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Tipping When Your Meal Is Comped


The Hersch
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I looked for an existing thread to post this in, and couldn't find one.

Today I had lunch at a restaurant that has been praised here recently, and is generally highly regarded here. I'd rather not name it, because I have nothing against it. I was shown to a table, and given a menu. A couple of minutes went by, the waiter returned, and I placed my order: A recently praised dish here, and a glass of wine. Soon after, a basket of wonderful bread and a dish of butter were delivered. And that was the last I got from the wait staff for at least a half hour, maybe close to 40 minutes. I'm a very patient man, and it takes quite a delay before I'll start to complain about the wait, but I was just about there, when a waiter--not the one who took my order--said to me "it's coming soon!" -- this was the first interaction with the wait staff for well over a half hour. A minute or two later, the waiter who took my order came to my table and said something like: "I don't know what happened, but for some reason your order didn't go in until just now. I've asked them to expedite the order, but I want to let you know that they've only just started it. I'll be back with your wine right away." He came back with the wine a full five minutes later. Another five minutes and my food arrived. It wasn't bad, but it was cooked distinctly more well-done than what I'd asked for. I certainly wasn't going to send it back at that point, as I should have been back in my office by then, and I was only just starting my lunch. And it wasn't bad.

I finished eating, and the second waiter, not the one who had taken my order, asked if I was finished, and I said yes, and could I have the check. He said "there is no check, since you had to wait so long". I said thanks. And then I didn't know quite what to do. I'm pretty sure the whole problem was that waiter # 1 screwed up. I didn't know that for sure, but it's what I find probable. It wasn't the kitchen, it was the waiter. But not the waiter who told me the whole meal, including the wine, was comped. Well, the check would have come to something like 20 or 22 dollars before tip, and I left 10 dollars on the table. Even though I sort of felt I was rewarding the very bad service I had received, I felt I couldn't leave nothing without feeling like a jerk. But the more I thought about it, I thought that the waiter had cost the restaurant the price of my meal, but instead of giving the restaurant something for the meal, I gave the waiter more than I would have tipped had I paid the restaurant for the food. This only adds to my distaste for the American tipping system.

What would you do in a situation like this?

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I would have done just what you did. You don't know whether this place "pools" their tips. Obviously, there was some recognition that waiter #1 screwed up spectacularly, so comping your meal was a way of showing that they hope you will come back. The other wait staff who took up the slack ought to be compensated in some way.

I just don't think there was anything else to do. By leaving the $10, you showed yourself to be a mensch and they obviously wouldn't think you were "rewarding" bad service. Your meal was comped because of bad service. Plus, you get to sleep soundly tonight. You did the right thing. Every place has bad moments and, as terrific as chefs can be, they are totally dependent on their staffs doing their jobs perfectly 100% of the time. It only truly becomes an issue when the price point is so high as to eliminate the possibility of error which, I'm guessing, wasn't the case here.

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Wait -- you got terrible service and you OVERtipped? I might have flipped a five on the table in gratitude for the second waiter who bailed you out, but a 50% tip? Nah -ah.

Not that I'm advocating it, but IMHO, you would have been within your rights to stiff 'em.

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Wait -- you got terrible service and you OVERtipped? I might have flipped a five on the table in gratitude for the second waiter who bailed you out, but a 50% tip? Nah -ah.

Not that I'm advocating it, but IMHO, you would have been within your rights to stiff 'em.

I agree, the waiter screwed up. I would have been happier paying the restaurant for the food and not leaving a tip.

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I agree, the waiter screwed up. I would have been happier paying the restaurant for the food and not leaving a tip.

Allow me to play devil's advocate here...

SUppose the waiter who took the order was actually asked by the second waiter to grab the order because waiter 2 was slammed. Waiter 1 grabs the order and give it to waiter 2 to put into the order system. Waiter 2 does indeed forget to do so and only realizes it a half an hour later. Waiter 2 now says to waiter 1 "I can't go over there, can you help me again". Waiter 1 goes over and says the order just went in. etc. etc.

I don't know what happened. The Hersch doesn't know what happened. None of us do. But we assume we do. The restaurant business is a complicated business. IMO, its far more complicated than most diners (not just the restaurant obsessed folk here) believe. People make assumptions about the operation of a restaurant all the time, assumptions that sometimes are wrong.

Should you have left a $10 spot or stiffred them? You should have done what makes you feel comfortable and leave it at that. There are so many variables in what to do. DId they care about having screwed up your order. Did they seem concerned? Did they tell you it was comped in a caring or an "I don't give a f*ck" manner. Again, on the board here it's hard to convey or know the full issue. Something about the interaction spurred you to give them $10. I'd say that you earned Karmic bonus points. Pretty cheap for $10.

