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“Just My 2 Cents.”

Posted by Peter Post  May 8, 2012 07:00 AM

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Here’s a note with two pennies taped to it that was left for a waitperson recently and then was posted to by a friend of the waitperson.

“Waitressing 101

Don’t tell every customer you’re very busy, to excuse your lack of serving skills. Your job is to attend to us, not make us feel like we are an inconvenience. A little bit of personal attention goes a long way; in the form of a tip.

Just my 2 cents.”

The intent of the writer is to correct the poor service by withholding the tip and leaving his advice instead, along with the literal two cents.

Not likely.

That waitperson isn’t thinking, “Oh how wonderfully correct that customer was. I’m going to change and be a better waiter from now on. Thank you, thank you for setting me straight.” I once heard of a waiter who charged out of the restaurant and accosted the cheap tipper in the street.

If you have a problem with service at a restaurant, or anywhere else for that matter, your best course of action is to bring up the matter with a manager. Simply leaving no tip, two cents, or some other amount meant to be insulting is not going to correct the issue. Also, it’s not likely the waitperson is going to complain to the manager that a person left a poor tip because the waitperson did a poor job.

Interestingly, in this case it wasn’t the slow service that prompted the note, it was the server’s explanation. The waitperson used the word “busy” which the customer objected to because it made him/her feel like an inconvenience. Maybe “busy” wasn’t the best choice of words, but hardly does it rise to the level of denying compensation to the waitperson and the other employees sharing in the tip pool.

Like it or not, we have a system in much of the United States that pays wait staff significantly less than minimum wage on the assumption that tipping makes up the difference. When you go to a restaurant, you are buying into this system and agreeing to tip in order to bring the staff’s salaries up to a livable wage level.

Many restaurants pool the tips and then distribute them among much of the staff, including dishwashers and busboys. So monetarily punishing the waitperson for poor service is going to affect all the staff, many of whom may have done an exemplary job. It also may be that the waitperson was doing all he/she could to provide good service and the real problem lay with a manager who assigned too many tables, or a kitchen that couldn’t get the food out in a timely manner.

Oh, and by the way, waitstaff are paid significantly less than minimum wage by their employer, so getting only two cents for that hour or day really puts them in the hole to pay their rent, buy groceries or get gas for their car so they can get to work. Yet, that’s what wait staff face every time someone decides they’ll withhold a tip or leave two cents to make a point.

I wonder how the writer of this particular note would feel about being held to the same standard at his/her place of work? Every day, every hour, for every task they perform, they would be assessed by complete strangers on how much they should be paid, regardless of whether they were responsible for the perceived poor quality of their work.

You deserve friendly, expeditious service at a restaurant. In return, most people today leave a 20% tip. If your service is less than you expect, ask to talk to a manager. It’s the best chance you have of really correcting the issue. If you aren’t satisfied, you can let the manager/owner know you will take your business elsewhere in the future.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."

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