You’ve probably left your home in the past five years in order to consume foodstuffs that were prepared by human beings not related to you.
If this assumption of mine is correct, you’ve noticed the proliferation of restaurants I call “midservice.”
What are Midservice Restaurants?
Like pornographic photographs, you know them when you see them. There is a sign explaining where to order. There is a menu on the wall, usually written in chalk or in something that is meant to look like chalk. Water is dispensed in a creative way, possibly in an old milk jug, and definitely at a speed best described as “sluggish.” Someone working in the restaurant has a sleeve tattoo. The napkins are recycled, and when you go to the bathroom, you will find spare toilet paper inside a cabinet from Ikea.
The primary indicator, though, of a Midservice Restaurant is the source of its name: the service. Instead of being shown to a table where a part-time actor named Benjamin promises to take care of you for the duration of your evening, you stand under the aforementioned sign, place your order, and are given a token, flag, or numbered triangle that helps someone with functional arms and legs identify your table so that he or she can bring to that table your food before waving goodbye like your parents on your first day at West Northern California State at San Luis Obispo.
I find Midservice Restaurants mostly inoffensive. In fact, after I have overcome the initial disorientation brought on by an ordering process chaotic enough to give a Roskilde veteran the shakes, I tend to like them. Except for one nagging detail: I never know how much to tip.
I have many theories on tipping. Some of these theories are worthless, but others of them, I think, have legs. In the latter category exist the following questions: Why do I tip someone for opening my beer, but not for bagging my groceries? Why do people always tip for coffee at their local organic roaster, but almost never at Coffee Bean? Why don’t we tip McDonald’s workers? Aren’t they the most in need?
I am not going to solve any of those mysteries in this piece of writing because I am not Agatha Christie. I am, though, going to take care of the problem of tipping at the Midservice Restaurant.
Here are the facts:
The Midservice Restaurant did not come into existence with you, the customer, in mind. Someone is trying to make a buck. The Midservice Restaurant employs its format so that it does not have to pay traditional “waiters” who, as their name would suggest, “wait” for you, the customer, to ask them to do something (refill your drink, bring you a fork after you dropped yours on the floor, fetch a manager when you complain that your green tea “um, isn’t really green?”).
Despite this paucity of creature comforts, the Midservice Restaurant is not a Self-Service Restaurant. Someone is bringing you food and someone is cleaning up after you and someone is probably not thrilled to be at work, her “I hope you have a great day!” notwithstanding. So it is not advisable (or morally acceptable) to tip nothing. Even though I know you sort of want to, you are not allowed to mark through the “Tip” line on your credit card receipt. Or, more accurately, on the Square interface on the iPad that has just been swiveled toward you. However, because the waiters aren’t doing as much for the customer as they would within the confines of a Full Service Restaurant, it seems folly to tip them as we normally would: at least 15% and, in cities where everyone you know is or has been a waiter, as much as 20 or 25%.
All of which points to that which has eluded the American Congress for a dozen or so years: a compromise. Specifically, this one: from now on, when we are at Midservice Restaurants, we are going to tip $1 for every item we order.
Why one dollar?
Well, first, because the math is easy. And we could all use a little more ease in our lives.
And second, because of bars.
I have been to one or two or a thousand bars in my life. I have wrestled, in these bars, with tipping strategies. As I alluded earlier, I don’t think the process of opening a can of beer is worth a dollar. But I think the process of mixing a Moscow Mule is worth more than a dollar. As such, I have come to this compromise: I tip one dollar per drink, no exceptions, whether I’ve just been handed a can of Miller Lite or a lovingly mixed combination of vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer.
So that’s that: Midservice Restaurant Problem solved. One dollar per item, every time (including your drink), just like in bars.
In some cases, we will feel as if we are being unreasonably generous, if our sandwich, salad, and drink only cost a total of $9. But never fear. We will make up for the relative financial hit we took at Sarah’s Slaw Shak when we visit Wild Bill’s Bistro, one of the increasingly prevalent High-End Midservice Restaurants, where hamburgers are $14 and beers are $8 and the steel-and-marble hand-washing station is shared by both men and women.
Together, we’ll unite to simultaneously assuage our own guilt, to bring peace to confused people in front of the kombucha rack, and to compensate the semi-hard work being done on our behalf.
Now, if only there were a way to deal with the crush of people brought on by that disorganized foyer. Control their flow by seating those people, giving them menus, asking them what they want to eat, and then bringing it to them?
Nah, that would never work.
Paul Shirley is at work on his second book. He also tweets.