In the early 1990’s, I was one of the nation’s top producers for a mutual fund company. One of the head dogs from New York came to Kentucky to see what I was about.
He took me to dinner at Rick Pitino’s fancy restaurant. He was rude, overbearing and berated the servers. He liked to lord it over the “little people.” (Yes, he used that term.) Even worse, he left a small tip.
I never did business with that company again. If he was looking to stick it to the waiters, I figured that eventually he was going to stick it to me and my customers. The way he treated the servers exposed a character flaw. When someone thinks of working people as “little people,” I don’t want to do business with him.
I recently went to Portofino, a nice Lexington restaurant, on my way to a University of Kentucky basketball game. The server did a great job of getting us out in time for the tipoff . I gave a good tip with my debit card. (I don’t use credit cards.)
The next day, I was checking the account online and didn’t see the tip. I called the restaurant, talked to the manager, and found that server had received the money but it had not credited the account yet.
The people at the restaurant were blown away that I called. I posted a note about it on Facebook and many friends wanted to pat me on the back. I didn’t understand the praise. You shouldn’t get a reward for paying a debt.
For several generations on all sides, every person in my family has worked in a restaurant or bar at one time or another. Tips were how we kept a roof over our heads.
Everyone in my family is a good tipper. My dad was in the 30% to 40% range. I’m more like 20% to 25%, but that’s still above average. I pay extra for people who hustle and adjust down for people with bad attitudes. If you get a 15% tip from me, you should consider another career.
Serving is a profession, like sales, where you can get immediate feedback on your performance from your customer base. You don’t have to wait for the boss to tell you.
For some reason, tipping seems to be a controversial subject. There is an attitude of some that confuses stiffing a server with being a smart consumer. Being a smart consumer is doing your homework and getting a good deal on a car or house. Being a smart consumer is doing the research to find a good restaurant with reasonable prices.
Being a smart consumer does not mean sticking it to the waiters and waitresses — at any economic level. When the economy is this bad, people will find less expensive places to eat. If they go to a super nice place, they can make it work by cutting back on drinks, appetizers and deserts. They shouldn’t’ make it work by cutting back on fairly compensating the servers.
Cheapskates will argue that restaurant servers receive a salary. Sure they do. The minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13 an hour. It’s been that way since 1991. Congress assumes that servers will make it up in tips. Also, the restaurant industry has a lot of well-paid lobbyists, and the “little people” don’t.
Tipping is about showing respect and appreciation for the people who make your day special. Along with the respect and appreciation, you never know when leaving a lousy tip is going to cause a customer or romantic interest to walk.
I’ll always wonder if the mutual fund guy stiff ed the servers on his next client visit. I’ll take my decision to walk as a small victory for the “little people” and move on.
Kentuckian Don McNay is an
award winning, syndicated financial
columnist and contributor to
The Huffington Post website.