The Resilience of Tipping

Tipping is “confusing, arbitrary, discriminatory, and basically anti-democratic.” So says Elizabeth Gunnison Dunn, in a post on Esquire’s food blog that’s been popping up in my facebook feed since it went up on Friday. The article is basically a dual interview with Ethan Stowell and Tom Douglas, two prominent opponents of Seattle’s newly-passed minimum wage increase. The gist is they have no choice but to move to a more European service model, where what’s now a voluntary gratuity is added to the bill and then distributed by the house. Their front of house staff, it’s implied, are going to have to take one for the team.

Dunn suggests, perhaps hyperbolically, that such a move might signal (or cause) a sea change in the way restaurants work in the US.

Dunn is against the institution of tipping, and has many good reasons. Having worked for tips most of my adult life, I’m sympathetic with her arguments. Maybe I’m being sentimental, but I am convinced that tipping will survive Seattle’s wage increase just fine. Because for all its downsides, there are good reasons tipping has evolved its niche in the American economic and cultural landscape, and I think they’ll continue to apply as Seattle’s economy evolves in the coming years.

Let’s start with why we tip. Continue reading “The Resilience of Tipping”

How to Get Good Service in a Busy Bar

Another year is about to come to an end, and New Year’s Eve, that most amateurish of amateur nights, is upon us.  Many of you will have the sense to stay out of the bars, and attend house parties or ring in the new year at home with friends and/or loved ones, far and away the safest, smartest, and, to this cranky old curmudgeon, most enjoyable thing to do on a night when the whole fking world likes to come out and get stupid.  But I understand that I do not represent the mainstream view on the biggest party night of the year.  That for many going out and painting the town red is both desirable and the done thing, that the madding crowds, the turbulent sea of celebrants washing against the bar in wave after wave to negotiate their social lubrication are in fact a source of attraction.  To those folks I’d like to offer some insight into the lives and experience of those harried souls on the other side of that negotiation, that you might use that knowledge to the benefit of all involved (but especially you).

The first thing you have to understand is this: for the staff, this is the worst night of the year, rivaled only by St. Patrick’s Day for biggest shitshow and highest douchebag-to-cool person ratio among the customers.  Even the money isn’t that good, not for what it costs you to earn it, anyway.  So a basic understanding that the bartender and the server and the door guy and the manager are having literally the opposite of your experience is helpful.  I’ve worked bars where the crowd at the bar was ten across and two or three deep from nine-thirty til the lights went up and the clock on the wall said go, and every one of them wanted to be next.  Even for someone who’s done it half a thousand times, it’s stressful as hell, and while you try and be as fair as possible getting to people, you find yourself making decisions about whose turn it is and who gets expedited service and who gets ignored til there’s literally no one else who wants a drink.

Here are some things you can do to be that person who gets helped quicker, who as a result gets to spend more time dancing and carousing and enjoying time with friends old and new instead of waiting in line for a drink because the bartender doesn’t like or remember you. Continue reading “How to Get Good Service in a Busy Bar”