When I was in graduate school, I worked part-time in a cafeteria located in a shopping center outside Chicago.
The pay was $1.85 an hour, plus tips. And not a lot of cafeteria diners are tippers.
I’ll never forget my first one, though. Two women with seven kids in tow came through the serving line, then commenced a series of demands that at various times involved crackers, crayons, fruit punch, cold decaf spilled down the bodice, a false fire alarm, ruptured sugar dispensers, wet washcloths, the disposal of dirty diapers and aggravated assault.
At the end of this exercise, I received a gratuity of 10 cents.
I thought about that the other evening in a restaurant in Boise. The place is so classy that women accompanied by men are given menus that don’t have the prices listed.
But at the bottom of the back page, that same menu reads, “For your convenience, a 15 percent gratuity will be added to your check.”
For my convenience?
I’m a grinch, I know, but I think as a customer that oughtta be my call.
If I meet the server when I sit down and never see him or her again, then maybe he or she gets stiffed.
Now I can appreciate that slinging hash is the most thankless of callings.
There’s no profession that has to deal with more cranky, demanding customers — a few of whom are braying jackasses.
That said, I believe service is an art — not an industrial process.
It involves chatting up total strangers when you don’t feel like it. Asking “How’s your day?” and sounding like you mean it. Pouring coffee in a cup when you’d rather dump it in a lap.
Good waiters and waitresses are not merely skilled, they’re golden. I won’t leave them 15 percent; I’ll leave them more.
I learned that from a frugal, elderly Jewish couple who used to come into the department store cafeteria on Thursday afternoons. They were survivors of the Holocaust — she with failing eyesight, he hard of hearing — and very quiet.
They ordered the same thing every time — tea and toast — and she unfailingly left behind a dollar bill on the Formica tabletop.
One afternoon, she left a $20 bill by mistake. I caught up with them at the top of the escalator and handed it back to her.
“It’s too much, ma’am,” I said.
She lowered her eyes, her face flushed, and slipped the note back into her clutch purse. When she met my gaze again, there were tears in her eyes.
“No, young man,” she said. “It isn’t enough.”
So she offered me her hand, I grasped it, and she smiled. Then they were gone.
I never got a better tip.
Steve Crump is the Times-News Opinion editor. Hear him Fridays at 8:30 a.m. on KLIX-1310 AM.