The Awkward American Tradition of Tipping in Restaurants

 

Tipping isn’t a city in china…

There are certain events in life that I consider normal and common, incorrectly assuming everyone else participates in them with the same amount as passion as I do. In recent years I have been made aware that I am a “music buff”: I own well over 800 CD’s (not iTunes albums, but actual discs). As well as a “movie connoisseur”: I’m not a guy that can just sit down and enjoy a stupid movie like White Chicks. I will read multiple reviews on all the movies currently playing at the theatre, then choose the top 2 or 3 and see them all in one afternoon.

When it comes to restaurants, I’m no different in regards to my premeditated snobbery towards those eateries that are sub-par in my book. Instant disqualifiers for a restaurant: it has a drive-thru, it has an obvious theme, it’s noisy, it’s expensive for no good reason/prices aren’t listed on the menu, it’s all fried food, it’s a buffet, it’s Mexican, it’s Chinese, I have to pay to park, the actual menu is greasy, the waitress’s name is Flo, and I can see the cook smoking a cigarette as he’s cooking the food, to name a few.

If I could go back in time and influence the culture of American dining in restaurants, I would do whatever it takes in order to eliminate the social acceptance and expectance regarding food servers so that in 2009 I wouldn’t have to participate in the subconsciously awkward world of Tipping. Of all the things I don’t enjoy doing, evaluating another person’s work ability is at the top of that list. So I definitely don’t want to do it while I’m paying to eat. But even so, I pretty much just tip everyone the same percentage anyway.

During the summer of 2005 as I was saving up money to move to Nashville, I was a waiter at Western Sizzlin’ (the South’s version of The Sizzler) where I learned what all goes into serving a table of adults who act like bratty children. Hearing annoying quotes like, “This steak is still mooing at me…”, “I didn’t order pickles on my hamburger!”, and “You got any FRESH coffee?” were all part of my daily routine. (All spoken with Southern accents for dramatic effect.) That experience causes me to be especially appreciative of my waiter when I am out at a restaurant.

But now as the one being served, the whole experience of interacting with the waiter puts me into what I call Game Show Host Mode. I act like everything the waiter does is magic trick, like bringing the menu, then the drinks (as I usually rip off the restaurant by ordering free water), then taking my order, taking away the menu, etc. My response: raising my eyebrows, nodding my head, and smiling too much after each accomplished action. So over the top.

In most other situations if I acted that way, I would deserve a “Punch Me in the Face” sign more than Spencer Pratt or Dane Cook. But the environment of the restaurant and the relationship between me and the waiter excuses my overly grateful and easily amused behavior.

What if I didn’t have to feel like I’m treating my waiter like a kid, needing my exaggerated approval and acknowledgement on every little thing he does? Better yet, what if America was like most other countries in the world and just flat out didn’t associate tipping with restaurants? But ultimately, a country only has the customs that its culture allows and depends on. So when it all comes out in the wash, our society openly accepts the frivolous head game we call Tipping.

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