Sunday, March 19, 2006

Judging Covers


After working in the industry for a while, most folks begin to develop a special ability. After watching a table walk in, sit down, and look at their menus, a server will be able to tell you what they will order, how long they will sit there, and what they will tip.

Today, if I were to walk into any restaurant, I could probably tell you what each table will tip within +/- 1%.

There are exceptions. This story is about those exceptions.

-Judging Covers-

It's a busy Saturday night at The Restaurant. I'm bartending. I've been doing this for about a year now, so I've got it down.

Friday nights and Saturday nights are the only two shifts when we staff 2 bartenders. We need it. We usually have a full bar, we're responsible for the service bar, and we have to take and prepare take-out orders. We're also responsible for two bar booths.

I'm working with The Woman, and we work well together. She handles the bar and the take-out orders while I take care of the service bar and the two bar booths.

The place is rockin. It's busy, noisy, and we're making mad money.

The bar booths have been turning over pretty well. At the moment, they're both getting bussed. I turn my attention to the service bar.

There are about ten chits that I need to make. I pull the string off the machine and take a look.


Three milkshakes (one chocolate, one strawberry, and one vanilla), two margaritas, one smoothie, one virgin daquiri, and several myriad something and somethings (Jack and Coke, 7 and 7, etc.).

Frozen drinks are a pain in the butt. Especially when we have three blenders, only two of which work properly. I have to plan this one out.

I throw 9 scoops of ice cream and some heavy cream into the blender. Punching the "start" button, I grab another blender and throw in some ice, sour mix, and bar strawberries and set that a-twirl.

Finally, I grab the mixer out of the dish tub and go to work on the margaritas. It takes me about 25 seconds to whip those up. I'm thankful that I am the sole bartender on Margarita Night. I put those up on the bar and start on the something and somethings.

Looking over, I see that the milkshakes are blended to the right consistency. I pour two into cups (vanilla-done!). I add some chocolate sauce into the other. I throw some bar strawberries into the third and put it back on the blender. I flash spindle the chocolate shake and it's good to go. I stop the blender and pour out the strawberry shake. Whip cream, whip cream, whip cream... ta-da!

As I go to work on the virgin daquiri/smoothie mix, I glance up and see that the two bar booths are bussed and getting sat. I have about two minutes... no problem.

I stop the blender, pour out half the mix into a teardrop glass. Adding a lime wheel garnish, the virgin daquiri is done. I add some more ice, some pineapple and apple juices, and half a banana. I throw it all back on the blender. I return to the something and somehings.

A minute later, I'm washing my hands and grabbing bev naps. I take stock of my tables as I make my way around the bar.

Table 1- Two middle-aged couples, nicely dressed. Expensive leather coats and flashy jewelry. The two ladies have enormous rocks on their fingers. Cha-ching! 20% on at least an $80 tab, over .

Table 2- A late-30's couple. Woman has on a shirt with a large picture of a cat's face. Man is wearing torn jeans. Both have the same hairstyle. Shoulder-length, unwashed, and stringy. Bummer. 10% on $20. Oh well.

When you get double-sat, the key is to treat two tables like one. I start off with drinks. Money table- 2 glasses of chardonnay, 2 expensive scotch and water. Poor table- water and an MGD.

Dinner order... Money table: 2 chicken and pasta dishes, 2 strip steaks. Poor table- chicken pot pie and cheeseburger.

Notice a pattern developing here?

The people in both groups are nice. Especially the couple. His name is Ron. He works as a mechanic. Her name is Judy. She takes care of their 8 cats.

I'm allergic to cats, so I'm careful not to get too close. If I get one whiff of cat hair, my face swells up and I look like Corky from Life Goes On.

I take good care of both tables. I really pour on the charm for the 4-top. The motivating factor is money, and it's looking like this is going to be the table that will fund my post-shift bar trip.

Final bills... Money table- $120. Poor table- $25.

Dropping off the bills, I head back behind the bar.

"How's it going?" I ask The Woman. She's making change at the till. I'm careful to make it look like we're just co-workers. There are a lot of young guys at the bar, and I want them to think they have a chance. They'll tip better that way.

"Fine. Are you taking good care of Ron and Judy?"

"Yeah. They have 8 cats. He's a mechanic. Why do you ask?"

"You'll see. They do it right." She slams the drawer shut, adjusts her bra, and heads back to her customers.

