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The Tipping Point

Readers respond to a poor-service saga.

Hmmm … so when this waitress, who had been extremely rude in taking your orders, asked what she had done wrong … why not just tell her? Was she big and scary? Seems to me what you did was exactly the wrong approach. Now there's another waitress out there who believes not only that she's entitled to 20 percent, rude service or no, but that you can make things all right by bullying the customer, who will then give you more money without any problem! Complaining to the manager is all well and good (and writing her up in a newspaper story is even better, if you have that option), but restaurant politics being what they are, she could quite possibly be, say, the manager's girlfriend, and therefore convinced that she's immune to customer complaints. If they're rude, or otherwise unprofessional (e.g., drunk), and can't account for themselves, I say tip 'em accordingly, or the plague will continue!

— Tom L.

I find it quite amusing that a server would have the guts to ask for more of a tip. I feel that I am a fair tipper and will tip on the basis of the restaurant I am at and the person that is serving me. I am normally between 15 and 20 percent but have given more or less depending on the server's behavior, knowledge and attitude. From the description of this server, Melissa, she was a poor waitress and only deserved 15 percent. If she questioned me on her tip, I would have gladly told her how she performed and why. I would have also asked her to get her manager if she felt it was a problem and then I would have been able to tell them also how I felt. If a server is excellent, besides giving a good tip, I will track down the manager and tell them so. Twenty percent should never be a given in my book.

— Todd T.

Since I wait tables for a living in Richmond, I read with interest your piece focusing on restaurant regulars as well as on tipping and the sometimes arbitrary connection between good service/good tip and poor service/poor tip. … If the situation went down as described, then I agree, the reader got poor service and was justified in leaving a (little bit) smaller tip. What could also be noted is that "Melissa" is working under poor management. I work at a very busy, very popular downtown Richmond restaurant. … The owner/manager where I work would not allow me to confront a customer with what I perceived to be a poor tip (believe me, we all get them) — especially something as ridiculously borderline as 15 percent-ish, which the article described. If a customer made it known that I had done something like that, I would be in huge trouble. It just looks bad and reflects poorly on everyone at the restaurant. That, in turn, affects the way we all make money.

However, people are sometimes oblivious. … There will always be people who tip poorly. A girl I worked with the other night got 50 cents on a $50 check. The customer was angry because the kitchen was out of a popular item he wanted to order (he came in 15 minutes before we closed, after a busy night). He projected his anger on the one person whose fault it was not — his server. She just tried to blow it off. However, this example is balanced out by all of the great people we wait on regularly.

Getting back to the main point of the article, restaurant regulars, especially regulars who tip well, usually get treated a little special. Try tipping well several times in a restaurant, saying "please" and "thank you" instead of "gimme," and greeting your server as if you recognize them as a person, and see how often that turns into a free dessert, a comped round of drinks, an appetizer that the kitchen "accidentally" made one too many of.

In general, try to be a good customer. Treating someone well is a symbiotic relationship, one that can benefit all parties. Happy customers come back over and over, and often bring new people with them. We all know what poor service feels like (it sucks), so good service should be properly rewarded.

— A Richmond waitron

The article rang some bells with me because we had a very disturbing incident [in a local hotel bar] a couple of years back. We stopped for a pre-dinner drink as we had reservations for dinner at 8:30. My husband and I ordered a glass each of chardonnay and commented at the time that they were very stingy with the portion. When the check came for $10 per glass, my husband left a tip of 15 percent as the waitress had been rather snippy (we usually tip 20 percent). The waitress came back, slapped the money back on the table and said, "I think you need to rethink the tip." After we got our jaws back where they belong, we picked up the tip and walked out leaving her nothing.

I have kicked myself many times since that I did not report this incident on the Monday following, but we vowed never to visit again.

— Linda T.

I am 90 percent certain I recognize the "Fan District café" and "Melissa." I remember how frustrating it is to serve "tourists," people who are not Fan regulars. They often turn their noses up at the smoke, quaint booths, parallel parking and tattoos. These are usually the same folks who cannot divide a check. Melissa was probably wrong to complain about a tip that was less than 20 percent. Standard gratuity is 18 percent. If she did a standard job, she earned a standard tip. No, she should not take for granted that she will be tipped generously. She should also realize hard work and good service are rewarded. However, I probably would defend Melissa before I would the customers. I am sure she has cleaned up her share of vomit, napkins with half-chewed food, Cheerios on the floor and other disrespect. No, it's not fair to take out others' disrespect on your next table. But respect is a two-way street. Did these customers recognize how busy it was? Did they hold her table for hours and not spend much money? How did the customers know if Melissa was off the clock when she was taking her shot? Did the customers smell alcohol on her breath? Did they notice she was doing a poor job because she was intoxicated? Did they ever indicate to her they were dissatisfied with her service as they sat there all night?

— Virginia F.

No, a server should never ask for more of a tip. I waited tables for about eight years, so I understand how frustrating that can be. But it is not an excuse to be rude. It's a terrible way to represent the restaurant — and a guarantee that those customers won't come back. Why would someone want to embarrass someone else? It's just crass. I've noticed better service in the newer restaurants in Richmond — a return to grace, courtesy and professionalism. I hope the trend spreads.

— A former waitress

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