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Jack Smith

For those who tip and those who are tipped, it's simply a matter of good business

April 14, 1985|JACK SMITH

My plea in behalf of better tips for waiters and waitresses is appreciated, especially by waiters and waitresses.

"Hooray for telling it like it is for the waitresses," writes Susan Funaro of Santa Monica. "Only Bob Dylan did the same kind of service to the industry when he authored the song 'Gotta Serve Somebody,' a k a 'Ode to Waitresses.' "

That is the first time anything I've written has been compared favorably with the work of Bob Dylan, and I feel quite honored to have achieved that distinction so late in life.

"I used to work at a very noisy, raucous restaurant in Marina del Rey called T. G. I. Friday's," Miss Funaro goes on. (I know the place. And if you're over 40, and want to feel old , go in there sometime at the cocktail hour and watch the young lions of both sexes on the prowl.)

"I too overtip," Miss Funaro confesses, "even now that I am out of the waitressing profession. I usually feel guilty about leaving anything less than 20%. . . ."

Miss Funaro also discloses a bit of inside lore that was unknown to me. Those who served food and drinks at Friday's were called "w/w's" by each other, as a shortened form of waiters and waitresses; and the term in the weeds referred to a w/w who was so busy--because of the lack of help, kitchen foul-ups, or a sudden onslaught of customers--that her fellow w/w's had to come to her aid and pour her coffee refills.

"I had a T-shirt at Friday's that said, 'W/W's do it in the weeds.' Nifty, huh?"

"It is nice to know," writes Annie Johnson of San Pedro, "that there are people in the professional world who view waitresses as intelligent, worthy people. I am a waitress whose pet peeve is that people perceive us as second-class citizens, all lumped together as one big mindless, dippy group of women who lead pathetic, dreary lives. . . . I happen to love my job, but feel I am always having to defend being 'just a waitress. . . .' "

A. G. Jungers registers a partial dissent. He doesn't mind tipping 10%, but he thinks 15% is generally too much.

"It appears that you agree with my friends that the proper amount is 15%, providing the service was OK. When I object, stating that the amount should be 10% as it has been for years, they say that because of inflation and higher prices, 15% is proper. Then I give my explanation: Let us say that in 1950 the price of a meal was $10. In those days the accepted amount was 10% so the tip is $1. Now the same meal costs $20. At 10% the tip will be $2. The waiter or waitress has automatically gotten a 100% raise because as long as we deal in percentages the tip goes up as the prices go up.

"For the life of me I can't see what is wrong with that logic. If 10% was right in 1950 then it should be right in 1985."

Jungers' arithmetic is impeccable and so is his logic. The trouble is in his generosity of spirit. Ten percent was never an adequate tip; in 1950 or now.

James N. Angelo is a little harder to deal with. "If tipping is a 'civilized custom,' " he asks, "then why aren't restaurant owners 'civilized' enough to pay a decent salary? You impute to waitresses 'quickness, efficiency and personality.' Most waitresses I deal with are sullen, haughty, or sluggish, invariably unavailable when I want them.

"If tipping is an 'accepted custom' for services rendered, as you imply, then do you tip the bus driver? The jet pilot? The mailman? How about the guy who pumps your gas? The garbage man? The clerk in the men's or women's department store? The florist? The newsboy or the theater usher? Of course not. What about the nurse you had who made your bed, gave you baths and emptied your bed pan? Did you give her 20%? Good boy!

"I'm a retired schoolteacher after 35 years in public education. I've been underpaid for half of my life, but no one has ever offered me a gratuity. (You'll find it in the dictionary just after gratitude. )"

Can you imagine trying to tip your airline pilot? Unless it was 100 shares of AT&T. Nurses, as underpaid as they are, and as mean as their work sometimes is, are professionals, and I would hate to try to tip one. The bus driver? On guided tours, when we travel with the same driver for several days, I tip the bus driver. The mailman? I don't tip him, but we leave him a Christmas bonus every year. The garbage man? Same thing, for the crew.

Service station attendants and department store clerks, like schoolteachers, are probably underpaid; but they do not take their jobs expecting tips. It is not customary. A car is a necessity, and it costs enough to keep one up, without having to tip the man who pumps your gas. Most store clerks, I suspect, would be embarrassed by a tip, since they are not in the position of servants.

Waiters and waitresses do literally serve us, as if we were Upstairs and they were Downstairs, and to ameliorate the class distinction implicit in this relationship, to which we both agree, for the moment, we pay them. That takes the class distinction out of it and makes it simply a business arrangement, one whose terms, of course, are left to the honor and discretion of the served.

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