I wonder what she means. I haven't seen the couple in The Restaurant before. They can't be regulars. They look like they just left a garage sale. Hmmm...

Finally, they leave. I walk over to check out the tips.

Money table- $15. Bullshit. I hate this job.

Poor table- $10. Wow. Nearly 50% tip.

Scratching my head, I go back to work.

When the rush is over, I ask The Woman about the Ron and Judy.

"They come in about once every month and a half. They don't have a lot of money, so they save it up before they come in. They make sure they can afford their meal and their tip. Like I said, they do it right."

A quick recap... swanky table, high bill, crap tip. Poor table, low bill, great tip.

Just goes to show that you can't judge a book by it's cover.


Anonymous said...

story of my LIFE dude. STORY OF MY LIFE
i shoulda been a hooters girl
much love,

Anonymous said...

Wow. I would be the poor table. I've had waiters be outright neglectful to me, because I look youthful. I tip big anyway, just to teach them a lesson.

Unless they come near to the line of no return. Then they get their flat 15.

Lobster Boy said...

It's so true that we get the sixth sense on tips though. Every so often one surprizes you in a positive way, but almost never am I surprized in a bad way. The crap tables always look like crap tables. And the worst thing is those crap tables multiply the pain by being pains in the ass, so you know you're not making anything, and they are running you. And somehow, about 75% of the time those tables seem to think they are the only people in your section.

Lobster Boy
Red Lobster hates its employees blog

Karen said...

Amazing how when we start getting the idea we can 'callem', something happens to remind us that no, indeed we can't.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

"Just goes to show that you can't judge a book by it's cover."

another potentially interesting blog ruined.
please learn the distinction between "its" and "it's."

The Server said...

ouch... nice call anonymous... just don't tell my Mom, the English teacher. I rarely make mistakes like that, and I apologize.

But honestly, if that ruined the blog for you, you should probably spend a bit less time worrying about the little things...

Anonymous said...

Hey server,

I've been wondering if you happened to know Brendan D., I played highschool football with him and he ended up playing wide receiver for Princeton, I think he would have been a year behind you. Nice blog by the way.

jorge said...

I always loved bartending so much more than waiting, partly because you're actually creating something. And most customers can tell and appreciate when you're good at it, and especially if you can keep their glasses full on $1 margarita night.

Watch out for the apostrophe posse - they already busted Lobster Boy.

Sean Santa said...

nice story man. i wrote an article for my university paper with rules for going out to a restaurant. one of them was "if you cant afford the tip you cant afford to go out."

i liked how your story did it justice



Christine said...

What's interesting to observe is the different services one will receive depending on their dress and company. I tend to get a lot better service in my business attire than in my jeans on the weekends. However, the best part of the dining out experience is making the servers day. That job SUCKS so I can help them brag about a 50-100% tip now and again.

CP said...

Great story. Sad the grammar nazi didn't catch the gist of it. Guess it will be lost on him/her. Oh well. Anyway, grammar aside, this was a great read with a really sweet ending and a GOOD LESSON TO BE LEARNED!

*attn Grammar Nazi!*


Brad #1 said...

I'm glad growing up that I didn't have english teachers that harsh. This is a personal blog, for christs sakes!!! It just happens that it's out here on the internet instead of being on paper, private to only the server and anybody else that he wants to read it. It's here for the entertainment value, not for perfection.

Anonymous said...

Dude your sense is the opposite of mine.

I work in Beverly Hills, so most people look all swanky and they don't tip shit. But when I see regular working class types I get pretty excited because I know I'll be treated with respect (for a change) and they tip reasonably well.

There's nothing like a table of overpriveleged B.H. housewives who don't know what they want, won't let you go, and won't part with their husband's money--at least to their server anyway. Then they complain and get half their shit for free, and leave you twelve percent after everything has been comped.

God bless us, everyone.

Little Timmy

Anonymous said...

Man, don't let the punctuation police get you down. I used to do proofing super regularly, and once in a while I find those little mistakes in my own blog.

Nobody is perfect all of the time. Get a life, grammer foo. Please learn the art of proper sentence capitalization before you bash someone on their writing. What a hypocrite.

vicky said...

