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Cheers! Chicago: Confessions of a Bartender-Say It Ain’t So, O!

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11/13/2009

Hello, all! Rather than talk about what’s hot and fresh in the mixology and cocktail world, I decided to take a step back and delve deeper into the hospitality industry’s ongoing struggle with gratuity from the perspective of a confessing bartender.

I don’t know how many of you are aware of this, but times are tough. The economy has suffered in more ways than many of us predicted and has affected many sectors of the business world, including the hospitality and restaurant industry. Because of the tough times, more and more people are becoming more cognizant of how they spend their hard-earned money. Everything, from gas to groceries to dining out, has been reevaluated and financially reallocated by the average American, and it shows. Believe me, I know.

A couple of weeks ago, I was browsing around Facebook, seeing what my friends are reading online these days, when I noticed something unusual. A few of my bartending cohorts were joining this Facebook group I had never seen before, affectionately titled “1 million servers strong against Oprah’s comments.” At first, I thought to myself, “Can this be true? Did Oprah really say these things?” Then I thought, “Was this assumption reaction a bit premature?” Probably. So I did a bit more research to confirm or deny these allegations towards one of America’s biggest benefactors and philanthropists. It’s not that I’m immediately jumping to her defense, I just find it hard to believe that someone that has stood for so much good and change would be telling people to flat out tip no more than 10% to their servers as a way to save money. So, snopes.com did the job for me.

Turns out,  my friends and colleagues were off base. But the discussion illuminated their feelings about  how terribly tipped most of them are, particularly at a time when people are pinching their pennies.

As a bartender and restaurant worker, I experience the direct repercussions of people’s opinions on this subject. Like everyone else not on management salary, I work to make money from the tips. I go out of my way to provide a stellar experience with a smile and a cheery attitude – no matter what mood you may be in . If you feel that your service was substandard, by all means the best way to make your point is to shorten your tip. Servers learn quickly that shorter tips usually mean poor service, but after a while they may stop trying to improve  if people continue to be universally stingy. To be honest, most of us expect around 15% as a standard for tipping, while we have more modest expectations with single orders of cocktails or non-alcoholic beverages.

If you think about it, tipping well does so many things that are right and good; rather than thinking of it as a bigger financial expense, try to see it as part of a chain reaction of positive energy and emotions that directly translate to increased performance, attitude and aptitude, which in turn directly affects service and the overall experience for both parties.

So next time you’re thinking of pulling out the calculator, just do what I do when I am out and about: take your total, move the decimal over one place, double the number, and add that additional gratuity if service was above average or stellar. Trust me, it goes a long way for your conscience and for your server’s bottom line.

I hope that the next time any of you venture out and enjoy a nice time out, just remember those that work hard to make your time enjoyable. I welcome any thoughts, comments, and experiences any of you may have had, good or bad.

L’Chaim!

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