How to tip like a rock star

February 19, 2010

My dearest Stephanie,

A priest and a douchebag walk into a bar. My bar, to be exact. I’ll talk about the douchebag and his boorishly douchey behavior another time. For today, we’re going to focus on the priest and assorted related implications.

The priest orders hot tea and an appetizer, both of which he receives in a timely manner due to the excellent customer service I, the bartender, provide. We’re talking quality all the way. Needless to say.

Eventually, he asks for his check, which he also receives in a timely manner despite the fact that it’s incredibly busy and his freaky douchebag friend keeps distracting me with creepy questions like, “Do you live alone?” (Next time, I’ll tell you what I said in response!)

After opening the check wallet, he looks up at me incredulously and asks, “Did you charge me for the tea?” even though he knows I charged him for the tea because he’s looking right at the receipt. Line one clearly reads: TEA $2.50.

I hate stupid rhetorical questions.

“Uh huh,” I say, all wide-eyed and confused. Of course I charged you for the tea. You ordered and subsequently drank it, didn’t you? Don’t bother answering. It’s a rhetorical question!

This may come as a shock to you, Stephanie, but I do not in fact set the prices at my place of employ. Nor do I decide what customers will and won’t be charged for. For example, I’m permitted to provide crunchy noodles and duck sauce to my customers free of charge. This also applies to peanuts. I am, however, supposed to charge for tea.

So I did.

“I can’t believe you charged me for the tea!” he says. “I’ve never been charged for tea before.”

I shrug. It’s $2.50. Suck it up.

“We always charge for tea. That’s why there’s a button on the computer for it,” I explain. “If you have concerns about that, I’d be happy to get a manager for you.”

I always say this to customers who have complaints because my attitude is that they need to own their dissatisfaction not passive-aggressively take it out on someone who is powerless to change the situation, i.e. me. Recently, when a couple complained about how one of their dishes was prepared and told me they weren’t going to eat it, I removed the plate, told a manager, and he deleted the item from their tab. This requires a password, by the way, which I do not have access to.

But of course the priest doesn’t want to speak to the manager. Why speak to the manager when he can express his displeasure by fucking over the bartender, which requires less effort and has a predictable outcome? Passive-aggression is so much easier. That’s why it’s so popular!

I go to the manager anyway.

“Do you know that guy?” I ask him. “Because he’s kicking up a fuss about the fact that I charged him for his tea.”

“We always charge for tea,” says the manager.

“I’m aware of that,” I reply. “But he doesn’t seem to be.”

“Well I’ve never seen him here before, so…” He trails off meaningfully. Meaning: this guy is full of shit, most likely, and he’s not aware that we charge for tea because he’s no kind of regular here.

I return to my post behind the bar and continue going about my business, meaning I run the priest’s credit card and return the check wallet to him. The priest and the douchebag huddle over the credit card receipt and engage in muffled conversation.

After they leave, I open the check wallet to close out the transaction. Of course, the tip column has a line running through it. I wasn’t surprised. Are you? What’s happened is that the priest paid for his tea with the money he would otherwise have left me as a tip. Another way of saying this: He used my tip to pay for his tea.

The priest probably felt pretty good about himself. Maybe he even felt holy. In his not-so-humble opinion, he probably felt like he made an important point. It’s the principle of the thing! Honestly, I’m not crying over it. It’s $2.50. I can suck it up. I’m well aware that the priest is a self-righteous ignoramus. And that, really, is the point of my story.

What the priest doesn’t know and probably wouldn’t care if he did know is that his antics cost me money, and I’m not referring to the fact that he treated himself to tea on my tip. I tip out the runners based on my food sales, so they get a cut of my sales whether I get tipped or not. And The Government? It’s got Its greedy little paws all over my sales total too. When It sees a line through the tip column, It does not assume a priest stiffed me. It assumes I received a hefty cash tip. Or at least two dollars.

So in addition to paying the runners out of my own pocket, I also paid taxes on at least two dollars that I never made.

Once again, I didn’t sweat it because, really, on a piddly little tab like the priest’s (I believe the total was $11 and change), the difference doesn’t cost me all that much. Certainly not enough to let it spoil my night. But what about my friend Jade, who was stiffed on a $125 tab by two upper-middle class women driving luxury cars because they were offended by the price of the wine and so decided to tip Jade based on what they thought would have been a reasonable sales total?

I was there that night, and the two women were livid that they paid $14 per glass from a bottle they could have purchased at a liquor store for $12. Of course, my question is, Why not stay home then? Go to the liquor store, buy your bottle of wine, and save us all the aggravation. I suggested they complain to the manager or owner (who happened to be on the premises) if they were that angry. But like my buddy the priest, they took the coward’s route—they took it out on the bartender.

