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Jack Smith

Food for thought: A good tip to follow is to leave a generous one

March 31, 1985|JACK SMITH

I have always been a fairly heavy tipper, having worked for tips as a bellhop and then as a pantryman a good many years ago.

I have been especially generous since my daughter-in-law became a waitress and thereafter a vigilant observer of my tipping practices when I take her out to dinner or lunch.

"Mr. Smith," she will say, as we are standing to leave the table. "Did you leave a tip?"

Sometimes she even asks me how much of a tip I left, assuring me that the service has been very good; she is very sympathetic toward the waiter or waitress.

I am shocked by some of the stories she tells me of the base tactics employed by some people to avoid leaving a tip.

It is very common, she says, for customers to leave a religious tract on the table instead of a tip. Often these tracts have been printed for exactly that purpose, explaining that a donation is being made to a certain church or organization in lieu of a tip.

Although she was raised in a village across the river from Tours, within the sound of the cathedral's bells, she is not deeply religious, and she would invariably prefer a tip to the inspiring message of the religious tract.

I am myself outraged by the thought of some niggardly hypocrite enjoying the service of a good waitress, and then leaving a tract urging her to follow the path of moral righteousness, while he not only stiffs her but also undoubtedly stiffs the church that provided the tract.

My daughter-in-law tells me that sometimes these people and their friends will get up and leave a table, not only without leaving a tip but without paying at all, and walk out past the cashier as if they had paid at the table. She has often run out to the parking lot with the manager to catch such deadbeats. Sometimes they have the nerve to come back, and they go through the whole routine again, and have to be caught again. Sometimes, of course, they get away with it.

If anyone has a grudge against Denny's Restaurants, or the International House of Pancakes, or the Seafood Broiler, and wants to cheat them out of a meal, the least he could do, it seems to me, is leave a tip for the poor waitress, who just happens to work there.

Many people evidently excuse themselves from tipping on the grounds that the restaurant should pay its employees an adequate wage, and that tipping should not be necessary. This is simply not realistic. Restaurants don't pay their employees enough to get by without tips because tipping is an accepted custom, participated in by most civilized patrons and favored by most employees because it gives them a chance to earn more by offering more in the way of quickness, efficiency and personality.

My daughter-in-law is an excellent waitress. Not only quick and efficient, but also extremely charming, making every customer think he or she is in France. She makes even the house wines taste better.

It would be worth it to the restaurant to pay her what she makes in tips just for the come-back business she generates; but of course it doesn't work that way.

In any case, her talent as a waitress is no longer of much consequence. To her own great delight, though it was no surprise to me, she passed the real estate examination, and is now licensed to deal in real estate. She has been taken in by a firm of women in Glendale and has actually made some sales.

I don't know how her table-side charm will serve her in the more weighty transactions of the real estate market, where a $100,000 house is regarded as small potatoes, but I think she will do very well, even if she hasn't learned yet to appreciate football.

However, I always think of how her tips had given her a private life, and bought her vacations and a few things for her children; and I am always generous, even when the food hasn't been the best.

If you have ever worked out of a restaurant kitchen, you know that the waitress is not responsible for every plate that's served cold, or cooked badly; and you can't even blame her if she brings the wrong dish. Chances are she's working too many tables and the kitchen is understaffed and the cook is on a rampage. I have known a couple of cooks with the temper of Captain Bligh.

So if a waitress isn't downright rude, I give her the benefit of the doubt.

In fact, I romanticize. I imagine that she is working her way through school, and that every dollar helps. Or that she is trying to be independent of a tyrannical family, or has just escaped a violent husband and has two kids to take care of. I add it up. If I leave an extra dollar in a tip every day of the year, that's only $365 in a year, which is about the price of a suit and a new pair of shoes that I can do without.

Sometimes I don't always have that feeling of benevolence--especially when I'm waited on condescendingly by one of those haughty European male waiters who live with expensive mistresses in Westside condominiums and have $150,000 salted away in tax-free municipal bonds.

Still, you wouldn't dare leave one of those fellows a religious tract!

Best leave him 15%; and if he calls you Mr. Smith, leave 20.

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