2/27/2010

Getting stiffed

They were nice. A couple of couples in their mid-fifties, perhaps. The men were brothers, and their wives were along for the ride. From the outset, I started joking with them. I tend to do that with my customers. When they're at the tavern, I want them to have a good time. It kind of goes along with the atmosphere.

We were empty. They were trying to figure out where to sit. In my opening remark, I suggested they didn't necessarily have to sit together if they didn't want to. One of the brothers, the bald one, told his brother that I was alright, and they were going to have fun.

And they did. I suggested good beers for all of them, and even went to research what Weissbier Spaten brewed. The brother with hair had three expensive beers, while the bald one stuck with three pints of Spaten. The wife with glasses also experimented with a couple of beers she had never tried before.

The other spouse just had a coke.

They had good dinners. They had a good time. We joked around a lot. I felt good.

The spouse who wasn't having anything to drink snuck up to the bar. I have a rule that whoever gets to the register first can pay if they want. She said she'd pay for some of it, definitely, but wanted to see how much it would be first.

So, I rang her up, and the total came to $100.83.

Without saying a word, she handed me two new fifty dollar bills and a one. It's somewhat unusual for people to pay that large a bill in cash. So, I dutifully pulled a dime, a nickel and two pennies out of the register and handed it to her. She gave me a very strange look and walked away.

When I wait tables, I don't think about the tip. I really just want people to have a good time and figure they'll pay me what they think my service was worth. I usually make over 20 percent.

On this table, however, I made zero percent. Totally and utterly stiffed. I walked back to the table to clear it, and there was no cash. This was after they had walked out, and I had wished them a good time at the Arlo Guthrie show they were downtown to see.

I didn't chase after them. I wasn't really pissed off. Just confused. I thought I'd done all the right things. They didn't say anything. They just didn't leave me a tip.

This is a very rare thing to happen. Sort of unsettling. People usually honor the practice of tipping, but there's no rule that says anyone has to. So, I turn my questioning inwards. Was I too jokey? Did I offend her?

I didn't tell Katie about it for a while. I felt stupid about it, and thought maybe there was some way I could avoid telling about it at all. I thought somehow she'd be mad at me.

But I told her, in a matter-of-fact way. In fact, I decided on the spot I was going to let it go and not fixate about it. It's not my problem. So, it became another anecdote for us to share. We also gave her a name, too, but I won't share that here.

Another time this happened to me, I was in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. I worked at a pizza place and had a two-top whom I thought were great, and I thought we had a good time. But, the wife paid, and told the hostess on the way out that I was way too arrogant.

Now, that one I can fixate on, because I was actually given a clear direction. There was something to stew on, something to cook into a full blown psychosis. Remembering it, I wonder: Was I too arrogant tonight?

It doesn't matter. I don't wish the woman who had the coke any ill will at all. She had her reason, and I'll never know it. Maybe they're not doing well financially. Maybe she's from Australia, where they apparently discourage tipping.

It doesn't matter. In fact, I appreciate the thought process that was kicked off by getting stiffed.











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