Restaurant Ignorance Is Bliss

Knowledge is power, but it can also be somewhat detrimental in certain cases. I think restaurants is really one of them. I worked in fast food before, but that really has nothing to do with serving tables. We had one of the cleanest McD’s you would ever walk into and took pride on our restaurant and the food. I used to think that I had build enough good karma in the fast food industry by serving great “junk” food, until I got food poisoned a couple of years ago. I have since cut down on my fast food eating other than at lunch time when it is some time inevitable.

Growing up in Colombia we lived a middle life class. People rarely go to restaurant unless there is a special occasion. There were really no fast food places back then like her, and even the burger shops modeled after franchises here were a treat and not an every day thing. The restaurants I knew about were mostly a little more upscale and we very rarely visited them. Most of the time my Dad would pick up food and bring it home, so I say my experience with restaurants over there was about 95% take out.

I started going to restaurants during college. I was working and the disposable income and credit card use went mostly to family places like Lake Street Cafe and Dappers. I discovered that you can have breakfast all day other than at Denny’s and Ihop and enjoyed the experience quite a bit. I also learned that Hispanics have the fame of being bad tippers because I was approached several times after giving just 20% tips. I like to tip and if I had more money my tips would probably be closer to at least 50%. I also made it a rule that if I did not have enough to tip, I would just not eat out or adjust the price of the place.

I use my experience in a restaurant as a very social thing. Like with the movies I don’t like to go alone. I am more interested on the conversation and looking at people faces and reactions more than the noise or look of the place (I was going to use ambiance but Meesha has issues with the word.) I used to measure service level with the friendliness and promptness of the service. Also if special request were met and timely. The most important factor was always time of the arrival of the food, and then never to feel rushed out after.

I never thought of the phrase “How is your food” much, that is until someone pointed out to me that a good server always asks and never mid bite. Now I always think of that when I am making up my mind about good service, I can’t help it, its not even a conscious thing anymore.

Wook not to long ago told me during a lunch about clearing out plates from the table as being another measure of a good server. I have noticed lately that I also take a not of that when making my mind up about the server.

The latest one is what ruined a place that I used to love going for us. The server was new and young, and had not noticed that he was pretty much slamming the drink down and not placing things on the table but kind of rush trowing them. I would have not noticed it until it was pointed out to me, again I care more about the company and the conversation. Once it was pointed out and the food was still not coming it because a huge annoyance. Added to that was the fact that he seemed more worried about talking to the female servers than refilling our drinks or bringing out the appetizers. When the refills that we had to ask another server for came out, the glasses were slammed and I about lost it. We ended up walking out still hungry and moved to another restaurant. They say ignorance is bliss and I think when it comes to restaurants, I would say that is pretty accurate.

I think as we get older we all get pickier and pickier about what we like and how we want to be treated. I seriously don’t want to become an old man full of quirks, but I believe that when you pay for a meal in a restaurant two things have to happen. The meal has to be better than what I can make myself, and the service has to be worth my time. If the service in any way detracts from my experiecen, I will seriously consider taking my business somewhere else.

19 Responses to Restaurant Ignorance Is Bliss

  1. Did you contact management about your experience? Because without you calling/discussing it with them, they might not know about the problem. And its always important to report poor service like you received. It doesn’t sound like that server was just having an off day. Chances are, they always behave that way, and without complaints about them, the shoddy service might just go on and on without improvement.

    I, too, do not like it when the service at a restaurant takes away from my overall enjoyment of a meal. I don’t think that’s being picky at all…

  2. You normally tip 50%!??!?! Holy crap! I’m not sure if that was a type-o or not, but DANG! 10%-15% is typical in my experience……..IF the service is good as you described. My Mom and my wife were waitresses at one point so I’ve heard all the stories. Matter of fact, my wife is the most demanding because she has an expectation of how to do the job correctly. For the most part I have never complained but since I’ve been married that has changed. Her biggest pet peeve is meal timing. First you get your soup, then salad or appetizer, then meal. She gets extra ticked off if they bring out the meal while she is still eating her salad or appetizer. She usually gets even more upset because she took the time to explain to the wait person how the timing of the food should work and they still have the nerve to bring out the next dish when you aren’t even finished with the first one!! I can’t blame her for being mad either. It seems that nowadays that waiting tables is a lost art form. But it surely points out when you do get a server that does an excellent job.