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I would have left a $5 if I had one, and would rather leave a $10 than nothing. Who knows what really happened or where things fell apart. If you think of it in absolute terms instead of percentages and tip vs. food/wine price, you paid less than half of what you would have if the lunch had gone well.

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so far we have only laid blame on the service staff. three more entirely plausible scenarios:

1 - the server who rang the order somehow slighted the person running the expediting station. as a form of retribution that server's ticket - your ticket was accidentally on purpose lost.

2 - the fact that i am using my assistant manager's computer right now because my brand new laptop is fried is testimony to the occasional fallibility of computers. pos machines aren't perfect - your ticket could have disappeared into a technological black hole.

3 - the person running the expo station was new/hungover/under-caffinated/whatever and therefore slightly off his/her game that day and your ticket didn't get fired when it was supposed to.

as others have noted, it is nearly impossible to know what really happened. maybe it was one of the servers, maybe it was the kitchen, maybe it was the computer. ultimately, i believe that the restaurant showed their concern for your dining experience and your business by doing the right thing. i think you did the right thing as well.

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My first thought was that the guy took the order, got distracted by another table on the way to ring it in, and then moved on to the next task without remembering to go back and get Hersch's order in. Then, overcome with guilt and shame, he couldn't face the table and asked his buddy to do it. (The "rookie in the weeds" theorie has a lot to reccommend it, too.)

Though there are as many different ways for the server to order a drink as to get the food order in front of the chef, it was the fact that the wine never showed up that made me suspect that the waiter had spaced the whole table. While you expect there to be a significantly lag between the time the food order goes in and food comes out, you (I did, anyway) tend to check back for drinks pretty quickly, or even wait in the service area for them.

Also, unless the server's internal clock was busted for exogenous reasons, it's odd that it took more than thirty minutes -- on a lunch shift -- to notice that there was some guy sitting there with no food or drink, without asking the kitchen "where the hell is table 20's steak?"

Starfish: do expediters really screw with waiters like that? That's pretty evil.

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Starfish: do expediters really screw with waiters like that? That's pretty evil.

i have worked in places where that has happened - and i have heard tell of much worse.

eta: the delay in the wine could be explained by a need to brief the clueless manager. any manager who doesn't notice that a guest has been w/o food for 30minutes must be stealing thier paycheck. unless s/he was fixing some ugly problem that kept them off the floor for that length of time. which could be another potential explanation for the whole thing.

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I've never worked in a restaurant and have very little idea how they run. I think the fact that no effort was made to fetch my glass of wine until after the initial acknowledgement of the order screw-up was what led me to blame waiter #1. Also, the same waiter walked by my foodless, drinkless table on his way to deliver the food to another table that ordered well after I did, and ordered the same thing I did. It was a good ten minutes after that before the screw-up acknowledgment happened. He didn't appear to be stoned, but who knows?

As for a manager, the two waiters were the only staff I saw in the dining room during my visit.

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bottom line, its the restaurants fault for the delay. In the end leaving a tip for the server is a kind gesture. Hopefully with time the server, if they are concerened in anyway, will understand that mistakes happen, improving on the mistake will make them better in the long run.

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Another twist... I frequently have no small change. Either I have no cash or only have $20s or whatever. I certainly wouldn't feel good about leaving $20 for something like this but since no check was presented I would have no way to tip on the service. How would you typically go about that? Ask that a $0 check be brought over so you can at least tip with your credit card? Ask for change (if you do happen to have any cash on you)?

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Today I had lunch at a restaurant that has been praised here recently, and is generally highly regarded here. I'd rather not name it, because I have nothing against it. I was shown to a table, and given a menu. A couple of minutes went by, the waiter returned, and I placed my order.

I know that restaurant! I've been there! And I had a similar experience, if not worse (e.g., wrong wine--white instead of red; lost food order; missing wait staff; others seated after me, yet served before me, paid and left; seated beneath an A/C duct where it was -20 below--I kid you not!) They comped me the wine only after I complained that I ordered only 1 glass, instead of 2. They had charged me for the bartender's/wait staff's mistake. I was truly disappointed with the restaurant, yet loved the meal and would go back because it is so highly praised.

Regarding the tip: I would tip the standard 15-18-20% -- depending on the establishment and how they resolved the problem(s) -- of the meal. However, I wouldn't leave it on the table. I would ask for the GM, tell her/him my tale of woe, and ask that s/he deliver the tip to wait staff #1.

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I had a similar issue tonight.

National chain that will go unnamed. Service was very poor (still never got my salad) and dinner should have ran about $20 or so.

Manager comped meal. I said Thank you and that it was not necessary. They brought the bill folder and the ticket said comp 0.00.

I put a five into the folder said thank you to the manager. Still not sure if it was the right thing since it was poor service that resulted in the comp, but if nothing else I feel okay about my decision.

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