She Works Hard for the Money

Posted on Wednesday 5 May 2010

Words a bartender never wants to hear: “I’m really broke, so I’ll drink the cheapest draft you have ’till my money’s gone.” Then they ask to bum one of your cigarettes.

I understand being broke. I am broke. But if I am going out, I plan for enough money to cover my tab AND a tip. I may drink happy-hour cheap, but I still leave a full-price tip.

This was not the case at my bar last week. Hell, all month. And by “last week,” I mean 11 out of the 12 days in a row that I worked serving those who tipped .$50 after sitting for hours and enjoying multiple drinks and buying rounds. Or tipping nothing because they hid in the restroom at shift change. Or those greedily accepting one drunk soul’s misguided generosity to buy their cocktails by saying to me, “Since he’s buying, make me a top-shelf [Long Island, Margarita, Rum Punch with three kinds of rum],” and then thanking me with nothing for the trouble.

During those many days in a row that each seemed without end, almost every customer seemed to be trouble. The last of the snowbirds had left for good, taking their manners and appropriate gratuities with them, leaving me with…well…what felt like the mannerless and the clueless. My favorite regulars seemed to be just plain absent, with only a rare exception now and then. Although these favorites’ tips may be up or down according to the arrival of pension or Social Security checks, they do the best they can–always–which I understand and respect, and they know I understand this by always showing me respect.

The others, however, outnumbered those great folks by 10 to 1. And my income over the weeks greatly suffered because of them.

By the last day of last week, I was counting down the minutes of an 8-hour shift before I’d filled my bin with ice. I just wanted done and out. As the shift wore on in slow motion, I still poured drinks as soon as a glass was waved in the air or pushed to the rail, and no one waited more than 20 seconds for their next vodka or rum or bourbon. But I was hardly pleasant. It made no difference. Whether I smile and engage in mindless bar talk or frown and pretend to have to restock beer, that one never tips more than a dollar, whether he has two drinks or ten. That one always leaves two dollars, even when he sits for hours pounding drafts while his wife drinks for free because she has collected a number of chits over the weeks for drinks bought for her that she never drank. And that one? He thinks if he tips me a couple of dollars on a Monday, he’s good for the week when he ambles in for hours every day.

It’s weird, this business. At face value, anyone reading this post would think it’s only about the money. And in a way, it is. I need to earn a living, and I have become increasingly appalled by the bare bones gratuities left to me of late. Yet, it isn’t at all about the money with those customers with whom I have bonded in the most unexpected of ways. They would never think of not tipping me, but I would understand and accept it if they couldn’t.

So which is it? Why my double standard of exasperation with some and not with others–a dollar being a dollar, after all? I don’t know. Maybe, like a bad teacher, I just play favorites.

In light of this recent downturn, however, I have taken on a second job, and until I know it will be better for me income-wise, I am also sticking with my present full-time job. That means no days off for a while. The commute to the one and the hours at the other may also mean scant energy and time to write as often as I’d like. I am hoping for the best, and at best this will be a temporarily insane schedule until I can tame my bank account.

In the meantime, a small lottery win would also be acceptable.

7 Comments for 'She Works Hard for the Money'

  1.  
    Connie
    May 5, 2010 | 10:40 pm
     

    Yes, it is okay to have a double standard. You know these guys and know who free-loads. Would you accept any tips from your online customers?

  2.  
    May 6, 2010 | 4:52 am
     

    Yeah, I like that idea. You could put up a “tip jar” for online tips.

  3.  
    Restaurant Gal
    May 6, 2010 | 6:32 am
     

    Connie and Bob–I know other bloggers have put up a “tip jar,” and I guess one could view that as kind of like a voluntary subscription fee or something. But, the biggest tip someone could send my way is an editor and an agent to help me pull together one of several books based on this blog that I think might work well. Much of a back story is left to tell. And the “in between” story about how I unexpectedly and a bit suddenly left DC and ended up living a bizarre “dream” in the Keys might interest some.

  4.  
    May 6, 2010 | 8:18 pm
     

    Well, RG, your extra-ordinary life these last few years would make an exceptional book. Or Situation Comedy. Like Scrubs- in- a- restaurant type thingy. Maybe an online course in scriptwriting. May be easier to sell than a book.

    Whatever, I know you’ll persevere and flourish. Because you are….RESTAURANT GAL!!!

  5.  
    Nick
    May 6, 2010 | 11:47 pm
     

    Our society is weird in that we allow people to exercise their own discretion on tips. In other countries – there is not tipping, but people are paid an honest wage.

    I was a waiter all through college and I understand how tips can fluctuate and sometimes, no matter what you do, you just have some cheap buggers.

    I don’t think it is fair. A business can always increase their price – but as a server, you have no recourse. No matter if you know they are good tippers or bad, you have to serve them. The customer at this point has all the power. One of the things that I learned in grad school is not all customers are the same. As a business, you can “fire” the customer that costs you time and resources be refusing to do business with them. However, as the server, you can’t do that. Not fair.

    Hang in there, RG. It seems like the economy is starting to get better. Hopefully. people will start to be a little bit more generous with their money for good serve.

  6.  
    May 9, 2010 | 10:55 am
     

    Happy Mother’s Day, RG! 🙂

  7.  
    June 7, 2010 | 10:23 pm
     

    It feels so good to know I am not the only one out there thinking so many customers are annoying idiots. I feel much better now.

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