    I don’t think we get pickier as we get older, we have just decided at that point in our lives that we don’t have time for stupid crap anymore!! =)

  3. You tip 50% when you can?? As someone who earns a good percentage of my living on tips – Thank you! And wow!

    I agree with Faith that it’s not that people get pickier, they just don’t want to put up with stupid crap as they get older. I know that when I hit 40 people thought I got meaner. It wasn’t that. I just got less willing to lie and more willing to be honest. I also got less willing to settle for incompetence. The flip side is that I’m also faster to compliment a job well done than I did when I was younger.

  4. I rarely go out to eat myself (mostly for monetary reasons). However, when I do go out and the waitstaff is impeccable I do tip much more than the usual 10%. Good service deserves to be praised.

  5. I hate hate HATE to have to tip. I hate having to figure an extra 15-20% into the price of my meal because I’ve been guilted into it. Any employee of any business is expected to perform at a certain level in order to receive my money for services or goods rendered. A waiter/waitress is expected to take my order, bring my drinks, bring my food, keep drinks refilled, check on me, bring the bill, ring up my card and take it back later.

    That’s what I pay the price on the menu for. I shouldn’t have to pay “extra” for the wait staff and cooks to do what I paid menu price for in the first place.

    And yes, I understand the argument that they are not paid adequate wages and rely on tips to make up their regular income but you know, that’s not my problem. If they can’t make enough in salary, then they should look somewhere else for work. Or get the manager to pay them more and let them raise the price for the food if they have to.

    I just don’t like civilized extortion and I don’t like it’s an accepted part of the culture.

  6. Whoah. Some of you all need to stop going out to eat if you only tend to tip 10 – 15% on average. I’m a 20 – 30% tipper. I’ve been a server before. I’ve had to support myself on my tips. It is NOT POSSIBLE to do so on a 10% average tip! Come on! Stop going out to eat if that’s what you think is a “good” tip. Srsly. You’re just asking for trouble, especially if you frequent the places you tip like that at. Wow…

  7. I just read Barry’s whole comment, and apparently, Barry, you don’t get how the restaurant industry works, man. You DEFINITELY need to stop going out to eat, if that’s how you feel about it.

    Tips ARE their salary! This is how it has always been, since the dawn of the restaurant industry! I don’t even know how to adequately respond to you, your comment was so off and, I’m sorry, ignorant. I don’t know you – and to be honest, I don’t think I’d want to – but man…pull your head out of your bum. PLEASE. Here’s a blog you might want to check out: http://waiterrant.net/ Go back and start at the beginning in April 2004. It might help you a great deal, or, if you’re as cool as I think you are, it might just keep you from ever wanting to eat out again. And on behalf of the server/former-server community, I will go ahead and thank you for your consideration of that possibility.

  8. I can hardly think of words to comment on your reply, Faith.

    When I buy a good or a service, the price of the good or the service should be my small part to pay all the expenses of the owner. When I buy a CD at Target, the price of that CD should be split up to pay the supplier, the facility overhead, the utilities, the insurance and the wages of the employees. When I buy a car at a dealer, the price of that car should be split up to pay the same set of expenses.

    When I buy a meal at a restaurant, the price of the food should be split up to pay all the expenses as well.

    If I buy a hamburger meal at McDonalds, the price of the burger, fries and drink go in one big pot that is used to pay all the expenses. I pay nothing “extra” for the employees doing their jobs.

    So why should I sit down at an O’Charley’s, pay a (more expensive already) price for my meal, but then be forced by custom and tradition to add on a 15-20% tip on top of the bill, to pay the waiters for the services the management should already be paying them for?