“She doesn’t set the prices, you know,” I told them because I was sitting next to them, and their whining was pissing me off.

“I know that, but $14!” one of them said. “I’m not cheap. I have money, but I mean…”

But nothing, bitch! Guess what? You leave a shitty tip, and the owner still profits on the wild mark-up. He still gets his money. The Government isn’t interested in how you feel. Jade still has to pay her taxes on her actual sales total not your imagined one, and she still has to tip out her runners based on that actual sales total. But hey, congratulations! You just took money out of the pocket of the person who can probably least afford it. Hope you sleep well tonight on your 5000-thread count sheets.

In case you didn’t catch it, allow me to be explicit. The key phrase here is

Sales Total.

The government taxes you based on presumed tips as a percentage of your sales total. It knows your sales total because these numbers are carefully documented. So even if you try to hide your tips, The Government can do the math, and It wants Its money. After all, It’s got a ghastly spending habit and absolutely no scruples whatsoever.

If you don’t believe me, check out this blatant lie from the IRS’s ever-so-handy “Tipping Guide.” I don’t know about you, but I know I’m gratified to know that, according to the IRS, “Tip Reporting may increase your social security credits resulting in greater social security and Medicare benefits when you retire.” Obviously we all know we’re not going to see a red cent of that money. But let’s stay focused.

If you want to tip like a rock star—and I know you do—tip 20% of your sales total. Forget what the Ms Manners of the world tell you about “a dollar per drink” or “quality of service.” If you don’t want to pay $17 for a glass of wine ($14 + $3 tip), there’s always your friendly neighborhood liquor store. If the service is not up to your standard, ask yourself if the service was so bad that the server should pay for it. Really. Like, literally.

Otherwise, 20% on the sales total is not only the standard but how the server or bartender can actually make a living.




My dearest Stephanie,

Last Sunday, this woman (who has been a regular diner for years) burst into Asian-Fusion Two and maade a beeline for Boo. She wanted to order take-out and a bottle of wine, she said, and she wanted Boo to take care of her. In her brain, which is a tiny little pea-sized thing compared to her ego, she was demonstrating her profound benevolence in bestowing upon Boo the privilege of serving her and thus receiving her generous tip.

“We have to do the wine at the bar,” he told her. This is true. You can’t just walk into a restaurant and order a bottle of wine for take-out. It was a Sunday, when liquor stores are closed, and while state law allows you to take the remainder of a bottle you’ve been drinking at dinner home with you, if you want to take a bottle out of the restaurant, it has to be uncorked first. I find the whole thing ridiculous, actually, but the law is the law.

Besides all this, though, Boo was trying to take care of me because he knows how bad business is for me on Sunday nights.

“Do you want to put your take-out order in at the bar too? It’s easier that way,” he added.

“Whatever you say, darling, but I want to make sure you take care of me,” she insisted.

Boo opened a tab on my register, under my employee id number, and punched in her food order. He told me which bottle to get, and I uncorked it and poured her a glass as protocol demands. Then he went back to the dining room. (Do you see what’s going on here? The woman didn’t.)

She sat at the bar making small talk until eventually her food arrived, and she asked for her bill. It was $80–$45 for food and $35 for wine. Upon receiving the bill, she proceeded to gracelessly and excessively discuss how she would tip us, doing the math out loud. She announced that she would write the tip on the credit card receipt for Boo and tip me in cash.

“Boo entered your tab on my register under my number, so it’s best to give him the cash,” I told her.

At this point Boo came to lounge at the end of the bar, and she handed him a $10 bill.

“This is for you Boo.” Apparently, she felt it deeply important to verbalize the obvious. I mean, why else would she be handing him a $10 bill?

Boo protested, putting the bill back on the bar.

“Give it to Stella,” he said. Do you see what’s happening here? Again, the woman didn’t. I surely don’t deserve it, but Boo is very good to me.

She insisted he take it; he refused. This game continued for a few minutes. Then she turned to me.

“Stella,” she said. “Will you make sure Boo gets this?”

“Oh don’t you worry,” I said to her. “It would be my pleasure. Boo is quite stubborn, but I have my ways. Usually it involves stuffing money in his pocket and running away really fast.” At this, Boo laughed.

I don’t suppose you’ll be surprised to know that she just wouldn’t let it drop.

“Because I really want Boo to have some of this.”

“Believe me, so do I,” I replied and looked her disapprovingly in the eye because it’s possible that a less self-aware person than I would get annoyed with her tacky insistence, as if she were implying I’d try to run away with Boo’s tip. Now if this woman had actually paid attention, she’d have noticed the rapport that Boo and I have. But oh, that’s right. She only comes into the restaurant for ten minutes at a time, doesn’t pay attention to anything other than what she wants to see, and in fact knows nothing about the kind of relationship Boo and I have developed as co-workers and friends.

