Monday, February 18, 2008


On Friday, #4 and I ate lunch at a local café. We sat at the counter, which gave us a unique view of half of the restaurant as well as of the servers as they worked. They were in the middle of a large rush, and it looked as though they were at least one waitress short-handed. The two that were there hardly had time to check customers out, let alone bus the emptying tables. It was easy to sense their stress amid the busyness. A family with two boys was done with their lunch and ordered some pie and a chocolate shake for dessert. I felt for the waitress who now had to make that hand scooped shake, though she did it with a smile. Then before it was even set down on the table, the mother sheepishly made a request. I couldn't hear it, but the waitress smiled, turned abruptly around and threw the shake, whipped topping and all, back into the blender to add malt powder. I hope they gave her a big tip. I know I did, and our order was straightforward.

It was as I was preparing to go off to college that my dad started giving me tipping lessons. I don't recall that any were restaurant-oriented. I guess he figured I knew about that. He started pointing out to me service people who should be tipped, and about how much I should tip them. This mostly concerned tipping skycap workers at the airport.

I was instructed on the proper amount of tip per piece of luggage, but more importantly, I was shown how to tip discreetly. "People around you shouldn't be able to tell that you've given a tip." This involved having the tip money ready beforehand, bills folded together into fourths. A close-up "thank you" with what could be interpreted as a handshake, and there you have it. Tip given.

After having watched my dad do this a time or two, the tip money was handed to me ahead of time so that I could show I'd understood the method. As I recall, I was very smooth at this even that first time. I was a little nervous, but it was fun--almost like a game. My dad was impressed. I could now go off on my own, tipping away, without bringing him embarrassment. Game won. A good life lesson learned.

A couple of years ago, I came across a gentleman who could have used that lesson. Larry and I were staying at a hotel in Seattle with valet parking. It could become pricey. Getting your car in or out was $3 a pop. We started to run out of ones. At any rate, the morning that we checked out, we were waiting for service behind a couple who was, let's say, a bit on the boisterous side. Or maybe it's just that things echo a lot in a below ground parking garage. Though if that were the only problem, I'd have thought they'd have taken notice. The valet pulled up with the car, walked to greet the couple, at which point this gentleman handed unfolded bills at an arm's length and said loudly, "Here you are, sir." I cringed. I could feel my father cringe from 3,000 miles away. I somehow sensed that even the valet was cringing inside.

I had wished we'd been first in line. I'd have set a good example. Or maybe he wouldn't have noticed, and would have thought I was rude for not tipping.