Dear Valued Guest...

This is an open letter I wrote after a particularly trying day at my former side job. I never posted it because, well, it's kind of a rant. And that's just mean. ;)

HOWEVER. I firmly believe that people need to know what a 'waiter rant' sounds like, if only to realize how the industry really works and how much of an impact one bad table can have.

Not that any of MY readers are bad tables, naturally. ;)


Dear Guest At Table 320,

I think I speak for all restaurant workers when I say this:


This is a nice restaurant. You're using real cloth napkins and wine glasses and your entrees automatically come with a first course. You're going to pay an average of $15 per plate here, and if you choose to drink, bar drinks will cost around $8 each. While you're here, you'll want to try a calorie-laden dessert at an average of $6 each; if you choose to skip it, you've probably already had an appetizer, at an average of $8.

A little simple math brings us to a whopping total of around $60 for two with the frills. Of course, the frills are optional, and every server expects and dreads people who order the cheapest menu items to share or the 'free refill' options and proceed to take full advantage of the opportunity to run the server off of his or her feet trying to keep up with the demand for constant refills.

Oh, we definitely know you, the people who try to 'eat cheap'. Servers all know that this means you're willing to spend when it comes to the food, possibly because you have a gift card you're dying to use, but you're going to leave a paltry tip in the name of 'eating cheap'. Guess what? A $60 meal purchased with a $50 gift card and a $10 bill is STILL A $60 CHECK. Tip on the original amount.

It's simple, really.

And if you don't, whatever you do, please don't brag about how cheaply you got your dinner and return with your friends to demonstrate.

By the way, if you're going to order the 'free refill' side items and consume 4 bowls of soup and 3 salad bowls, you're too cheap. You need to order a real meal. If real meals are too expensive, choose another restaurant. Possibly one with a dollar menu. After all, it's not your server's fault that you really can't afford to be eating here. If you're saving money by tipping less, you're not beating the establishment, you're hurting the server. The company makes a HUGE profit from everything on the menu. The server makes NOTHING aside from the tips his/her guests leave.

Are you just a bad tipper by nature? Your server doesn't sympathize. Servers work EXTREMELY hard for very little money and still manage to tip $10 or more when they eat out. So they're not going to 'understand where you're coming from' nor be impressed with your dollar-stretching skills. Servers work for payment. Tipping is an American dining standard - even if you're from another country, there's no way that you are unaware of your responsibility. And when your server holds up his/her end of the bargain and provides service for you, you need to do your part and pay for that service.

When you don't, you're inducted into the secret hall of shame. Servers remember you. The bad tippers, the perpetual complainers, the arguers, the overspenders with the declined credit cards, and the people who send their plates back to the kitchen - usually half-empty, because apparently, you have to plow through half of your sirloin and two-thirds of your side dishes to decide that your food was bad - every time in an attempt to get free food.

Servers will point you out to coworkers. Staff members might casually stroll by your table, and your previous server will, no doubt, let your current server know about you. Why let them waste their time trying to cater to your every whim? You'll likely stiff them like you've stiffed others. This means that your bad tip just cost your future dining experiences. You're going to get very basic service when you come back here, and nothing more. After all, it's exactly what you've paid for.

Here's the deal. Servers make $2.13 per hour. After taxes and insurance and employers robbing a percentage of servers' 'sales' for 'tip shares', most servers don't see a dime from their paychecks, and in fact, often pay $10-$20 of their tips back to the company because of this shady, greedy 'company policy'.

That means that the only money that servers survive on is what you leave at the end of your dinner.

So it's NOT okay to stuff your face with that $15 meal, demand servant-like attention from your server, complain, insist, question, threaten, ignore, demean, and insult him/her - and then leave a bad tip.

Here's a little etiquette lesson for you. Industry standards for a satisfactory tip begin at 20% of the entire check - that's before coupons, gift cards, or meals comped off of your ticket by the manager - and stipulate that no tip for reasonable service should be less than $5.


Your server is responsible for preparing salads, soups, bread baskets, drinks, coffee setups, and desserts. Sometimes they'll be required to plate your food or run to the storage rooms for ingredients the cooks need to fill your order. Not only does this take place in record time, usually while you drain your freshly-refilled iced tea and complain, but all of your requests for extra plates, silverware, napkins, and other items are handled by your server, often while he or she is trying to handle extra requests from other tables, too. The server's job doesn't end at your table - a typical 'section' can be 2-6 other tables at a time, or, if a restaurant is short-staffed, half of the restaurant.

The server you insist on running into the ground is also bussing tables, seating other parties, and running hot food to other servers' tables. Every second spent at your table, waiting for you to decide on your dinner, listening to stories about your pet, or answering questions about specials [even though you're holding the menu they're all listed in] is a sacrifice made to enrich your dining experience.

Should you recognize this and find it in your heart to surprise your server with an excellent tip, I can assure you that the entire restaurant will be at your beck and call. Servers will fight to have you in their section. The manager will come by and greet you personally. You might find that your desserts or your drinks have been taken care of for you. Your waiter or waitress will be more than happy to listen to those pet stories. And they'll be happy to make your future dining experiences flawless, too.

Most servers are normal, happy people - when treated with respect, they're thrilled to to return the favor. The kindhearted, generous patrons who make up the small - but popular - minority of a restaurant's guests keep servers from walking away from the industry.

If you decide to ignore the truth and stick it to the man [or woman], you'll find that your server is going to do everything he/she can to get you out of the restaurant and on your not-so-merry way.

It's [probably] nothing personal, it's just business strategy. A new party is a new chance to earn a good tip.

So next time you think you may want to have dinner out, think twice. If you can't afford to tip your waiter generously - or fairly, at the very least - then kindly consider going somewhere else to eat. In fact, I have a friendly suggestion for you; roll through your nearest drive through.

This is a business. Servers are working, just like you, to pay their bills and keep their kids fed and clothed.

Tip well. They're more than happy to let you keep your change.

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[the alohilana blog] by R. Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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