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Some Tips About Tipping

by on August 2011

Recently there has been a lot of blog posts (Waiter Rant, Boozenews.ca, etc.) about tipping, and I figure I should throw my two cents into the ring. In general, tipping or providing gratuities, for a job well done by a server or bartender is a given in the food and beverage business. But it is always a crap shoot from the servers point of view. Sometimes we get stiffed even though we provided exceptional service, sometimes we get stiffed because we sucked that night, which is rare because most professionals can turn “it” on when they need too. I personally hate the “tipping system,” I’d rather get paid a decent wage with benefits, like a normal job.

The tipping system benefits only one group and that’s the owners of the restaurant. It allows them to pay extremely low wages that no person could reasonably live off. In the US wages for servers can be as low a $2.50 per hour and in Canada around $6.50. A hobo begging on a corner can make more than that in an hour! There is no doubt that the food and beverage business is hard to be successful in, but so is every other business you can imagine. Computer software companies must put years of costs before they see any return on investment. The difference is that these other business pay their employees a decent wage while they take the risk.

The majority of people are very good about tipping and understand that servers and bartenders make minimum wage, or less. So what is a reasonable tip? First, if the service and the food is crappy, 8-10% is reasonable, but it must be exceptionally crappy! Don’t take it out on the servers, talk to the manager if your experience is that bad! If the service is OK, then 10%-15%. If the service is good 15%-20% and for over the top service anything above 20%. 

Now why would you tip 8% for crappy service? Well, a lot of restaurants require the server to pay anywhere from 2% to 5% of their sales to the “house,”** which comes out of the tip they made. So if the tab comes to $200, and the “house” requires 3%, then the server owes $6 to the “house” at the end of the night. If you tip 15% and give the server $30, they may only see $24 of it. Plus servers are usually required to tip the support staff (bussers, bartenders, etc.) so if you don’t tip anything, then the server may end up making a negative income! Nobody deserves to pay to go to work, we all have bad days and most people can just hide in their office, food and beverage workers don’t have that choice. Plus we don’t make the food.

I have a few exceptions to those rules. For example if you order a $300 bottle of wine, I wouldn’t expect you to tip $50. Why? Because $50 for five minutes of service isn’t reasonable and I personally wouldn’t pay someone $50 to open up a bottle of wine. But we also need to remember that payment at the end of the night to the “house.” So on a $300 bottle the server owes $9 to the “house,” plus there should be some tips for the service and anywhere from $10 to $20 is reasonable. So if you tip $20 to $30 then you’ll be ok, with me anyway.

One of my biggest pet peeves is this; if the owner of a restaurant buys your drinks while you sit at the bar, or picks up your dinner tab, you still need to tip! I’m sorry, but we, bartenders and servers, are still providing a service to you, while you get a free ride. Generally it is just rude to not tip and there must be an exceptional reason not too, and getting free food and drinks is not considered an exception reason!

But, that’s why I don’t like the tipping system. Servers and bartenders need to pay their bills just like everyone else, but we depend on the kindness and generosity of the general public, like beggars in the street. It’s hard to be a professional when you work your ass off and then get $0 in tips, because now you know you’ve just paid to come to work!

The sad part is that there are a handful of people who never tip because in general they are cheap and taking advantage of the system. Then there are people so generous you feel bad about taking their tips, assuming you have a conscious. The way I would prefer it is to simply do what every other business does by including the costs of doing business (salaries) into the price of their product. The benefit is that good restaurants / clubs would pay good wages to those people who take their profession serious. Basically, the cream would float to the top.  

** Note, most payments of any portion of the tips to the house is illegal. One loophole is if it is redistributes to the support staff (i.e. kitchen staff, porters, dishwashers, etc.). But if the “house” just keeps the money that is technically illegal. Servers rarely complain because it usually just ends up with the server being unemployed.