She doesn’t, for example, know that Boo actually got me to do karaoke, a feat never-before-accomplished because I don’t sing. But he wanted to sing a duet, and who am I to refuse such a simple request from Boo? She doesn’t know that Boo is the only reader besides you who I asked to read my sample chapter. She doesn’t know that after all the customers have left and the manager is cashing us out, I will sprint through the restaurant giggling the whole way to get to the take-out desk first so that I can pay for a dinner we’ve shared. And she doesn’t know that Boo will then slip a $5 bill next to my register. She doesn’t know that I look forward to Sundays like nobody’s business even though I typically have few customers because I love working with Boo that much. She doesn’t know that Boo is one of those magical people who opens my heart.

She does not, my darling Stephanie, know shit, and she doesn’t know that she doesn’t know shit, and she doesn’t care that she doesn’t know shit.

“I don’t have much for you, Stella,” she said while filling out the line.

“That’s quite all right,” I said because what the fuck am I supposed to say? Well at least you feel the need to draw attention to how little you’re planning to tip me. I appreciate that! Or how about this?


After she left, Boo and I gazed distastefully at the $10 bill sitting exactly where he’d left in next to the bar napkins.

“You have to take that,” I told him. “She wants you to have it. You don’t want me to be cursed, do you?”

Predictably, he wouldn’t take it, and he placed it on the shelf next to the service bar. “I’ll just leave this here,” he said.

“I’m not going to take it,” I told him. “Do you want tomorrow’s bartender to have it? He hasn’t done anything for it, you know.”

Boo laughed, but I pretty much knew that he wouldn’t take it. So I said, “How about this? We’ll use it to pay for the Pad Thai,” which we had shared at the start of our shift. And that’s exactly what happened. We ended up ordering fried rice later, and the manager  took the $10 for both dishes.

I really do not identify with people like this woman who don’t pay attention to or necessarily care how their desires and choices affect other people around them. They bully and bulldoze over everyone. Of course this is partly because I’m disproportionately consumed with how I affect others and fret excessively about hurting others. I just want to be in the world–observing, participating, documenting–not running it. I’d like to create objects and moments of beauty or at least participate in them. I’d like to give people a positive experience, to inspire love and an open-heart because I think deeply, and I feel deeply, and I love deeply. I’m at a loss (in the moment) with how to deal with people like this woman because I’m not as smart or compassionate as I’d like to be, and I rarely feel satisfied with how I handle these situations. But I’m trying to change that.

Things I would have liked to say include:

“I understand that you’re trying to help out Boo. You can do that by requesting his section when you’re dining in the restaurant. But when you’re sitting at the bar, you have to put up with me. Try to deal with it with some dignity because you’re putting Boo in an awkward position.”

Or maybe:

“Each subculture has its own system. This system may not always be what you want it to be, but sometimes, we have to put up with things in the world being not exactly as we’d like them. Again, try to comport yourself with some dignity in this situation. Everyone in the world isn’t going to bend to your will.”


“Please stop talking about how you’re going to tip us. It’s tacky and makes us feel embarrassed. So please shut your fat fucking mouth, you self-absorbed freak. Thanks so much!”

But of course I didn’t say any of these things, and poor G took the brunt of my unarticulated, free-floating annoyance when he tried to take my Kit-Kat later that night.

I had purchased a giant Kit-Kat before work (because it’s essential to have candy at work), and I’d shared some with Boo. Now G has a bad habit of inhaling whatever treat I put out, and it’s kind of irritating. So I didn’t leave out the Kit-Kat. I was nursing it, making it last through the night.

But after the last stick I’d eaten, I’d left the open packet on the shelf next to the glasses, and G saw it when he came back to the bar to get a drink of water. So of course he just grabbed it and began to pull out a piece.

“Um, excuse me,” I said indignantly as I plucked the wrapped Kit-Kat out of his hand. “I didn’t hear you ask.”

He sort of giggled at this and said, “You have a Kit-Kat and you didn’t give me a piece?”

“Once again, if you would like a Kit-Kat, you have to ask politely.”

“Can I have a Kit-Kat?”

“No you may not,” I said imperiously, making a show of placing the Kit-Kat in my purse.

Poor G. He’s such an easy target for me to practice being assertive with because he often does inappropriate things albeit innocuously.

But then of course I felt badly, so I said, “If you would like a Kit-Kat, you have to ask properly, like this: ‘Stella, may I please have a Kit-Kat?’ Let me hear you use your words.”

And he did, so then I gave him a stick and said something like, “And this completes today’s etiquette lesson.”

Since I can’t give etiquette lessons to customers, at least I can give them to poor G!