It's waiters like you that need to get an atitude adjustment. Serving people with different levels of of hospitality judging on whether they look poor or rich. Though you made a good post i cant help but say you seem like an snobby jerk of a waiter.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I tip according to the service we get. If it's lousy, really lousy, we give 10% only. If it's adequate, we give 15%. If it's excellent...very attentive waiter(ess), we give 40+%

Basically if we finish our dinner in a good mood, the tip will be excellent.

The Server said...


If you ever served, (judging by your comment, I don't think you have) you would know that you work your tables for your money. Let me put it this way... If you worked for a huge Wall Street firm and were responsible for multiple clients, would you spend more time on the client investing $100 million or the client investing $500,00? You would still work hard for the $500K client, but you would stay late working on the $1MM client's portfolio.

If you read the post, (which judging by your comment, you didn't), you would see that the whole point of the post is to point to the fact that you can't always judge a book by ITS cover. Therefore, your comment, which I'm sure must look great from up there on that shiny moral high horse, completely agrees with the moral of the story.

Finally, I have to disagree with your assesment of my character. I would only hope that you would take the time to read the entire blog. I'm sure you'll find plenty of examples that will appease your hunger for morality.

The Server

karilyn said...

workering class tip better as they see the effort you put in .... go my bet tip of £50 (about $100) on a cup of coffee from a guy who worked his way up the ladder from nothing.

Got my worst tip (this was worse than them leaving nothing) 4p (10 cents) at the end of a cup and piles of mess from a table of ten but included 2 members of a famous girl band.

mrbunsrocks said... 12.5% ($15 on a $120 bill) really that poor a tip?

I'm not defending the people...but 12.5% seems not too bad to me. I generally tip 15% if the service is good, more if it's great, less if it's crap.

Anonymous said...

Boy, I actually find it hard that your a bartender. I bartend and wait tables, I would never know exact proportions on what goes into anything I make, I just put stuff in till it tastes right. And as far as pimping out your girlfriend for tips, what kind of loser are you? What happened to being able to tell what a person would tip +/- 1 percent? You were off 6% on the 4-top, 35% on the deuce. You are a loser, please tell me where you work, I would like to never go there.

Anonymous said...

I've got to say, the attitude that a huge tip is 'the right thing' makes me laugh. The theme among servers is constant: stay in line, order fast, vacate the table quickly and tip big. See, it's all about them, not you, really! intentionally rude customers are assholes of course, but you want soooo much more than that and it makes me laugh.

ArizonaAnne said...

Very true....have you seen the movie CRASH? proves that point! ArizonaAnne

Anonymous said...

I work at a busy sea food restaurant in Bean Town, where we get alot of tourists....actually mostly tourists. The question I have for any other server that would like to comment that works at a high-end restaurant (average plate is aroun $35) you would think I would be making a killing even with mediocore service getting on average 15 percenton three tables. However, like I said we get alot of tourists, most being from Europe, Middle East (pain in the ass customers- no offense but with all your diet restrictions you are a pain in the ass) and Asia who dont tip more than 7-8 percent if the service is great. To get to my question... Is it just their culture to not tip servers atleast 10-15 percent?(meaning they dont tip servers in their own country that amount cause they get a higher hourly wage) or should I be doing something different on service side for them oppose to my other tables? Not to sound arrogant but my average tip for Americans is around 20-25 percent and I pride myself on giving great service while being loose and out-going in a crazy restaurant that does around $100,000 of business on a summer weekend. If u could give me some tips on service to foreignors if there is anything I could do or any experiences you have with foreign customers, would be greatly appreciated. Just post your comments on this blog or your email address regarding this subject.
Thank You,
BeanTown Server

Heidi said...

My "lest ye be judged" moment like that was a booth full of a single mother and her five kids under the age of 6. She tipped like a champ, and 17 years later, I haven't forgotten that life lesson.

Anonymous said...

Think about this..every stereotyped table gets judged everywhere they dine. They tip according to service. ( body language speaks volumes ) It has been my experience that when I exceed the guests expectations, I am rewarded with a better than average tip every time. I can think of several stories where servers would look at my table and say "Sucks for you!" Not me..!
Pre-judging your tables is always a self fufilling prophecy

Amy said...

Hmm... why does everyone look down on single mothers? For all we know, they could be widows, war widows, alone not because they are high school drop out skanks, but because of tragic circumstances...there are a million reasons why a woman may be a single mother. Hey, reckon if guys could get pregnant and have babies, there'd be lots of single fathers out there?