    Proportionally speaking, the amount of money a McDonalds pulls in for a day should be similar to the money an O’Charley’s pulls in. Sure their food supply is going to be more expensive and rent/utilities might be a bit higher, but again their daily profits should be about proportionally the same. So why can sit-down restaurants not afford to pay the wait staff a regular, standard salary?

    I’m not saying I don’t do it – I just don’t like it. I know that’s the way it IS but it’s not the way it SHOULD BE.

  9. Barry,
    On this one you are WAY off. You cannot compare a restaurant with a fast food joint. McD’s makes a burger for about 8cents… well it used to back when I worked there in the 90s, but for the sake of argument let say they make one for 20cents now. They sell it for 4 times that. Their operating cost is well covered as well as the minimum wages they pay. But the food is crap… the cheapest beef you can get. Everything in a McD’s comes from corporate. Their supply chain is set up so they control the prices.

    Restaurants get their produce from Sysco, where my brother in law works. Food is of better grade, not excellent but at least 3 times better than what you get at McD’s.

    Also at McD’s you are not being served. You have to get your stuff at a counter. Once in a while they might bring the food out to you, but not much more beyond that. You are comparing apples and oranges here.

  10. Barry, you just do NOT understand the restaurant industry, it seems. Not at all. Do you know how much more the product costs at say, the local steakhouse down the street, vs. what they serve you at McDonald’s or Burger King? That local restaurant is paying for a quality product from their vendors, or possibly even buying local, which is quality you can’t beat. I can’t even believe I’m discussing the quality of fast food vs. restaurant quality, because it really should be a moot point. Like Logtar mentioned in his subsequent post, they do things differently in Europe and South America…they add the tip to the bill automatically. Usually its about 20%. Maybe that’s what you’d like restaurants to start doing here? (I’m assuming you’re in America, although I can’t tell from the “blog” that you have linked to your name, so it’s just a guess.) Although I think the chances of that happening are about the same as us ever switching to Universal Healthcare, so seriously, I wasn’t joking about my advice up there. Good Lord, man…

  11. Are neither of you hearing that I’m saying proportionally? Of course the type of food required to make a Big Mac is less expensive than required for a restaurant burger! (although likely the material for fries, chips, sodas, tea, salads, potatos, etc is pretty much the same all over). But the restaurants charge 2, 3, maybe 4x as much as for a Big Mac. So I’m saying proportionally they’re likely seeing about the same profit margins. So why is McD’s able to pay its staff a full salary, but O’Charley’s can’t?

    No, I don’t want them to add 20% automatically to my bill for a “tip” – I don’t like when they do that now with large parties. I would almost rather they raise prices to compensate for low salaries. BUT I’d like to know why they can’t pay salaries and charge roughly the same for the food and service without losing money, the same way McDonald’s has done it forever.

    If you can provide some real world numbers to compare typical gross revenue vs. expenses for each type of establishment and show how a restaurant really can’t afford to pay its wait stuff a full wage, I’ll be happy to believe you. But until then, I’m standing by my assumptions.

    It is still an apples to apples comparison – I come inside, someone takes my order, someone brings me my order, usually I eat there (but sometimes I take it to go), I give someone my money and they might give me change. Whether they do any of that at my table or at a counter, and in whatever order, is irrelevant. The only differences are in the price (and quality) of the food and how many people are working there.

    If McD’s sells W burger/fries/drink combos a day at $X, then after subtracting Y expenses (wholesale food, utilities, salary) it should come out to a reasonable Z profit. For O’Charley’s that sells W meals for total of $X (likely 5 times what Bic Macs cost) then after subtracting their Y (the higher expenses of the food, utilities, LOW salaries) it should make a higher proportional Z profit. But if that were so, why not pay the staff up to regular wage?

    And by the way, I don’t have a “blog”. I have a blog. I’ve had it for many years, and I’ve been happy with it. I don’t post as much as I used to but it gets by.

