Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Tipping Point

Part of the charm of restaurant chains is that, in theory, no matter where you go you will always have the same experience. The same poster of Saturday Night Fever will be on the wall near the bathroom, the same items will be available on the menu and cooked in the same way every time, and the servers will all have the same personalities and be sporting the same witty slogan buttons. When you enter the hallowed halls of a TGIChilibee's, you know exactly what to expect. It's comforting.

I went into my first few days at the new Friday's with trepidation; I'm not good with change and was afraid that I wouldn't make friends. What I wasn't afraid of was the absolute culture shock I would undergo with the location change. I assumed that it wouldn't be terribly different since Bolingbrook has a large population of formerly urban or urban wannabe residents, in addition to a decent population of traveling business folk whose companies are too cheap to lodge them in Chicago proper.

Now normally weekend nights are a boon for the restaurant industry. It's date night for a lot of people, families have time to take the kids out, teenagers are free to roam with later curfews and in general it's a profitable night for both the restaurant and its tipped staff. Sure, you work your butt off but the customary 15-20% gratuity off a huge increase in sales makes for a rewarding end of the night. Friday nights in Bolingbrook, at least in the bar, were usually very busy and filled with people out to have a good time. They ate, they drank, they were merry, and they were generous.

It seems that in large cities that while the increase in business holds true to form, Friday and Saturday nights are colloquially called "amateur nights" in the industry. This because ever so frustratingly clear to me as table after table either left me nothing, or very little in the way of tips. My "guests" had absolutely no excuse. Not only were 95% of them obviously American, but the trays we put the check on have tipping guidlines printed on them in 7 different languages, the first one being English which every single one of my tables spoke. There is no excuse for anyone to tip as badly as they did this past Saturday night, unless that excuse is "being an asshole".

In addition to the demoralizing reality of making less than 8% of my sales that night, I was also surprised to learn that we employ security on weekend nights to, literally, catch people who dine and dash. I didn't understand what was going on until this burly guy called out "Did they pay?" and all the servers heads popped up like meercats and one of them sullenly went "" The next thing I know, burly dude physically snatched a swiftly walking teenager around the waist and bodily turned him back around toward his table with the admonition of "Pay your bill. NOW."

I was assured by both servers and management that Saturday nights are an anomoly and not to be discouraged, that people on weekdays and during lunch shifts are much nicer (and better tippers). I just find it crazy that an entire restaurant full of people can behave so poorly all at the same time. I suppose it just reinforces my theory that people operate under a hivemind.

Tip your waitresses,

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