My darling Stephanie,

So I was sitting at the TGI Friday’s sipping my gin and tonic (as you know from my previous post, they didn’t have Hendrick’s, so I had it with Bombay). Anyway, I started thinking, This is some fucked up shit. Delta sucks. I don’t wanna go to Detroit.

Remember how I was telling you that last night I was gripped by this feeling of dread and an inexplicable urge to check my flight itinerary, and when I did so, it turned out they’d cancelled the 6am flight and put me on the 9am flight through Cincinatti (which was also subsequently cancelled)?

Well as I drained my glass, I felt an inexplicable urge to check US Airways’ schedule, and wouldn’t you know it? They had two seats left on their 2:03 to LaGuardia. It looks like I’m finally getting out of Pittsburgh.

I think there’s something to be said for listening to your gut.



PS My gut says you are a magical creature of great beauty and love. Tee hee. I miss you already!

Dearest Stephanie,

Um, I just ordered a gin and tonic at the TGI Friday’s here at Pittsburgh International Airport (what?! it’s almost noon!). Not only do they NOT have Hendrick’s, but also the bartender did not ask me for proof of identification. What’s with this fool? Does he not understand the game? Oh wait, that’s right. You told me they don’t id in Pittsburgh. Nevermind…



Stranded in Pittsburgh

February 7, 2010

My dearest Stephanie,

So here I am in Pittsburgh.

At the airport.

Trying to get (the fuck) out.

Three days after my originally scheduled departure.

How hard I worked to “negotiate” a flight to JFK through Cincinnati for this morning. How terribly frustrating to have that flight, like the THREE before it, cancelled.

Oh well. At least I no longer have to worry about getting stranded in Cincinnati. I’m travelling through Detroit!

Anyway, as I sit here in the McDonalds dining area, thoughts flood my mind.

First, honestly, they’re geniuses at McDonalds. The McGriddle sandwich? Brilliant! Meat product + egg + pancakes = delish! But I didn’t have the McGriddle sandwich because I worried that I wouldn’t be able to resist eating the whole thing, so I got pancakes and sausage instead (easier to pick at). They’re the same thing but different. Still though, what an awesome idea! I just can’t get over it. McDonalds is like the “Apple/Mac” of breakfast food.

When Sienna Miller referred to Pittsburgh as “Shitsburgh,” the popular press suggested that this sobriquet offended people. This leads me to believe either a) the offended party lives in or hails from Pittsburgh and is overly defensive of it, or b) the offended party has never dealt with the weirdness that is Pittsburgh. I’m thinking, at this moment in particular, of the obstinate refusal (or sheer idiocy) of not making use of the alleged 60 available snowplows.

I would like to say that I like Pittsburgh. I really like it. It’s cute (architecturally speaking) and you live here, which makes it one of my favorite places on earth. But I mean, it’s not that complicated, people:

  1. Snow falls from the sky covering the streets in slippery white stuff.
  2. Snowplows (see, “snow” is even in the name, so no one has to think too hard about what their function is) exist.
  3. Get your ass in the snowplow, and plow the roads.

Dear God! How simple do we have to make this?!?!?!

But seriously. I fear I upset you this morning when I raised my voice at the Delta “customer service” representative on the telephone. I wished deeply to maintain my composure because you are a highly sensitive person, and I loathe contributing to your stress levels. Plus I can be weirdly resilient—one minute I can be yelling irrationally at a totally useless “customer service” representative (rendering the term a cruel, ironic joke), and the next minute, I can be asking you, “You know what this airport needs?” (Besides the obvious: representatives who tend to their customers, snowplows, airplanes.)

“What?” you asked softly, your delicate brow furrowed in concern.

“It needs…it needs…” It took me a moment to put it just right. “It needs a special ‘Get me to NY’ kiosk. I’m a New Yorker. We’re impatient people and unaccustomed to this level of complacent incompetence.”

And then I pulled out the stuffed animal my little boy gave me:

And I made weeping sounds while dabbing his eyes with his apron, and you doubled over in laughter. And then you triple dog dared me to speak through the animal when I got to the counter, and I doubled over with laughter. I didn’t do it, of course, but I was laughing right before my turn came up, and I think it gave the “customer service” representatives the false impression that I was “of good cheer” when in actuality I was teetering on the edge of madness. But the important thing (I suppose) is that we recovered our sense of humor.

So I don’t want you to be upset because it’s important to remember that if there’s any fun to be had in any situation, you and I will be sure to find it. Even if we have to wring it out of that situation within an inch of its life. Or my sanity. I’m not saying I won’t have an aneurysm if they cancel this flight on me too, but at the hospital, you and I will be laughing our asses off.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I had a great time, really wonderful, and I wouldn’t change a thing.