Tip Pooling and a Couple of Jackasses

Worked the Saturday night shift at Carney’s Corner (not the real name) in Beach City.

It was a pretty good night. Carney’s is a small steakhouse – just twenty tables, and half of those are in the bar and patio. As such, the waiters pool their tips, meaning we all work our stations, collect our tips, and at the end of the night pool the money and divide it evenly. The benefits of this system (my guess is less than 10% of restaurants pool tips) are:

  1. It levels out the highs and lows of income. Take a $100 a night average job. Without tip pooling, a waiter will frequently swing between $20 and $200 nights, trust me. It sucks if by chance you string together a few $20-30 shfits in a row. Likewise, it can go to your head if your really kill it for a week straight. You might go out and blow a lot of money you don’t really have.
  2. It benefits teamwork greatly. When you’re all pulling for each other, moneywise, there are no stops on helping out your fellow server.
  3. It creates a strong camaraderie with your fellow servers.
  4. It eliminates ‘Table Hogging’ and ‘Guest Sniping.’ I coined the last term. It’s where a server by force or cunning ‘steals’ the best tipping customers for his section. A Sniper could be cajoling a hostess into giving him the high rollers, or sneaking peeks at the reservation book and slyly engineering to have an open table when a roller comes in, or even just bum-rushing the poor guy when he walks in the door and escorting him right to that server’s section.

There are downsides to pooling. The biggest is when you have some dead wood on your staff who is either incompetent or simply unwilling to do the work. These people contribute little money and/or effort to the pool yet walk with the same as the hard and competent workers. People get bitter. However, the peer pressure usually works quite well in whipping people into shape or else figuring a way to ship them out.

So anyway, it was good at Carney’s last night. We made $260. My best table was Mr. Zoloff and his wife who I’d servered several times. He actually knows me from my lunch serving job. He’s a big wine guy. He orders $100+ bottles. Last night he brought two of his own ($25 corkage fee), and they were both $100+ retail. Restaurant prices would be around double that.

An interesting thing happened on a previous visit. Carney’s was running a Special that was a 26 oz. lobster tail with a 16 oz. rib eye, with vegetable and starch, as a dinner for two. The price is $140 total. (Side note: In fine dining, ‘Specials’ are not specially-priced. They are special items that are not on the menu. Some diners used to low-scale restaurants – Blue Plate Specials – expect price breaks.)

The Zoloffs ordered the special. They had an expensive wine. We had marvelous conversation. They enjoyed themselves, left in a good mood, and tipped me more than 20%.

The next day, however, Mrs. Zoloff called Carney, the owner, and complained about the price of the Big Lobster special. She was irked that I hadn’t told her the cost before they ordered it.

(Side note: I do not mention the prices of specials unless asked or unless I deem the guests clearly would have an issue with the high price. I opt to very graphically describe the dish, so it should be quite obvious that this special is not just a regular old entree. Incidentally, on a pure ounce-for-ounce basis, the specials at Carney’s actually do offer a price break. However, the portions are much larger, so the final cost will be more than average.)

Well, Carney adequately defended my actions and the pricing of the meal and more or less defused the situation without capitulating with an offer of a free dinner or something else.

So interestingly, last night, the Zoloff’s ordered the damn Big Lobster special! A little strange that she would call to complain about the price, and then the next time, knowing the price would order it anyway. People can be strange.

Last night was a really fine night for me. I personally brought in $340 to the tip pool; my guests were really great and fun; and I got to leave early.

Another server, Dory, had a jackass though. Part of a 4-top with his wife and her parents (aged somewhere in their 70s), the folks were buying dinner. Jackass wanted to act the big shot by buying the wine. So he caught Dory in the hallway, ordered a $45 bottle of wine and gave her his credit card. He drew a line through the tip field and totalled out $45.

Enough already to make him a jackass. But then he came back to the table and started crowing about what a great bottle of wine he bought them, and how it was the least he could do. Well he was right on that count.

Finally, it turns out it’s Jackass’s birthday. Dory brings out free cake with a candle in it. And Jackass demands that she sing to him.

Dory just looked at him, smiled,  said, ‘Happy Birthday,’ and walked away.

We also had a little fun with Frank, the bartender. Mojitos are a great drink, but they’re pretty labor-intensive. You have to muddle sugar cubes, mint and limes, then shake it all up with the rum, top with soda and garnish with mint. Sounds fast there, but it’s not like pouring a gin and tonic.

Frank hates making these kinds of drinks, so sometimes we try to sell a lot of them to our tables, just to torture him. Last night was a great one for mojitos. I sold one, another table saw it and ordered one. Then the first table had another. Then someone else at that table switched to a mojito too. I came back five separate times with mojito orders.

“The funny thing is, I’m not even selling ’em,” I said to Frank. “I overheard one table saying she read about how great the mojitos were here in a review in the paper. She said it was true, she’s telling all her friends about it, too.”

I laid it on as thick as I could. I got Kim, the other server, to sell one and parrot the same story. We started laughing about adding it to the sign out front: “Carney’s Corner – Steaks, Seafood, Mojitos.”

Frank is pretty much a jerk. He loves to belittle people but he just cannot take a joke on himself. He was seething – so much so that he wouldn’t even complain like usual. Instead he maintained that he didn’t care at all. But I noticed that instead of his usual prompt service, after the fourth mojito, he really took his time making it.

But us three waiters were loving the hell out of it.

These are some of the ways we amuse ourselves.

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