I recently returned from Europe, where I had a lovely vacation that primarily consisted of a) seeing all the wonderful, breathtaking, beautiful, historic sights that they have in Istanbul and Malta, and b) waiting for restaurant servers to bring me my bill.
But before I get into why these were key components of my vacation, I think we need to go back and revisit peoples’ attitudes towards tipping. This will all come together in a moment, near the bottom of the column, long after you’ve already stopped reading.
Anyway: attitudes about tipping. Here’s the usual reaction when you bring up tipping to the vast majority of American humans:
“Oh, I just HATE tipping, and I wish the restaurants would pay people a LIVING WAGE, because it is SO UNFAIR that waiters have to survive on tips, and it’s SO SAD that they have to RELY on the generosity of STRANGERS, and they only make TWO DOLLARS AN HOUR before tips, and …”
This is what they actually say. What they are trying to say is: “I wish my meal was cheaper.”
But I admit that there are indeed some good arguments against tipping. For instance: last night, I went to a restaurant here in Philadelphia that was nearly empty, and I ate a nice, tasty meal with my girlfriend, and the bill came to 28 bucks. Now, I was very generous with my tipping here, in that I gave the guy approximately 21 percent: six bucks. But since he didn’t really have any other tables, that was probably a large percentage of his take for the night. So what’s he going to do with six bucks? Buy a USB stick?
So I felt bad for the guy, and I admit that yes, if we paid him a living wage just to arrive at work and do his job, he would be happy, and then I wouldn’t have to tip him, so I would be happy, and basically everyone would be happy except the restaurant owner, who would start cutting costs by trapping rats in his home and telling everyone he’s invented a new dish called really short ribs.
And this brings us back to my concerns with Europe.
Allow me to explain the situation. In most of Europe, there’s no such thing as tipping. Instead, servers are paid a living wage; a wage that can sustain a person’s existence, much like the wage that’s paid to a bank teller, or a doorman, or a dental hygienist, or four Wal-Mart employees who pool their salaries together.
And this is great, because you know you don’t have to spend even one extra penny than what’s already listed on the menu. Something says 15? It’s 15. Something says 19? It’s 19. You don’t have to think twice about it. You just eat your meal, get your bill, give them your credit card, discover they don’t take American Express, give them a different credit card, and you’re on your way.
If only it were that easy.
But it isn’t, because there’s an unfortunate drawback to paying restaurant servers a living wage: they stop working so hard for your tips. So what happens is, you get to the restaurant and you sit and wonder if the entire wait staff took a seminar on customer service that was designed and created by Comcast.
I’ll give you a couple of examples. Possibly the best illustration of this problem comes from a restaurant in Istanbul, where the food was good, and the atmosphere was good, and the location was good, and the wait staff was all hanging around by the bar, laughing, and joking, and generally treating the customers as if they were a grave imposition on their fun. At one point, I interrupted the good time to politely ask one of these servers for a glass of ice, and he returned several minutes later with – I swear this is true –an entire, full-size drinking glass that contained one single ice cube.
And then there’s the act of getting the bill. We were often very tired at the end of our dinners, on account of the fact that we spent each day wandering for hours through foreign cities, where my girlfriend looked at all the sights, and the beauty, and the landmarks, and the buildings, and I primarily looked at used Peugeots.
So what we wanted to do, when we finished our meal, was to simply leave, or else we might fall asleep right there, at the table, and thieves would come and rifle through our pockets, leaving us with nothing but worthless items like lint, and pocket change, and our American Express cards.
But that isn’t what happened. What happened is, we had to sit there and stick up our hands, and try to make eye contact, and ask politely, and stick up our hands more, and make more eye contact, and ask impolitely, just to get the bill delivered to our table. And then the servers would run away, as quickly as possible, as if they took bill dropping off lessons from a Kenyan sprinter, so we would have to repeat the exact same process once we put our credit card on the table. Sometimes, it took up to 20 minutes just to leave.
And then, last night, back in America. The guy takes our drink orders right away. He brings us the food. He brings us extra condiments. He asks how we’re doing. He brings the check. He runs the credit card. All on time, well executed, at exactly the right pace. And for just six bucks extra. Well worth it, in my opinion. Plus, he took American Express.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.