Will Work for Tips (Monetary Only Please)

Insert the appropriate image here: _________ a) Herds of cattle in search of a watering hole, b) Migrations of geese to warmer climates, c) A packed jalopy heading out west.

These are some of the visuals a colleague tossed at me when describing the current job crunch going on in NYC.  Specifically, the comments were directed at the hospitality industry, which has become oversaturated by a desperate work force in search of employment.  Tributaries from all sectors have surged this river near flood lines.  It wouldn’t be uncommon to find dispatched financiers or exiled publishers mingling outside with recent graphic design graduates and grizzled restaurant veterans, as they occupy sidewalks and storefronts waiting for the three o’clock mass interview.  It’s ten to three and these casting (cattle) calls could blossom to 50 deep, misleading unsuspecting tourists to believe something is being given away for free.  Perhaps Pinkberry yogurt?

But there’s no complimentary yogurt for anyone.  Most of these jobs are only acquiring for a few positions, so after leaving their resume for an insipid once over, the walk continues to the next viable pasture.

Four months.  That’s what one bartender told me he endured before landing a steady job.  Grant it a four months search in any other field may be the median to slightly extended time, but in a industry that occupies almost every block and cul-de-sac of the 468 sq mi city, the fact that employment, even in undesirable establishments, has reached maximum occupancy, should raise concern for an already beleaguered economy.

This is why the debate of tipping at the crux of these circumstances is both pivotal and frivolous.

Yesterday, Bruni gave some screen-time to a server in Manhattan, where her perturbation over substandard tipping was disclosed in a letter to him.

Our restaurant is fortunate because we continue to fill up each night, despite the recession…Even so, the economic problems did penetrate our bubble in October and November. We watched as people ordered sparingly; conscious of prices…In New York the average tip is 20 percent, though some tip as low as 15 percent and some as high as 30 percent. These days our tips are closer to 17 percent, with a range of 10 percent to 25 percent. This drop in tips registers to $60 less/night. Over 5 shifts a week that is $300 less per week! But we are working just as hard as we used to, and perhaps even harder, trying to get people to forget their troubles for a few hours . . .

Obviously, this letter spawned a barrage of comments, as opinions on tipping usually do, and though I’m right there in believing that if you can’t tip appropriately when dining out your best suited for a TV tray and pajama bottoms, I found the complaint, in an essence, with all do respect, whiney and inappropriate.

Before I get pinged with a fork, let me clarify.  As Bruni admits, and to which I whole-heartedly agree, “not just servers but all people who earn a substantial portion of their income from tips are in a particularly vulnerable position in a recession.  Getting tighter with tips is an easy way for customers to limit their spending, but doing that is in many ways the breaking of an implicit contract.”

That being said, the rule on tipping is not a concrete one.  As it has always been, percentages fluctuate from patron to patron, server to server, and establishment to establishment.  And though 20 % – yes 20% -for those who still believe they can purchase a pack of gum for a nickel and buy a house for five grand and a good word – is customary, these rough times have resulted in a different breed of consumer.  I believe the word is frugal.

For the restaurant industry to take arms against everyone who tips below 20% during this financial climate would be an exorbitant waste of time.  If the server is still playing to a packed house, which she indeed divulged, then I say take what you can get, or feel free to join the searching herds on the streets.

And for those bad tippers out there, beware the next time you skimp on the check or leave a “verbal tip” in place of the monetary variety, it seems the cattle always have room for one more.

0 replies on “Will Work for Tips (Monetary Only Please)”