Yesterday, W and I were having a totally unsatisfying breakfast at an Ocean Beach eatery called Shades. The waitress was cold and indifferent as she sat us at a table that was still smeared with the crud of previous breakfasters. She forgot to bring half our breakfast and never returned to refill coffees or check our status.
So we were sitting there waiting, waiting, waiting-tick tock-waiting, I'm waaaaaiting; waiting, ahem, waiting, still waiting for our check to arrive, when I began ranting about how the quality of service in this town is really going to the gulls.
Indeed, W and I had recently encountered a string of unacceptable dining experiences-like how they gouged us at Florencia's and ignored us at Ranchos (again); like how they bungled our take out from Little Italy (again); like how we were scolded by the New York Giant Pizza Nazi (again); and like how the Village Kitchen screwed up breakfast so badly I wanted to dump my plate onto the carpet and dance in the greasy pile of hash mush, singing, “(Can't Get No) Satisfaction” (again).
I surmised the reason, in part, is that tipping has become mandatory. These days most people tip out of guilt, regardless of the quality of service. Consequently, many servers don't feel they need to earn their perquisite.
So we were still waiting, waiting, waiting for the check and I suggested that it was about time we sent a message to the shitty servers of San Diego: that we will not be guilted into tipping you any more, and that from now on you have to at least pretend like you care about our meal.
W said she had never actually stiffed anyone but insisted that if the service was bad enough, she could and would do it.
“I doubt it,” I said. “It goes against your core values.”
“Of course I can,” she snapped.
“Then stiff now,” I said.
“We can't stiff her,” W argued. “If we're going to stiff, the service has to be atrocious. It has to bad service and bad attitude.”
W was right. As bartenders, we have a tipping ethos to uphold. And while today's service was inept and aloof, it wasn't quite atrocious.
“But if the service was atrocious,” I asked, “could you blatantly stiff her?”
“Most certainly,” she answered.
Thus a $20 wager was conceived: The next time we received “atrocious” service, W would have to employ the stiff. So we shook on it and started talking about the weather or whatever until, finally, the check arrived and the waitress took W's credit card and returned with the credit slip and-holy freaking crap-we couldn't believe what we saw. The waitress had drawn a circle around the part of credit card slip that said, “Add gratuity here.”
What audacity! A blind monkey throwing plates around the room could've out-served this wench-now she's demanding a tip? Oh, please. I remember thinking, “Thanks, lady. Thanks for showing me where I'm supposed to scribble in your gratuity because I was sooo confused, and I know that you're in a hurry to start not wiping down other people's tables and not refilling other people's coffees.” More to the point, thanks for the attitude. Because you have just graduated from “lame” to “bleeding fucking atrocious” and now the bet was on and oooh-weee was I ever wringing my hands in anticipation.
I could see the trepidation on W's face as she mustered the courage to stiff.
“Do it,” I muttered like a devil on a shoulder. “Send the message. Stiff the indolent bitch.”
W's eyebrows scrunched as she drew the zero on the gratuity line and totaled it out. But then she had a sudden change of heart. “I can't do this,” she said, and dropped a $5 bill on the table. “I just can't.”
We both laughed and stood up to leave and, before even realizing what I was doing, I lifted the fiver off the table. A classic tipectomy.
“Oh my god, how could you do that?” whispered W with shock and horror. I was asking myself the same question.
“We have to get out of here,” I said and grabbed her arm and scurried us through the restaurant... swiftly now, swiftly, before the waitress returns, don't run though-running attracts attention-hurry, slowly, slowly, hurry. Oh shit, I can't take this-my heart, my heart-oh shit, she's walking toward the table, oh shit, she's picking up the receipt, oh shit, oh shit... but we are out the door before she can organize a posse of rabid attack busboys.
Some messenger. I scampered off like a frightened kitchen rat.
Anyway, look, I know that it's a cardinal sin for a bartender to stiff. It's an even cardinaler sin to snake a tip off a table. But I'm not only a bartender-I'm also a customer. And I'm sick of tipping shitty servers simply because I'm supposed to.
And maybe all my bartender and waitress friends will tear me to shreds like wild dogs for saying this, but, go ahead and stiff us if we bungle your orders. Stiff us if we are rude or short with you. Stiff us if we are ungrateful for your patronage. And a super special-stiff-it-to-us-hard if we ever draw a circle around “Add gratuity here.”