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.

Party Like It’s 1999: My Ten Year Class Reunion (Fort Payne, AL)


Last week as I mentioned to people here in Nashville that my 10 Year High School Reunion was coming up on Saturday, I was surprised to hear more than a few respond with, “Well I’m not going to mine. Everybody I want to see or talk to from high school, I already do. Most of those people I didn’t like then, and so I know I won’t like ‘em now.” Not one tiny part of me can relate to that statement.

On the same token, there have been times when I have hyped up an upcoming event in my mind for weeks or months, only to find my high expectations were not met. Again, this was not at all the case.

Ultimately it comes down to the fact that the Fort Payne Class of ’99 is a special group of people. Yes, I am being bias.

If the definition of a true friend is someone you can be apart from for years and the next time you see them, you can just pick up where you left off last time, then I have more friends than I realized. Because that was the case with everyone that was there.

I saw how warmly my wife was accepted by everyone there. (It actually reminded me of when I introduced her to my family a few years ago.) How often an official introduction wasn’t even necessary. Just straight to conversation like an old friend. That sort of instant familiarity with a large group of strangers is rare.

Ten years can definitely change people in a way I hadn’t considered; by bringing them to a more similar place in life than they were in before. Kristin Bailey Gardner works in journalism, whereas I am jealous that she is. Kim Thomas Clowers married my 2nd cousin, meaning we’re related now related and see each other at family reunions. And the should-be action movie star Morten Maaegard, the foreign exchange student from Denmark our senior year, was in the same parts of Thailand as I was in 2004. (He actually flew in from Europe for our class reunion- that is impressive.)

When an event this big goes so right, I have to take a look at why. Aside from a bunch of cool 28 year-olds all truly wanting to be there, a lot of it had to do with the planning. Tabitha Thomas Greenwood found and followed a formula that was flawless. First, during the day, we met at the new city park. That was a way that those with children could bring them and have something for them to do as the adults caught up on life.

Then that night just us adults met at an old yet restored hotel and restaurant in the crafty/artsy neighboring town of Mentone. Our senior yearbook was placed on a table along with a memorial of the four we’ve lost since graduation: Grant Dobbs, Derek Hood, Brooke Craig, and Joey Kean.

It was like a big house where after dinner we could just walk around and hang out as the band played. That was the ideal casual environment that kept everyone comfortable and in good spirits.

I have heard of class reunions where people had to pay $100 just to get in. Ours was affordable, practical, fun, and perfectly planned. We could have met in the Santa Fe room at Western Sizzlin’ (or The Sizzler as it’s known in the rest of the country). But no, the Fort Payne class of ’99 does things right. We knew not to play around with something as monumental as our one and only 10 year reunion.

There definitely is a dream-like quality about seeing so many old friends again after so long. Like a blurry Vaseline-on-the-camera-lens kind of feel. And because so many truly looked the exact same as they did in high school, it was kinda like a dream where we all just appeared in the same place and the only thing that really changed was the time in between the last time we were all together.

Eleven year reunion, anyone?