Waiting For God

For the second week in a row a waiter is my hero. I spent years slinging cocktails and serving up food so I may be more than a little biased in my admiration.

Last week a server in Texas refused to serve a table when one of the guests complained about a little boy with Down’s Syndrome being too loud and said “Let him be special somewhere else.” That story hit home for me as the mother of a child with special needs and as someone who refuses to put up with ignorance even if it means I’ll lose out on some cash.

This week an Applebee’s server in St Louis served a party of 10 and when it came time to settle up the tabs were divided in to separate checks (don’t even get me started on separate checks- hated them as a server, hate not getting them as a customer). Those separate checks included an automatic gratuity of 18% added to the bill. It is built in to the Applebee computer system that once the server types in the number of guests at one table, the bill can be divided and the 18% gratuity is generated by the system, not the server. One of the guests crossed off the gratuity and left what I’m sure she thought was a deliciously clever religious message. “I give God 10%, why do you get 18%?”

What? God has never ever brought me Mozzarella Sticks and if He did I would certainly give Him at least 30% and I would ask Him about the Galapagos Islands.

On the line provided to give customers the opportunity to leave additional gratuity in the case of service considered to be above and beyond the call of duty she carved in a big fat zero. She wrote one of those zeros with a line through it in case it could be mistaken for a letter even though 0 and O are universally taken to mean zilch.

She proceeded to sign her name and identify herself as a PASTOR. I’m guessing she felt imbued with the Holy right to be sanctimonious about her insulting gesture.

So, how do we know about this story? A server at the restaurant snapped a photo of the religiously haughty message and posted it online. This isn’t a new development by the way. Servers are posting these types of checks all the time and whenever one pops up I am relieved all over again to no longer rely on the whims of diners to pay my bills.

Sure, many customers get annoyed with the automatic gratuity charged to parities over a certain number. I couldn’t tell you where or why the policy originated. I’ve always assumed it was to make sure a server is compensated for running their ass off for a large party. Maybe someone along the way noticed that when it came time for large groups to settle up there is always a wet noodle who pretends like tipping and tax were a surprise and they hadn’t thought of that when they were ordering. In the end they’ll have enough for their share of the food, maybe, but not the tip.

There was no purpose to the Pastor’s message except to humiliate the server and good golly it’s shocking how many customers behave similarly.

When I was a server the job was like being on an emotional roller coaster. Getting a great tip felt exhilarating and I was on top of the world. Ha- they loved me! Customers who stiffed me made me feel like crap and it often ruined my day as I mentally tried to figure out how much I was going to have to make on the next shift to pay my rent.

The symbolic gestures still stick out in my memory. A man once left a quarter, a dime and three pennies on my table for a 40-dollar tab. I scooped up the change and followed him out the door. “Excuse me, sir?” He turned around, surprised to find me outside of my place of employment. I smiled and asked “was there anything wrong with my service?” He still looked confused so I said, “I’m just wondering what I could have done better so that you wouldn’t leave such a small tip.” He shrugged and said, “I don’t believe in tipping.” I extended my hand filled with the change, gave it back to him and said “It’s real and people do it when they are served food promptly, correctly and courteously.” I was still smiling as I turned and walked back to finish my shift. Did that mean I taught someone a lesson- probably not. In his story I’m the crazy waitress who chased him outside for no good reason. In the end, I felt great. Short changed, but great.

On another occasion a woman ordered a round of drinks for her friends for a tab totaling $27.75. She gave me $28 dollars and loud enough for her friends to hear said, “You can keep the change!” I reached in to my apron and gave her the quarter without a word in front of her friends. She got up from the table and followed me toward the kitchen. “Hey!” she hissed. “You didn’t have to embarrass me in front of my friends!” I smiled, as always, and replied, “Oh, sweetie, you embarrassed yourself.” I dismissed her by turning my back. She complained to management but had a hard time explaining that I had been rude by returning her change.

If you don’t tip, don’t like tipping, don’t believe in tipping, don’t have enough to eat out AND tip- blah, blah, whatever- DO NOT GO OUT TO EAT OR DRINK! In our culture most of us accept tipping as part of the price of dining in restaurants. Fine, it’s already expensive to eat out or it’s done differently in other cultures but here in this great country we allow restaurants to pay servers a pittance in salary and when they finish a shift they tip out to the busboys, food runners and bartenders. So if you stiff a server you’ve also punished at least three other people who did their best to make sure you had a pleasant experience. If the food was bad, your server did not cook it and you should inform the manager. If the restaurant was dirty, call the city. If the order was wrong, your server made a mistake. None of these situations makes your server a useless human being who deserves both rude behavior and empty pockets.

By the way, stiffing a server is not teaching them a lesson. Yes, it felt awful to get bad tips, but I never walked away from a crappy tip thinking, “I’ll try harder next time.” I always thought, “What an asshole.”

The Applebee’s check went viral and Pastor Alois Bell says she is “heartbroken.” So heartbroken that she is demanding that everyone at that Applebee’s restaurant be fired. She thought only one person was going to read the scathing sting of her message not the whole world. She says it was a lapse in judgment. Uh huh. If it hadn’t gone viral she would be telling the story for years of how clever she was to tell a server they didn’t deserve more than the percentage God gets.

Applebee’s did fire the server who posted the check and that makes sense. I know why the server did it and I love that she did it but she didn’t hide Pastor Bell’s name. She shared personal information and that was the lapse in judgment. On the other hand, next time Pastor Bell goes out to eat maybe she should remember Matthew 25:40 –“whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Because next time God might be your server in which case, tip well and don’t forget to ask about the Galapagos Islands.