Chow’s Helena Echlin fields a question this week from a diner who wants to know if it is ever okay to commit the ultimate dining out sin of completely stiffing your server. Short answer: God, no!
In any case, when you don’t leave a tip, the gesture could be misinterpreted. Phoebe Damrosch, author of Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter and a former server at Per Se, says: “If you don’t tip, it’s easy for the waiter to rationalize that you’re cheap or European.” Or, says Janet Wesley∗, a server at Restaurant Gary Danko, it could look like you’re “drunk and can’t handle the math.”
Because it doesn’t send a clear message, leaving no tip is emotionally unsatisfying. It’s just punishment for punishment’s sake. “Revenge doesn’t feel all that good in the long run,” says Damrosch. You’ll feel much better if you communicate clearly why you’re unhappy, and you may improve the restaurant.
How to do that communication without causing an ugly scene or leaving a passive-aggressive note? Echlin suggests e-mailing the restaurant later, though that’s still basically a passive-aggressive note, only electronic.
Tipping is so darned sticky, isn’t it? It’s really difficult for servers to communicate just how important the practice is to their livelihood, as Frank Bruni points out in a recent Diner’s Journal post. And it seems equally difficult for diners to convey their needs to servers other than to silently reflect how well those needs were met in the tip. Can’t we all just pull our egos and neuroses out of the equation for a second and speak frankly about what is, essentially, a business transaction? No, probably not. Not while entertaining guests or wooing sweethearts, anyway.
The practice of tipping, however awkward, probably isn’t going anywhere any time soon, so we’d all benefit by being better and more straightforward about it. Diners: communicate what you need, in clear terms and a non-insulting tone, and for God’s sake, leave a tip. Servers, don’t take it personally when diners issue a lot of requests. It’s your job to fulfill those requests. And don’t forget, people’s tipping habits can determine the level of service you’ll give them the next time they show up at your restaurant.
Bad Dinner, No Tip — Is it ever OK to stiff the waitstaff? [Table Manners]
The Answer Man: Low Tips from Foreign Tourists [Diner’s Journal]
[Image via Amazon]