Stranger in the City of Angels

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JUNE 25, 2012 3:18AM

Mercy Tipping

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I took myself out to dinner tonight. A walk on the beach led me to Capistrano's in the Embassy Suites Hotel and Resort. "A restaurant in a hotel, not a hotel restaurant," their website says. A noble goal. But if there were movie called National Lampoon Dining Out, tonight's dining experience could serve as the treatment--heck it could be the movie because it took a full two hours to get an appetizer and a dessert. The dining room wasn't busy. There were four or five couples besides myself endeavoring to have dinner.

I'll have the oysters, I said after the waiter listed the specials.
Oops, we just sold the last ones, he said.
The lobster bisque then.
We're out.
The crab cakes.
Okay, just bring me the glass of wine while I take another look at the menu, I said. I could see the ocean through an opening in the dunes from where I sat, and I didn't mind the pace at first. But after ten minutes or so and not so much as a glass of water, I stood up to peek around the corner to see if I could spot the waiter....or anyone. The man at the next table chuckled. We're having the same problem, he said. I got up again and managed to snare a different waiter. After a few more minutes, the original waiter appeared with the wine. And so it went. Various waitstaff, so young they were practically trailing umbilical cords appeared at our tables, and were then kidnapped by aliens--or perhaps doctors who detained them to check their Apgar scores. Only one of the four waiters materialized in the dining room at any one time. Perhaps there'd been some sort of uniform crisis, and the blue dress shirt and navy trousers had to be shared amongst the entire staff. These things happen. Back in the 70s, I had a misunderstanding at an Athens laundry, and my three traveling companions and I had only two sets of clothes that we took turns wearing for days.

Given the time frame, I might have drunk a bottle of wine while waiting for my scallops, but I would have had to search out the bartender to get it. As for the scallops, I savored them, though they were far from the best scallops I've eaten. Meanwhile the patrons at the other tables were fighting their own battles. The wrong wine. The wrong salad dressing. We began to bond. When I saw the desperate look in the blond's eyes two tables over, I wolfed down the last scallop and snagged my waiter for some cobbler and coffee. The coffee came. No cobbler. No offer of a refill. When the woman at the table across from me got up and helped herself to more coffee from the coffee and water station, I did the same. Anyone? I asked with the coffee pot in my hand. Can I refill anyone else's cup?  We were all giddy by then. The next time my waiter ambled by, I asked about the cobbler. I'll check, he said, pleasant as could be. The blond rolled her eyes.

Maybe we were on candid camera? Maybe there was a wedding reception in another room, and management had forgotten to hire waiters and our crew was doing double duty, I suggested to the man at the next table. He was on the verge of a laughing jag, but didn't find that idea amusing. Then management's not doing their job, he said. I poured myself a third cup of coffee and a minute or so later the cobbler arrived. The waiter, in a burst of efficiency, brought the no longer laughing man his check on the same trip. The man sighed and shrugged as the waiter disappeared again. I'm going to give him a mercy tip, I said, explaining that I'd gotten quite a few of those myself when I waited on tables.

I was an awful waitress. But I remember my customers in that supper club on the Sauk River the spring of 1975 as being mostly kind. Those mercy tips added up to just enough money to get me to California.

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Having mercy is a good thing. Enjoyable read.
While I won't take off for things that are out of a waitron's control (Bourdain's gender neutral term), I won't give a good tip for bad service.

I'm not as hard about it as a friend of mine. She was a waitress and then the first female captain at what was then THE place for fine dining in the city. She knew exactly what it took to provide good service, she expected it, she rewarded it generously, and if she didn't get it - don't expect a tip.

One evening out, our waiter was the manager subbing for a sick waitress (we found out who he was later). He spent most of the evening at the bar drinking with his friends and ignoring his tables. His tip was the loose change - 30 or 40 cents.
My husband and I ate dinner at McCormick & Schmicks in Chicago a few years ago that turned into another dinner that would have made a hilarious, if very slow-moving, 2 1/2-hour movie.

We were seated by the host--it wasn't as if we walked in and just sat at an empty table--but the whole time we were there, every waiter, wine steward, water-pourer, busboy, or warm human body who stopped at our table in response to our flagging and begging would make a remark to the effect of "This is not my station, but I guess I can fit you in for just this one thing." Of course, it took an interminable time to order anything, and an interminable time to get it once ordered. It was so funny, we had a hard time being angry (if we'd been in a hurry, though, it would have been different.)

But I don't believe we left any tip; I have no idea which of the 35 different staff whom we successfully begged to 'wait' on us at various times would have gotten it anyway.
I have given a mercy tip before; the water spilled my glass of iced tea on my lap and then the cooks mixed up my order. But the waiter had a hang-dog puppy look about him, so I couldn't exactly not tip.
I'm impressed that you all maintained your sense of humor. I always tip, even the mercy tip. But it's on a sliding scale in my brain....
The mercy tip. I can go either way on that one. If a waiter is having a bad day and just can't get it together or they are new, I may cut them some slack and tip them even above the usual if they are trying, polite and make an attempt to fix their problems.

If the waiter just does not care, is rude, and does not bother to do their job, I will leave much less or will even inform the manager that we will not be back. If they don't want the job, then do the owner and rest of the staff a favor and quit. It only takes a few bad servers to destroy a restaurant. Then everyone associated with the establishment looses not just the bad employee.

Now the server that does their job and are at the top of their game I will leave between 20 and 40% depending on the establishment and the server. TIP is To Insure Promptness.
Having been a waiter and a manager I guess I've seen and done most of it. I will give a good tip to a bad waiter who is doing their best and talks to me. Tell me you're new. Tell me you are having a bad day. Tell me the cook is a jerk and you refused to serve what he put in the window and had him redo it, just tell me and at least look like you're trying and your tip will be there.

Isn't it funny how people will forgive if you just tell them what is going on. It's so easy but so hard to get people to do,