It hit me like a thunderbolt today while I was at lunch. An epiphany about the silliness of paying a professed professional a percentage of the sales price when there were other far more logical alternatives – flat rates, for instance. Or even better, since the professional represents the seller on my purchase and they are being paid by that seller, the possibility of asking the professional for a rebate of what they earn to help offset the costs that I incurred.
Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Usually I simply added the tip to my restaurant bill without giving it a second thought. But does this methodology make sense? Should my server really earn more simply because I ordered the $19 steak and not the $9 hamburger? Was there that much extra service really involved? Is the bottle of steak sauce that much heavier than a bottle of ketchup?
What have I been thinking all of this time?
Give Me a Menu of Services
What should have happened is I ought to have been provided a detailed guide to the service this particular server was going to provide me. Then I ought to have had the opportunity to pick and choose what service I really wanted so that I was paying only for what I truly wanted and needed. Refills of my iced tea? At that price?
(Quick aside … I will not mention a particular percentage because even the hint that there’s a standard 20% tip rate might cause the Department of Justice to look carefully at the restaurant industry.)
(Second quick aside … if all of the restaurants in my area charge an automatic 18% gratuity on parties of 8 or more, doesn’t than in itself constitute price fixing and an anti-trust violation?)
Nay, I say. I will not pay you to pour my iced tea, Mr. Server. Simply point me toward the pitchers of iced tea and I’ll take care of that myself.
Bring on the National MLS
And now that I think of it, why am I relying on you to hand me a menu of what you have available? There ought to be a public, online depository of all of the meals available in all of the restaurants in the land so that I can decide for myself whether I want the steak tartar or the gnocchi.
It will be a national MLS – Menu Listing Service – and all restaurants will be required to participate even if they’re not offering their food for sale to those across the country. Logic isn’t important. It’s the principal involved! I’m not a neophyte when it comes to food! Have you not seen the picture of me blogging?
Just a Middle Man
Let’s just face the facts. The server only is a middle man. She doesn’t make the food. All she does is write down what the buyer wants and relay it back to the kitchen where the supply exists. Then she delivers the finished product back to the buyer. Where’s the value to justify that tip? What have they done that I couldn’t have done myself?
Sure, a good server may recommend a certain menu item. Just as in several restaurants around Glendale, my order is known before I say a word because the servers in these establishments have taken the time to listen to my needs, to my wants, to pierce through my debate between a Caesar salad and a quesadilla and realize what I really am looking for is a nice juicy breast of chicken.
Paying for Service
And now that I think about it, I have no qualms about paying the people in those restaurants the full rate that they are asking (percentage based or not) because they have saved me time by knowing what I want without me having to explain it over and over again. They have made it clear that I am special, and isn’t that the point of service in the first place?
In those instances it doesn’t much matter to me that I’m paying a little more at the end of my meal than I would have had I not ordered the full plate of garlic toast to go with my wings and pizza. That what I’m paying comes as a percentage as a flat rate doesn’t really matter. I receive the service I expected and I paid accordingly.
It’s just a good thing I didn’t enter the restaurant as a party of six. Things could have gotten ugly had I told the manager what he could do with his “mandatory” 18% commission and instead told him I’ll pay $4 tip per person, no more, regardless of what we order.
Hell, he might even make it apparent to me that I get what I pay for. Better watch the cooks closely.
AG Editor’s note: this article was originally published on September 2, 2008.
In comments, please feel free to discuss but please avoid mentioning specific rates you charge so as not to violate any anti-trust laws.