  12. Barry – the difference is that wait staff is paid below minimum wage. If restaurants had to pay what the “service” was worth, it would just be passed on to you with the cost of the food and you’d wind up paying about the same amount anyway. If you also make it a minimum wage job, then you’re going to get that level of service and the experience won’t be as enjoyable (you get what you pay for).

  13. Barry, food quality and restaurant differences aside, the issue I take with your suggestion of rolling the server wages into food costs is this: the server would then have absolutely no incentive to try hard to do a good job at each and every table they work any given day. No incentive to try to make your experience a good one so you’ll maybe return once a week or more after you have an enjoyable experience at their restaurant, thanks to their help. No incentive to provide you with the best service they can give. If not for that tip they’re working for, you’d likely get substandard to mediocre service with no gusto or passion to do well. You know what I mean?

    “If you can provide some real world numbers to compare typical gross revenue vs. expenses for each type of establishment and show how a restaurant really can’t afford to pay its wait stuff a full wage, I’ll be happy to believe you. But until then, I’m standing by my assumptions.” My husband was the assistant kitchen manager at a restaurant locally here in the Kansas City area for over 4 years. So that’s not a problem at all! Percentage of markup is usually cost X’s 3 in a standard family style establishment. So they generally are aiming for a 31% markup on the menu items sold to the public. That markup is there to help pay for the restaurant overhead…from the rent, to the gas it takes to fire that food you’re eating, to the salary paid to the cook who made it for you, the chef who runs the kitchen, the manager that oversees the waitstaff, and the manager that runs the overall restaurant.

    Look at the server as being like an independent contractor. They’re there as a supplemental factor to help the restaurant sell their food…but they are separate from what the back of the house is involved in…which is what soaks up much of that money you’re paying for those burgers or salads you’re munching on thanks to them making it for you. Try thinking of the front of the house (i.e. the servers and the managers – usually 2 of them, depending on the size of the staff/establishment) as a totally separate entity from the back of the house. The back of the house uses all that mark up to keep the food going out to the table, and the restaurant running smoothly. (i.e. paying rent, utilities, for furniture upkeep, and that sort of thing.) The front of the house is there to help the back of the house get it done with a style that makes the customers want to return again and again and again. Neither of them can exist without each other. But they are definitely vastly different entities. I hope this has helped some…sorry I got heated earlier. But your suggestion to mark up food even more isn’t based in reality as I see it. And that’s likely because I have a much closer relationship with the restaurant industry, having been a server myself before, and also due to being married to a chef.

  14. Becky, if working for tips is the deciding incentive on whether someone does well at their job or not, then we have an entire industry that’s screwed up.

    Look at Disney. It’s part of the corporate culture from the top down for employees to think of themselves as “cast members” providing a magical experience for their guests. It’s part of their job requirement to be cheerful, happy, accommodating, helpful and smiling (unless they’re working the Haunted Mansion, in which case they’re supposed to be dour and depressing). Regardless, that’s part of their job and most of them do it very well. It’s not dependent on me giving them a tip to ensure they treat me well. To suggest that if waiters would treat a customer indifferently if they were only making minimum-ish wage and without tips is an indictment on the whole culture of the restaurant industry and one that’s apparently been allowed to develop for many, many years.

    I really, really don’t mind paying more for my food if I’m not guilted into paying a tip to a waiter for rendering a quality level of service that should be a given in the first place. But I’m also saying that, judging by the relative overhead, restaurants ought to be able to pay the waiters a good wage and still make a profit without substantially raising their prices.

  15. Aaannnd apparently, Barry didn’t read any of my last comment. Fabulous.

    If you go out to O’Charley’s now, and get yourself a $45 dinner for you and your wife, and then tip the standard (which is sad) 15%, you’re paying an overall price of about $52 for that meal, right? Well, with tax added, I estimate it to be a total of about $55, actually. So there’s that.

