistake again.

Here in Panama I never feel rushed by the waiters. I recently went to Vegas and Holy Shit I could feel the hostess eyeballs on my back!

Moral is to know who you are dealing with. It was a Dick move on the guys part and thankfully you did not react.

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Exactly sir! It was definitely a "bad read" on my part, but I've learned from my mistake. And hope other younger waiters do as well.

"a wife and two cats to support"... very funny... I have to show that to my husband.

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Finally! Someone gets that! I first used it in a post a few years back.
"Thank you very much..."

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Thanks solely to you zenagain, I think I will include the post about the time my cats got into a debate over wines ... I'd left it out of what I'd scheduled for this blog, but now i think I'll use it after. The world has you to blame!

Great post. You have gained a follower! I used to work in a bunch of kitchens so I have seen the other side. I was however, a busboy at my first job. Thinking back, isn't it funny the routines you go through?

I used to ask the same thing, the same way, at least a couple hundred times a night. Only slightly altering it to tailor to my crowd. I always tried to make people laugh. I knew what jokes would work with what people.

One time I made the mistake of asking, "what can I get you guys to drink" to a couple of ladies. They demanded to see my manager because "they weren't guys".

There were other times I screwed up bad. Like the one time, I poured coffee in a guy's lap because the teenage version of me was staring at his date's breasts. He simply just brushed it off.

Many people are very forgiving but some just love to fight.

Anyway, can't wait to see what you come up with in the future!

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Thanks much for the follow, much appreciated. Yup you nailed it - you have to tailor your lines, jokes, approach, etc as you go, no one size fits all routines cover everyone. I can relate to all that you detailed! Following you as well - Best, Guy

I only know central Florida, once you are finished ordering like coffee or desserts. They want you gone, that table is just dead everything to the business. It is not selling food nor paying more tips and is probably even an insurance risk with idle people just sitting around and not getting out of the establishment ! ! !

My server wants us gone so they can seat another tipper : ) The times when we have hung around you can sometimes get a vibe from the staff that it really is time you vacated the premises . . .

As I said that is just my tiny piece of a very very big country ; )

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I've worked in FL myself, and yes that's definitely true of the vibe - not only there but almost all big city style places, or anyplace that's pretty busy in general. We use the word "campers" in a negative sense when people hang around - negative because we want new people at the table to start the money cycle over again. "Turn and burn" is how it's said, in our lingo. The server's assigned section only has so much "real estate" vs the hours of operation (or of "the rush") so he/she/I has a real sense that a table "camping" is quite literally costing them income the longer they sit.
Lower volume places it won't be such a big deal, because there's no one to replace you with waiting, and you might feel more casual, like it's not frowned upon to linger. But extremely high volume places you might be strictly informed at the beginning (or when your reservation is made) that you have a 2-hour maximum. Or perhaps the manager will finally come and tell you that they need the table and you have to go - ieven if they just move you to the lounge.

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It is kool that you are outlining these issues, and your book sounds like an essential read. A nice helpful advice book : )