It has lately been brought to my attention that a great many people, when they patronize dining establishments (any dining establishment; I'm not talking about any specific restaurants here), make a point of patronizing the staff as well. They speak down to their waitress, flood her with special requests, and after making her work so hard for them, either leave no tip, or an insultingly small one.
Perhaps this is because a large portion of the public are laboring under a set of delusions about waiters' and waitresses' careers. Shockingly, some people reach adulthood without ever having worked in the restaurant business. Herewith, I shall do my own small part to enlighten the general public.
Misconception #1: Servers make an hourly wage, so tipping is just icing on the cake.
While servers do make an hourly wage, it's not enough to pay the bills. Most employers only pay their servers' state and federal taxes, and nothing more. This pay, which is well below minimum wage, is withheld by the government. In effect, most servers work for tips, and tips alone.
Misconception #2: Tipping is optional; it's polite to do, but not ultimately necessary.
Pretend that you're working at your job, whatever that might be. One Friday afternoon, your boss comes to you and asks if you could put in a little extra time this weekend, to help out with a special project: a party for a retiring bigwig in your company. All your other coworkers are doing it, so you'll be the odd man (or woman) out if you don't show. You didn't really have any plans for the weekend anyway, so you say OK, figuring it's better to go and build some credit with the boss. Besides, you can tell that refusal would be unwise.
You show up at your workplace on Saturday, and you give it your all. You really go the extra mile, and do everything the boss asks, with a smile on your face to boot. You figure there's gonna be a nice, juicy bonus in your future, for all the hard work you've done.
Payday rolls around, and you find that there's no overtime pay in your check. There's not even a bonus or anything. You ask your boss what's up, and he says that because you weren't on the clock, he's not legally obliged to pay you anything. Your service was entirely voluntary (even though you knew that refusing might get you in trouble, and possibly lose you your job.)
That's what not getting a tip feels like. She's already given you a service, on the understanding that she will be paid for it. Even if the service was poor, she's still within her rights to be paid for it. If you walk out on the bill for your food because it didn't taste great, the manager is likely to inform you that the transaction doesn't work like that.
When you receive goods, you pay for them. When you receive a service, the same rule applies.
Misconception #3: A 15% tip is a generous reward for exceptional service.
Maybe this was true back in the 90's, but not today. Not in 2011. The dollar has inflated since then, and the costs of living are high. Not to mention the bad economy. People are eating out less, and tipping less, so each dollar earned is vital.
The standard tip for average service is 20%. If you feel that your waitress has gone above and beyond, then her percentage should increase accordingly.
Misconception #6: Waitresses deal with people all day long, and I'm in a hurry. She won't mind if I'm a little curt or rushed with her.
While any waitress worth her salt will maintain her professionalism in the face of fairly harsh treatment, it does tend to wear on one's nerves after a few hours. Most people who come into a restaurant are in a hurry to eat and get out. Though they never intend to be rude to their waitress, they can sometimes come across as uncaring. A simple "please" and "thank you" will work wonders on the kind of service which your waitress will give you. Just because she's working an "unskilled" job does not make her less worthy of your full attention, respect, and common courtesy.
Furthermore, it's in your own interest to treat your waitress with respect, and to tip well. A happy waitress is a productive waitress. Any decent waitress will do her best to serve all her tables equally, but human nature is still human nature. She's bound to show better service to the tables which treat her well, and make her feel good. Even if you can't afford to leave a big tip, and tell her so, she'll often be very understanding. Good manners and empathy can make even a complex order for a large table seem much less of a burden.
A few words of kindness are often all it takes to win your waitress' best service. All she asks for is a little respect; a little dignity.
Isn't that something we all want from our jobs?