The Tip System

Latest posts by Sam Carpenter (see all)

Here is an evaluation system, albeit waggish. It’s about tipping in restaurants, and I’ll preface things by saying I don’t believe a tip is a diner’s obligation. It’s a tip—something extra that one earns if the service he or she delivers is at least good. 

Linda and I sit down for a meal in a restaurant. At this point, before even saying a word, the waitperson, in this case a female, has earned a twenty five percent tip. It’s downhill from there. If she greets us with “how are you guys today?” there is an immediate five percent deduction in the tip for off -handedly calling my wife a “guy.” Now the tip can be no more than twenty percent. If the waitperson delivers the food and walks away with a semi-pretentious, air-headed “enjoy,” there is another five percent discount. If she delivers the check along with the food (working man’s diners accepted), there’s another five percent off the top. If she checks to see how we are doing at mid-meal and blatantly interrupts one of us mid-sentence, yes, there is another five percent deduction. Now we’re getting to no tip at all. 

Although I don’t sit there tallying things on paper, or even in my head, and seldom does a waitperson go without being tipped, the essence of my thinking process is in the above formula. Call me persnickety. It is systems-thinking both at its best and at its most ridiculous. 

How does this relate? If I were the owner of a restaurant, understanding serving food is a process that repeats itself, I would be watching my own reactions while dining at someone else’s restaurant. I’d take notes. In my own restaurant, I would produce a Working Procedure of “never use” phrases and actions and then would make sure every single one of my servers knew it by heart. It would be called the Forbidden Phrases and Actions Procedure. (Yes, really. That is exactly what I would call it.) This Working Procedure would be my obsession and my staff’s center of attention. We would continuously update it, using my own experience as well as feedback from customers, open-eyed staff, or whomever. Only one or two pages in length, it would be alive; the continuous centerpiece of discussion and action, a document that old-hands and new people would study, discuss, and tweak. With everyone’s input it would improve steadily over time.

For the owner of a restaurant, how much work is this? A simple document like this could quickly take a restaurant’s service quality from mediocre to superb—an incredible payback for a tiny investment of time and effort. 

To summarize: A propensity to analyze other’s service quality has two benefits.  

The first, it is a reminder the customer has a visceral inclination never to return if there is a bad experience. (Conversely, a customer will dogmatically return when there is a good experience). The customer has a potent memory. 

Second, one becomes inspired to devise ways to reduce their own customers’ bad experiences.

Sam Carpenter is author of the book, Work The System: The Simple Mechanics of Working Less and Making More.

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