Served: My Plea To Tip Kindly

I blog by day and wait tables by night. I'm excited to bring you Served, dispatches from the front of the house. Enjoy!

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Girls, Go Forth and Succeed!

Mrs. Redline wrote her name on some kind of old-school computer program for our fourth grade computer class as a fat red line. She took obvious delight in the cleverness of her visual pun. The fact that it was rendered digitally was icing on the cake.

We were not so easily impressed.

Mrs. Redline gave us her favorite lecture so many times that her words are permanently inscribed in the deepest recesses of my brain.

"Girls," she would say, "Listen up!" We were all girls, ponytailed and donning our regulation scratchy blue uniform jumpers. We were busy in front of our PCs devising PowerPoint presentations about the Civil War, or playing an incredible game involving multiplication problems and bowling monkeys.

Any technological mishap might prompt Mrs. Redline's speech. Perhaps some student's computer would freeze up and she'd raise her hand in frustration.

Mrs. Redline's response was to the whole class: "You are sheltered here. You've been taught that you can do anything, because you can. But in the big, bad world outside, people are backwards. They believe stereotypes. They think girls are good at some things and bad at other things. They think just because you are a girl, you cannot be good at computers. It is your job to prove them wrong. Show the world what women can do! Figure out a solution! Restart your computer!" Rah rah!

I was annoyed by her point. Why should it be our responsibility to disprove people's ignorant notions? Was that really the point of our education?

Ugly Stereotypes

Stereotypes are often the way we make sense of a complicated world. They are easy ways to make categories, draw lines, and simplify complexities. They are, by definition, flawed. All French women are not stylish and scarf-wearing and all Americans are not obese. Duh.

But, to risk sounding boorish, many stereotypes are based on a kernel of truth. They come from somewhere.

As you might expect, I have found that sometimes stereotypes about how people behave while dining out hold up. (You know—some cops really do love doughnuts!) Other times, they prove woefully inadequate (this super health-conscious, vegan, yogi policeman hasn't touched anything fried in years).

Table Manners

Until I started waiting tables, I had no idea that there were commonly held generalizations about how people act, order, and tip.

In retrospect, it makes perfect sense. There are aphorisms about everything. Why should racism, sexism, and general ignorance disappear inside dining establishments? Europeans are supposed to be awful tippers, as are all tourists. Black people, a maxim purports, don't tip well. Women? Also supposedly lousy tippers.

I never thought I would be urging people to follow the advice I loathed, but I am doing just that. Please, don't live up to these awful and silly stereotypes. Maybe all of us fourth graders would not go on to exhibit great prowess with computer-related pursuits, but I hope we all grew up to be decent tippers. Everyone, tip well! Factor a generous gratuity into the cost of your meal. If you cannot afford it, please dine somewhere less pricey.

This goes for everyone, of course. A white man in a suit came in to my place while I was bartending the other day and rambled incessantly about how much money he made. He told me about his new car, his new vacation home, and how he loved to freely spend his copious cash. He shared this information with the guests sitting beside him, too. "What's his deal?" the woman next to him asked me when he left.

His deal was a mystery to me. He had left scarcely a tip: about five percent. Really?

My Humble Plea

There is no need to overtip, but it never hurts to err on the side of big. I firmly believe that good tipping is good karma. And the people who serve your dinner, cut your hair, drive your taxi, and all the rest rely on your tips to make a living.

Perhaps the system in which those in the service industry rely almost exclusively on tips is flawed. (That's another column.) But it's futile to protest that inadequacy by refusing to tip; the only people who get hurt are those like me. We're left to wonder, "Did I offend them? Was something wrong?"

And left to fantasize about getting in the face of that suited man, and saying, "I'm glad you're so rich and you can afford to tip properly on a few glasses of wine. Thanks for your incredible generosity."