    Ok, now add that 15 – 20% onto the cost of your meal instead. (Actually, I’m gonna add 20% on, overall, because that is DEFINITELY what the restaurants would to in order to manage salaries and overhead for paying servers a base salary that doesnt include tips. It just is.) That you then get TAXED on. I’m counting two $10 entrees in that $45, along with additional $3 for salads or soup to start your meal with, and then about $18 for drinks, assuming that you either have a bottle of wine, or a couple of beers each with your food. So instead of $10, those entrees now cost $12 each. And the salads go up to $3.75. And the drinks go up to about $5.50 each. Now your dinner, before tax, costs $53.50. Now you get taxed at an approximate 7.5% rate, and you add THAT on, and you get a dinner that costs you about $57.50.

    But thank GOD you didn’t have to TIP anyone. You know, out of GUILT. (Which is just about the silliest thing I’ve ever heard, of, I’m sorry. You have children, don’t you? Gah. ::shaking head:: Please don’t teach them this malarky you’ve come up with about how you feel when it comes to service in restaurants. You just do NOT know what you’re talking about, dude.)

  16. I absolutely know what I’m talking about, and you are way too close to the situation to think about it objectively, obviously.

    And I read all the comments, that’s why I have to respond to them.

    In your example above, with the meal with tip and more expensive meal w/out tip, there’s a difference of about $2.50. What was the point of that exercise? I was expecting something like $10-20 difference, but you couldn’t make the math work. Which proves my point – I’m paying about same total money, but with increased food prices the waiters are getting paid more and not dependent on tips to make a living. Surely that’s a more stable system all around?

    What is truly important, and what I totally intend on teaching my children, is that your performance in a job should not depend on your salary or tips, it should depend on having pride in what you’ve chosen to do with your life at that point.

    If for one minute you think I shouldn’t believe EXPECTED tipping is anything but a retroactive bribe to the waiters not to spit in my food, you’re wrong. Because that’s what it is – a promise of money at the end of the meal to ensure they give you service that you should otherwise expect.

    Now there are millions of waiters and waitresses out there that will do just fine whether they expect a tip or not – that’s their nature to be nice and service-oriented, and will do their best all the time. It should be that way for everyone, all the time. And they should be paid fully for their work, not dependent on the customer to make up the difference.

  17. Barry – I seriously doubt Disney workers are paid minimum wage, not to mention it’s a culture renown for how well it treats its employees with benefits. You can’t really expect the same type of service from a restaurant that pays less than minimum wage and just cycles through people like a commodity.

    But, I still think you missed my point. If you want the cost of the service included in your bill already, the overall cost of your meal will go up compared to what you pay now, since wait staff is paid like $3/hour right now (w/tips added on) compared to a “flat rate” (w/service included) of probably at least $10/hour. The customer will pay for the increase in any wages.

    I do understand your point, though, in that people shouldn’t be half-assing their jobs in the first place. I’m not arguing with your frustration in the incentive-based approach; I’m just saying that you’re going to pay the same in the end, if the rules of the game change to a “flat rate.” At least to me, if someone does half-ass their service, I’m in control of how much I have to pay for it, instead of it being automatically included in the food prices (which is one reason why I can’t stand it when restaurants add the tip on the bill for parties of six or more b/c the server usually winds up being lazy since they know they’re getting the tip anyway).

  18. Barry, you asked me to provide numbers on revenue vs. profits and I did that. You ignored it. So I provided a work up of how your meal would cost JUST AS MUCH and THEN SOME if restaurants did what you suggest, and just marked up food to cover the cost of paying a salary to a server, and you STILL pooh-poohed my input. (And what the HELL is the difference whether you decide to GIVE the server the 20% tip, or if the restaurant is automatically charging you for it in their marked up food costs??? IT MAKES NO SENSE! GAH.) Talking to you is like talking to a wall, but far less entertaining. I’m done. Jeezy chreezy on a stick!

  19. “At least to me, if someone does half-ass their service, I’m in control of how much I have to pay for it, instead of it being automatically included in the food prices…” EXACTLY! Becky has hit it right on the nose. And its what I’ve been trying to spell out for you in apparently too wordy comments, Barry, so hopefully when she says it, YOU GET IT.

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