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October 27, 2015

I Solved the Debate About Tipping Waiters (but “Bernie Babies” Won’t Like My Answer)

Last Sunday I took a nice stroll outside my neighborhood. (Yes, Brooklyn is more than just Park Slope!) As the leaves crunched under my feet, I felt a yen for a warm beverage to pour down the hatch.

As my meandering had taken me to the young hipster mecca of Williamsburg, my only options were coffee shops with inscrutable names like “CUP” and “HNY.” Against my better judgment I entered one, settled into a chair with my Blackberry e-Reader, loaded the latest Joe Klein thriller, and patiently waited for service. And waited. And waited. And waited. It was two hours before a young waitress with gaudy nasal piercings and an even gaudier attitude walked over from her perch behind the counter and snottily asked me “did you want something?”

Yes, I did.

I was forced to march up to the counter, speak my order (Sanka, extra-granular, with a double shot of Fresca) as if I were in a common CVS or similar establishment where the homeless request unearned bathroom privileges, and manually carry my drink back to my table! Then, for the final insult, she flipped an iPad around, and I was shocked to see just three payment options: tip 15, 20, or 25 percent.

This utter violation of my consumer rights and human dignity made me realize what’s wrong with millennials today: in their Netflix-and-Bernie Sanders haze of entitlement and whining they don’t understand that a tip isn’t mandatory. A tip is a special bonus that lucky service types get in addition to their regular, fair wages. A tip is not a right but a gift bestowed by a benevolent master who has paid his dues to society and is well compensated for his masterful political analysis. These spoiled, sex-addled Bernie Babies think a tip is a participation trophy that everyone just gets, and not a rare prize reserved for only the hardest workers, like a college education or health care.

A waiter or server used to be someone who had to earn that tip. They were your confidante, your ally, your wingman, your shoeshiner, your poison-tester, and most of all, your friend. And like any good friend, you paid them what they deserved. Call me old fashioned, but I still expect my waiter to take my coat and brush the snow off my boots. I expect him to laugh at my jokes, applaud my astute analysis of the chattersphere’s topics of the day, and perhaps offer me a ride home when I’ve had one too many intoxicating beverages (which pay his salary, mind you!).

Now, the Dig is no stranger to grueling service work. When I was a teenager I worked as a greeter at Denny’s, forced to sit on an oversized stool for punishing six-hour shifts with no more than two breaks per hour. But in today’s economy, where everything is wireless and connected, waiting tables just isn’t as hard a job as it used to be. According to the Labor Department, waiter is one of the five easiest jobs in the country, along with actor, teacher, showgirl, and police officer. I for one would like to see these whiners in their cushy service jobs — kids who don’t realize just how good they have it — try to hack it as a political writer. (Now that would get a generous 15% from me!)

Growing up with The Colonel (a.k.a, “Dig Sr.”), eating out was a special occasion reserved for events that warranted celebrations, events like the acquittal of Lt. William Calley, the death of Qadaffi’s daughter in U.S. air strikes on Libya, and the pardoning of Oliver North. Those rare times we went out, my dad made sure our waiter earned his tip, and servers usually rose to the challenge. You could see their easy rapport in a friendly punch to the jaw or the reveal of a pistol tucked into a waistband. And believe me, the Colonel always made sure he got his veteran’s discount.

That was a better time for society, a time when it was considered standard for professions to have six or seven martinis at lunch and maybe even hop into a gentlemen’s club and take in an afternoon show. After my dad and I would finish our meal he would sometimes take me to the booths in Times Square, and you bet your 401K those folks mopping the floors didn’t beg for tips!

It’s time we demand more of service workers if they demand to get more than the standard 5% tip from us. I expect my waiter to greet me with more than a roll of his pierced eyes when I ask if urban youth are “vibin'” on Martin O’Malley. I expect him to help perfectly suitable but text message-unfamiliar divorced men pick witty things to say to a Tinder date who is running three hours late and is probably lost or in danger. Would it kill a waitress just to flash a smile, or maybe some kind words? No one expects the whole show, but you shouldn’t be given your extra wage unless you’re being extra helpful. And I know I’m no Tom Friedman — I don’t expect every taxi driver to fill me in on the rise of Indonesia’s creative class. But would it kill you to at least speak English?

No such luck. These fat cats of the service industry just act like they’re owed the world when they give you less than the time of day.

Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. Got a tip for The Dig? Email him at [email protected] or Tweet @carl_diggler.