The back page of the December 2013 Augusta Magazine showed a picture of me accompanied by a short Q&A. I was asked questions in advance and the final product was an edited version of my responses. When the magazine hit news stands, I was disappointed to see that that my favorite question was the only one edited out. I wasn’t concerned with the reason for the omission- it was likely a space issue. It’s just that it said more about me than the “how do you spend your Sunday” question. (I work twelve hour days, six days a week. I clearly spend my Sundays in a semi-coma.)
The question known only to me and the editor: “How would your friends describe you?” My answer: “a hard worker, a diet coke addict and a generous tipper”. The goal of my response was a balance of veracity, humility and casualness. If you polled my friends, they might offer three completely different descriptors, but they also couldn’t dispute that my response was true, especially the part about tipping. I take pride that when a server walks away from a transaction with me, they are saying to themselves, “that’s how its done.”
I learned the importance of tipping early in life from my friend Ben, who worked as a server at Appleby’s when the chain was still new and cool. Ben was one of those waiters who would sit in the booth with you, as if he were a part of your group, and talk about what everybody wanted to eat. This informal and personal style worked well for the culture at Appleby’s, and Ben was very successful. He advised me to always be the kind of person who leaves a good tip, and that meant nothing less than 20% of the check. In the three decades since, I’ve been zealous in my dedication to tipping, and when I have erred, it is almost always on the side of “ridiculously too much”, for fear of falling in the other horrible category, “the cheap bastard.”
Today, for example, I made a tip mistake on the generous side of the scale. I don’t regret it, as the lady who brought the pizza to my car was very polite, and braving the arctic winds. I must confess, however, that I gave her a ten dollar tip for a $5 pizza. To make matters worse, I paid for the pizza with a credit card, and the tip in cash. I didn’t know that the establishment was one of the last few places that doesn’t allow for a tip to be added to the charge when you sign. (Honeybaked Ham on Washington Road is the same way.) When I asked my pizza-server about the lack of option for leaving a tip, she shrugged in complete resignation, as if getting a tip had long since ceased to matter. “That’s ok,” she said, “it’s no big deal.”
It was a big deal to me. I was not driving off in my warm Lexus while the pizza employee in a thin hoodie is denied a tip because her boss is too short-sighted to change the credit card machine program. I insisted she stay there as I looked through my wallet, where I was thrilled to discover a ten-dollar bill. I thought I was out of cash, and was happy to have something decent to give her. Had it been a twenty, I have no doubt in my mind that I would have given her that. The tip wasn’t about her service (which was fine) or a percent of my bill (which would have been a measly dollar) but the completely random matter of how much cash was on me at the time, and my pride in not driving off as a non-tipper.
Which leads me to how I calculate tips:
1- Calculate 20%, then round up to the nearest $5 or $10. 30% often comes closer to what feels right for me, especially in an upscale environment.
2- I never ever donate less than $5. Which means, in the case of a soda or the above-mentioned pizza, I will be tipping in excess of the entire bill. $10 or $20 feels better to me in valet-driver situations.
3- Certain services are worth more. My hairstylist is very skilled and should be appreciated appropriately. Very few people can make me the right shade of blonde. I won’t mention what I tipped the lady who did my Brazilian wax, but I will say that I was so mortified by the whole experience that I’m pretty sure I dumped my entire wallet on the counter and ran away.
I know there have been times when I have obscenely over-tipped. When people rush out after you because they are sure that you have made a mistake, and you are forced to explain that you intentionally gave them that much money, it is a sign you’ve gone too far. Still, I prefer to be in the top percentile of the tipping spectrum. I know how difficult it is to deal with the public every day, and I know how few people really grasp the art of the generous tip. If I can compensate for that just a little, it makes me happy.
At the end of the day, I’m sure I would be shocked to know how many of my tip-recipients make more money than I do. It’s certainly not that I am wealthy, or that I think that they need the money. I absolutely don’t have extra money to throw around or waste. In fact, I often have to monitor what I purchase to make sure I have enough for a good tip. My motivation is just that I want to acknowledge the people who serve me and indirectly say: “I appreciate you”. Hopefully a small gesture like a generous tip will brighten their day and restore their faith in humanity.
So the next time I get profiled in a magazine- I’ll be sure they include the part about me being a good tipper. I’m sure my friends will back me up.