I get that question a lot. If I’m in a particularly pissy mood my response resembles a line from Heathers, “Because I can.” The truth is a bit more moderated. “Because those who can should.”
Some might say it is because I’ve been dead broke and destitute before. While there may be some of that involved somewhere, the people who say that need to know that as a software consultant and an author, my life routinely toggles between being broke and being able to buy a new car without asking the price. While I prefer the second condition and have been there multiple times, I have also been at the first condition multiple times as well.
During my early twenties I switched from being an employee paid jut above the poverty line to a software consultant. Not only was this a great career move, it instantly tripled my income. Now I didn’t have to drink in bars that sold beer in pitchers. Not only that, I could afford a higher quality of alcohol, get far less hammered, and go out more nights per week. (Ah, to be young enough to go out even two nights per week now.)
What some people don’t know is that once you hit such a level of income you feel you need a reason to go to a bar. When you are a working class slave paid at or below the poverty line, your job is the reason you drink and the reason you have to drink in the lowest cost bar in the area. Once you obtain the income level most of those people would kill for you can’t go to a bar looking for sympathy while bitching about your job. Thankfully, I found a reason, darts.
Back there and back then bars wanting to pull in upper scale people who would pay more for drinks would come up with reasons for people to spend their drinking dollars. A good many bars made the mistake of bringing in karoake. Bars that wanted to cater to the unionized working class created pool leagues. Bars that wanted to bring in mostly office and tech workers hosted weekly dart tournaments.
Dart tournaments tended to be blind draw double elimination cricket tournaments. (No, not that outdoor game with funny bats.) True, some of these dart tournaments attracted people who simply followed the dart tournaments around to generate or enhance their income. Any person who could consistently put up eight or nine marks each time they threw could win with most any partner drawn out of a hat. If you lived in a big enough area you could find a weekly blind draw tournament up to six nights per week so you could add $600 a week to your gross income.
A double elimination tournament was a great thing from the view of the bar. Most everyone would drink. Half of the field would be eliminated by the third round with little else to do while waiting to see who won.
I guess it is a natural that the tournaments became a blend of office workers looking for an excuse to drink and people with wait staff type jobs working mostly over the lunch hour. It was at one of these tournaments where I got caught up in a conversation with a guy who was marrying a girl that worked at Denny’s. Actually I enjoyed listening to the conversation. One line I overheard stuck with me the rest of my life.
“I don’t care how big of a percentage tipper you are, when you are working off a $1.99 Grand Slam, it simply isn’t going to be much.”
The conversation, of course, was him trying to get his friends and hers to convince her to go work at a higher paying place so they might one day be able to get a home of their own and have a baby. The problem was that she liked the crew and the regulars she had. The place had become home to her. The fact she would never be able to purchase a home anywhere near where she worked for what she made didn’t enter into the equation for her.
Why is this topic finding its way to my blog now? I went to Steak & Shake for breakfast this morning. I sat at the bar as usual and left a $3 tip for a meal which cost less than $7. Someone sitting farther down the bar gave the tip a hairy eyeball which he hoped I didn’t notice. I said nothing and left.
For those who have never sat at the bar in a Steak & Shake, it is literally right up by the grill. The person working that grill can, in less than two steps, roughly one good stride, get over to that counter and whack a patron with those diabolically long spatulas they have. You do not, under any conditions, start or attempt to finish an argument in that general area unless you want a bleeding ear covered in grease fresh off the grill.
We have a large discussion in this country centered around forcing big box stores to pay a living wage. What we don’t have is a discussion centered around patrons who can, providing a living tip.
Speaking as someone who has observed this many times, it does appear that wait staff serving you 4 meals for under $4 have to do just about the same amount of work as the staff serving you a $30 meal. The main differences appear to be they don’t have as nice an outfit and cannot inflate your bill dramatically by providing high priced domestic alcohol like those chain places with “flair” or is it “flare”?
Putting it bluntly, why aren’t you leaving a “living tip”? They burned a half hour of their lives waiting on your table, why are you leaving less than $3? Don’t give me that “kids to put through college” bullshit. If that were true you would bring lunch from home or pick it up at a counter where tipping isn’t allowed. You wanted someone to wait on you and you didn’t want to pay for it. When you kid is finally in college and waiting tables to help pay for it, I hope they have you as a customer.