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COLUMN: A few helpful tips for non-tippers

On March 2, 2012

This week, in lieu of reviewing a local restaurant, I'm going to share with you my opinion that at least 2 million people agree with.

Long before books such as "Kitchen Confidential," by Anthony Bourdain, "Nickled and Dimed," by Barbara Ehrenreich, "Waiter Rant," by Steve Dublanica, and "Dishwasher," by Pete Jordan, came out, I was tying on my first server's apron and heading into work at City View Diner for the weekend graveyard shift.

That was back in 1999, and when I filled out an application for the job - urged by a rag-tag group of fellow cigarette-smoking, coffee-guzzling diner rats - I never knew it was going to be the start of an 11-year stint of plate slinging and table jockeying, groveling at the hands of people who'd rather pay for a meal than learn how to cook one at home.

If I've learned anything from having to rely on the generosity of a race of beings who seem to be, more than anything, innately interested in themselves and oftentimes incapable of acting civilly when they go out to eat, I've learned that you can never count on a good tip.

When I came to Cache Valley almost three years ago, I had already been employed by 21 different restaurants and waited tables for almost 10 years. I moved here from Moab, a tourist and resort town that hosted people from all over the world nine months out of the year - the place is a veritable goldmine if you get the right job in the right restaurant.

Never did I expect what was soon going to smack me in the face like a sack full of stale hamburger buns, after I came to northern Utah. I'm not going to hold back. I know a large proportion of people from this region of the country are exceptionally stingy, some almost to the point of greediness, but what I didn't quite expect was the fact that most of these people consider themselves completely justified in leaving bad tips - some don't even tip at all. I've never seen such a high concentration of coldly calculative people, who have such a creative range of excuses for allowing a hard-working server to exert themselves under the assumption that a decent tip will be left and then without remorse leave a fellow human being out to dry.

For anyone out there who has never worked as a server in a restaurant - and for the small group of weirdos who have and still don't tip - if you think it's OK to stiff a server or leave less than 15 percent for good service, you're going to hell. I usually leave 30 percent, but that's because I've done this for so long. You don't have to leave that much, but live up to what you profess to be - an honest, good human being - and manage to part ways with that one additional dollar bill that will bring your tip percentage up to 15-20 percent.

There are more than 2 million people in this country who wait tables, and that number comprises a whole bunch of hard-working people who need to earn money just as much as the next person. It's not your job as a patron in a restaurant to judge your server. I understand some servers really do a terrible job - it actually seems that some of them try to give bad service - but that doesn't mean most servers don't work hard to make you happy. Everyone has a bad night at work. Maybe their mother just died or their 2-year-old needs diapers and formula and they're depressed about being poor.

If you decide to go to a restaurant and receive service from a waiter or waitress, don't sit there and keep tally of each little thing you don't like about the person taking care of you. After all, if that's how everyone in this world got paid, we'd all be a bunch of broke, unhappy imperfect people. How would you like it if pay day rolled around and your boss said to you, "You know, I really didn't like the way you talked to me all week long. I'm only going to give you one-third of what you think you've earned?"

I can't change the fact that tipping is the customary way servers get paid. It's something that started a couple hundred years ago, and it's not going to change any time soon. Tipping allows restaurant owners to keep food prices within a reasonable range for the middle- and lower-class patrons who eat in their restaurants - people like you and me. Restaurant owners in Utah are only required to pay their servers $2.13 per hour, and since that money pays the employee's taxes, he or she ends up with a check every two weeks that states "non-negotiable," because 40 hours at that pittance doesn't even cover what it needs to in tax.

I'm not going to sit here and say I was exploited for 11-plus years as a server. I had several jobs in which I made decent money for the energy I put into them. Ultimately, the argument is all based in principle - if a human being waits on you, they are not your servant, they're your server; and this means you owe them in return for the service they've provided. This is an agreement you make every time you go out to eat.

I'd also like to give more unsolicited advice for some of the less-experienced or classless people who tend to go out to eat. For the rest of you who read this, it will merely be entertaining. For the person who orders water - which is most of you - don't look at me with that apologetic face or say some awkward thing like, "Um, for now I think I'll just have water." What, are you saying you're going to order something that costs money halfway through your meal. Instead of being the awkward geek that you are, just own the fact that you don't want to pay for your drink.12

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