Served: Cashing in early doesn't feel like winning

About a year ago I went out to breakfast with some friends. We were hung over and starving. It was a weekday, and definitely past noon, but we found a Mexican restaurant that was still serving breakfasty things. There were six of us and we all paid separately. I rarely look at the itemized receipt, but I happened to glance at it this time. It seemed high. I'd only had a couple of breakfast tacos and a margarita. There at the bottom, after the tax was an automatic gratuity charge. Had the waitress not liked us? Over half of our party worked in restaurants, didn't she think we would tip appropriately? These feelings that flooded me momentarily were ridiculous, of course. How could she possibly know that we were service people? Why would that matter? There were six of us, and she was covering her ass. I remember being on the other side of things, when a coworker was contemplating adding the automatic gratuity (15% where we worked at the time). He thought the table might tip more if he didn't put it on. At the time it struck me as the stupidest thing I'd ever heard. I'd recently come from a restaurant that didn't allow automatic gratuity at all. After a couple of ten person tables with $300 checks that left less than a 5% tip, I vowed to never hope for the best when the stakes were so high. But after being auto-gratted myself, I understand the unpleasant feeling the practice seems to ignite. I think that sometimes you will make more if you leave it up to chance (what is *with* all this gambling? I think I need a new profession). I can honestly say, that no matter how poor my dining experience, I've never been able to not tip. When I had the worst dinner of my life at Polvo's – my waitress stank (not literally), the food wasn't good, my bill was wrong, etc. I still talked myself into a solid 20%. I usually try to give my server the benefit of the doubt, but in this particular instance, there was no doubt that she did not give a shit about her job. I know it's dumb, but I still couldn't get over the fact that she's only making $2.13/hour, and how shitty that is. In retrospect, I wouldn't leave her 20%, she really didn't deserve it. But I still can't see leaving *nothing*. Recently we had an Austin Cut meeting at Spiderhouse. It was a Friday night, they were busy, and we had eight people in our party. Our waiter was OK. I say OK because there is no way he would make it at any other full-service restaurant, but compared to every other customer service experience I've had at this place (when I found a fly in my tequila the bartender looked at me blankly and said “oh, weird”) he did a damn good job. Our food took forever, and he apologized profusely and even gave us a free appetizer. When the check came, I was only bummed about the automatic gratuity (18%) for about half a second. That weird feeling in the pit of my stomach and the insecurity-driven feelings of “he doesn't like me?!” were almost instantly replaced with “duh, it's Friday night and there are eight of us.” One of our staffers, who I won't mention by name, was pissed about the automatic gratuity. He's a waiter, and is all about customer service – as am I and anyone who is worth a damn in the restaurant industry. My unnamed friend didn't feel like we got very awesome service and said that no matter how many people were in a party at his restaurant, if he didn't take the best-ever care of them, he wouldn't auto-grat them. In a busy restaurant, a lot of things can go wrong that make service slow. Cooks can mess up orders and tickets can get lost. Your server depends on a lot of people to make your experience perfect, and things often happen that are out of your server's control. I think just by going out on a Friday night, you're asking for less than par service, unless you're going somewhere sort of fancy. I didn't mind in the slightest paying my 18% (and slipping a couple extra bucks when the rest of our disgruntled table wasn't looking). When it comes down to it, things would have to be worse than they were at Polvo's for me to complain to a manager. And that's really the bottom line. If your dining experience is bad enough for you to complain to a manager, then you shouldn't have to tip, if you don't want to. If you don't feel the need to see the person in charge, then you should just pay your bill, whether the tip is on it or not. Restaurants make an automatic gratuity policy (usually for parties of six or more) because large parties are a pain and are hard to accommodate, especially when it's busy. Large parties put additional stress on the kitchen. And a big table will fill up a server's section, making up a significant part of their income for the night. As far as restaurant owners are concerned, a big table that stays long after they've finished eating means no turnover, or less food sold. What it comes down to is that, financially, (for servers and owners alike) a big table is a higher risk. Automatic gratuity is there to protect employees from getting financially fucked. In regards to my coworker gambling his tip on a large table, however risky it may have been, he was right. Getting auto-gratted feels bad. Not all of us can rationale our way out of those negative feelings. Sometimes, you'll make more if you don't demand your money up-front. But, sometimes you'll get seriously screwed. My problem is: I don't like to gamble, but I wanna win big.


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