Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Waiting on Europeans, the Aha! Moment

I am breaking my posting principals regarding posting about bad tips, but I have some questions I would like answered. First off I understand that tips are included as a standard service fee in Europe. The system there is totally different than it is in North America, both in the wage/tip system and in the social stigma attached to working in the Hospitality Industry. For those who don't know, serving in Germany, France, or many other European countries is considered to be a respected trade. Many Europeans complain about the poor standards of service in North America, and I agree. I think that the social attitude taken towards those who choose a career as servers perpetuates the whole system.

In Canada and the US, most servers are seen to be unskilled labour, students, and flakes. Can't cut it in the real world, well you can always be a waiter. I have done my time working in fine dining popping $6,000 bottles. Often the people I served made less money than me, and yet they still felt the need to demean my occupation.

So here is the impetus for this post; I served two English couples last week. That alone is enough to make most servers cringe and reel with terror. I usually don't mind serving Euro's for this reason. They understand the steps of service and even though they tip like shit, at least they will listen to you while you recite the night's features, they will not ask you for a desert menu while you are clearing their dinner plates, and they will order appropriate wine for their meal selection. A French couple will never remark at the white Chardonnay you bring to the table and say, "Oh, we wanted the red Chardonnay."

This table of Brits was my lynchpin, the best table in my section. They had the highest bill and were the a pleasure to look after. The owner sent a round of Amaro digestives to them on the house, and they left happy. The gentleman who paid the bill shook my hand on the way out and thanked me for the great service, he indicated that he had left a little something extra for me on top of the bill. I smiled and shuddered. Upon further inspection, the "Something Extra" was two ten dollar bills. Less than 5%. Clearly like most Euro's, he had assumed that gratuity was included in the charge, and that leaving cash would allow me to keep those tens all to myself. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Nudge my ass.

So here is my Question, I would love to hear from some Europeans on this;

"After weeks on vacation, dining in many fine establishments, and leaving little or no gratuity, is there an AHA! moment, an epiphany? Does someone explain the system to you, and are you suddenly racked with guilt for all those great servers who you utterly stiffed, screwed, and actually cost money? Or do you just not give a shit?"

I am genuinely curious.

My tip-out is roughly 6% of after tax sales, so that table cost me money to serve. Even still, I have a hard time discriminating and lowering my level of service based on race or origin. I suppose I will just have to deal with the Euro factor forever. I just want to know if they care.


  1. just found your blog, and i like your storytelling! i'm not a euro, but "some of my best friends are." And i'm a waiter. basically what i've heard from brit friends is that there is no aha moment: they know, and just can't be bothered. they don't agree with the system and don't much care.

    a good story to drive home the point: i was working in an "upscale" place -- not fine dining, but fine cooking, and expensive. a package tour company decided our place was a good show of what they area had to offer as far as restaurants and started booking lunches for 50+ people, all UK tourists.

    it was a busy lunch, 50 or more people all coming in at once -- but not as a single party, they sat in their own groups and took their own bills. none of them left a tip. not one dime. nothing. we worked like dogs trying to keep up, and went home empty handed like that for about four bookings. on the fifth visit, we [the servers] refused to serve them unless the owner agreed to add gratuity to the checks. the owner didn't have a problem with that for us -- until the tourists got the bills. they refused to pay the gratuity. the event planner went to the owner and threw a tantrum. to the credit of the restaurant, he told the tour company to take their business elsewhere. that wouldn't have happened in a corporate restaurant.

    and that made me think -- we were lucky to have someone like that. but is it really the guests' fault that this happens? what role do employers play in creating these issues? when we as servers feel victimized by people who refuse to participate in this system, are we directing our frustration to the right place?

    what do you think?

    anyway, keep up the good work, see you soon!

  2. vandervecken,

    Thanks for to comment, and the info. I had an inkling feeling that it might be the case that they don't really care, but my good nature gave them the benefit of the doubt.

    As for your tourist issue, it is good that your owner stood up for you, but bad that it took 3 times of getting stiffed to get there. I think if they come in as a group and get served together, they are a group. Gratuity added. You just have to tell them first and let them choose.

  3. The hardest thing is to be professional when all around us are not. It's no different as a waiter. Good tips, bad tips. Take our jobs seriously and in the end, hopefully it all works out. But at all times, do what is in the best interest of the customer.

  4. "After weeks on vacation...

    All this should've been researched and looked into *before* the vacation.
    "When in Rome..."
    Ignorance is no excuse

  5. Please post more often!!

    Look forward to your well written experiences!!!!

  6. Thanks everyone for the great feedback. I have about 150 more stories banked, they just need my time to finish and post. I have a great one that should be posted by this weekend.