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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dear Bitchy Waiter

Every day, I get literally dozens and dozens of emails (okay, maybe one or two every few weeks) asking me for my opinion on one thing or another. This email comes from a reader who questions restaurant owners who offer discounts to customers who then only tip on the discounted price. The owner gets more customers but it hits servers right in the wallet.

You can email me here if you have a question that needs attention. Or email me to say hello. That's nice too.

Dear Bitchy Waiter,

I work at a fine dining restaurant that serves four course meals. The average time for a 2 top table to eat is anywhere from and hour and a half to two hours. Recently, the owner has been running "specials" that have cut huge discounts to customers. His idea is to bring more customers in, but at the same time, although we servers are getting more tables per night, we are doing the same amount of work per table for HALF of our normal tip! We are requesting the manager add an automatic 18% gratuity before discount on these "special" tables, but so far our requests fall on deaf ears. Our printed receipt for the meal lists the original price, discount, and new total, but so far, getting the customer to tip on the pre-discounted amount is near impossible! My tips have been going from nearly $20 per couple to $10! Talk about the owner making a profit... cause I'm sure not! I'm exhausted! Suggestions?


Dear Ashley,

Yes this is a problem for many of us servers. In the the world of Groupon, Living Social, 4 Square, Travel Zoo, Yelp Deals and Green Stamps, customers can show up in our station and pay only half of what others would pay and they feel they should only tip on the discounted amount. I think I speak for all of us when I say, 'It fucking sucks!"

I think it would be a swell idea if the gratuity was added to these bargains so that we servers don't get stiffed. It happens all the time and it happened at my job just last week. I had four different coupon codes sit in my station and they all left me ten percent on the discounted price. I was screwed out of about $40-$50 and it really hurt being that it was an incredibly slow night. So many times, these offers entitle the customer to an extra appetizer or a free dessert, so not only are we getting stiffed, we are doing extra work for even less money. I have written about it before, but it bears repeating: CUSTOMERS, IF YOU ARE GETTING A DISCOUNTED PRICE, PLEASE TIP ON THE ORIGINAL AMOUNT. Why should I make less money just because the Groupon expires tonight and you have to use it during my shift?

There is no easy answer, Ashley. Owners love that they are getting more asses in the seats, but are these customers ones who will become regulars and be willing to order off the menu if they weren't getting a discount? In my experience, no, they are not. They are one time Sally's who breeze in and don't feel bad about leaving a crap tip because they know they will probably never come back. It seems like adding the gratuity would be the least an owner can do, but too often, the employees are not on top of the priority list.

So what can we do? Not much. Other than voiding off a couple of sodas for cash paying customers and then pocketing the difference, all we can do is smile and say, "Thank you. Please come again." Hopefully owners will soon see that very often, the social media deals are not worth the trouble. Then again, sometimes we can make a lot of money but the tips are of quantity and not quality.

And I am kidding about voiding off sodas so you can pocket the $2.50. You should never ever do that. Ever. It is completely wrong, unethical and immoral. Do not do it. Unless, you know, your manager is cool with it or if you know the password for voiding things and no one is going to look at your printout at the end of the night and question ten voids for Cokes...



Morgaine Fey @Purji said...

My husband and I are are of the amazingly special group of people who work in Hospitality. We GET it. We are under no delusions of how much things can royally suck. We always tip. I am also a payroll person, so I know exactly about how much the people I am dealing with are probably getting paid. He and I are also thrifty (poor as hell) and do so love our groupons, etc. As we are not troglodytes, we tip on the BEFORE discount amount.

With all that being said, I am totally in favour of businesses adding on the gratuity. It will protect the servers (who then don't have to wait for someone like me to bring their check to minimum wage because customers are douche canoes) AND give people like myself the ability to then add what we thought the service deserves. 18% already on, plus my additional 7% would show that yes, I ate on a coupon, but your service was awesome and appreciated.

JoBo said...

I was totally gonna comment but it may be in bad form to have 2 comments in a row using the term douche canoe....

Anonymous said...

I have found the only possible way to have even a chance at getting a decent tip (and how often this works is debatable), is to bring the check, and specifically point out the discount on the check prior to walking away from the table. I have done this in an effort to force the customer to see the original total, in the hopes that they will then tip accordingly. But, like I said, who knows if it works. Maybe when I got a decent tip those people would have tipped well anyway.

Anonymous said...

My employer did a groupon and everyone griped about the lousy tips and begged to be allowed to auto grat all the groupon tables. No dice. I did a little research on my own and discovered why my boss didn't care. Here is what I found: We advertised $30 for $15. There were 1500 sold. Of the $15 each groupon was sold for, the restaurant gets $7.50 and the good folks at groupon take the other $7.50. So, my boss was getting asses in the seats, but the majority of those asses did the math down to the penny and only spent the $30. So, not only did my boss not even make cost, but he and his employees lost money. It is only a matter of time before groupon is a thing of the past because business owners are going to start to figure out what my boss now knows: most coupon clippers will only come if there is a coupon. We all need to be patient. Groupon is just a phase. A lousy, cheap ass, soul sucking phase, but a phase nonetheless.

Swissy said...


Groupon is the biggest scam ever for restaurants. None of them end up recouping costs. I get the mentality "well they will return and pay full price" and that hardly ever pans out.

My hotel introduced an incentive for members with status they would receive a free alcoholic drink coupon. did they tip? no. did they buy another drink? no. We lost tons of money and since the coupon didn't limit the choices we lost a lot on top shelf liquor.

Mary A. said...

The same thing happens to hair stylists. The salon says "Let's give free cuts". Suddenly, that's what the cut is worth: nothing. I have a freind who had to leave her job over this issue.

Plus don't you have to PAY for Groupon? Stoopid.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bitchy Waiter,

In the NY Times "DINING & WINE" section, there is a nice article "What Restaurants Know (About You)". In the article, there is a nice explanation as to how restaurants classify their customers.
Can't you make a list to share with other waiters across industry and put "CADC" (for Cheap-Ass Douche Canoe) next to each name of a visiting cheapskates?
I mean, you have better business bureau and various internet Angela's lists for businesses. Make one for waiters to avoid asshattery.
Hey, you might sell that like a hooker sells her black book and make enough $$$ to retire early.

With regards,

cpi networks said...

You are a very popular person and you can see that your opinion is authoritative for many readers. Having read each letter it can be concluded that people face similar problems in the restaurant service. Perhaps you get tired more when you have to answer ten letters. Perhaps you should do a poll-response column.

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