To Serve Mankind

{October 24, 2009}   To Tip or Not To Tip

   It is no big secret that servers are there to make tips.  It is also no big secret that servers depend on tip income far greater than they depend on their hourly wage.  In most states, the wage for servers and bartenders is minimum wage or lower.  Oh, you didn’t know that?  Well, it makes sense when you realize how many students, moms, and others of the like that this line of work attracts – those who may benefit from the immediate cash and decent (sometimes formidable) pay with no secondary education required (though it does help).  Not to mention the benefit of flexible schedules, but that is beside this point.

   It’s true that your server / tender is counting on your monetary gratification, and I’ll not be one-sided and dare say it isn’t a two-way street.  You deserve the exemplary service you expect when you decide to go out and spend your hard-earned money in any dining establishment.  Likewise, your server deserves her / his hard-earned tip at the the culmination of your dining and / or drinking experience.  So here it is – what are the tipping standards are and why you should tip.  I’ll start low and work my way up.

   Servers are taxed on 8% of their sales, whether you tip or not.  So flat out, less that an 8% tip and you’re “stealing” from your server right there.  10% is a typical low-end base, and 15% is a generally accepted satisfactory tip.  Fair enough; it’s better than a poke in the eye.  But what is your server doing for you?  Does he/she smile, make you feel welcome and generally care about your situation?  Well, that’s minimum 10% there.  Did your order get put in correctly?  It most likely did if your server made the effort to repeat your order back to you after taking it down.  Did your server check back on you and keep you stocked with beverages, napkins, and other such items?  How many bottles of wine did your server / tender cork for you?  Did half of the restaurant come to a halt while your server and several others sang a birthday song for you or someone in your group?  Make sure you bump up that tip for all those items!  Were your drinks made pretty and served quickly?  What about special order items?  Did your server get all your requests handled and then specifically check back with you to ensure the food or drinks were done right?  Well, if your server is on his or her toes, we are well above the 15% mark now.  My personal standard, the number I always strive for, is 20%.  This requires constant service with a smile;  learning the guests’ names and remembering their favorite drinks and how they like their steak cooked doesn’t hurt a  bit, either.  The strongest server will anticipate the guests wants and needs before the guest even realize that they wanted or needed anything else!  To earn that 20% (or more) tip, the guest must feel that the server genuinely cares about their entire dining experience and is happy to take care of them.

   Sometimes, no matter how hard your server or bartender tries, guest expectations just cannot be met.  Sometimes an order ticket gets lost in the kitchen or bar.  Sometimes food and drinks just flat out come out late.  That IS NOT NECESSARILY YOUR SERVER’S FAULT.  It is, however, your server’s responsibiltiy to be astute to your situation and let guests know that they haven’t been forgotten.  Sometimes a server / bartender will have a guest that is an attention hog.  Some guests want to talk and talk to their server with out consideration of other guests waiting for their server’s attention.  Some guests like to ask for one thing at a time, tying up their server to chase down assorted items and also keeping them from efficiently moving thru other tables.  Conversely, it is the good server’s role to anticipate guests needs the best they can to avoid inefficiency and impress guests with their forethought.  Does your server send other servers, staff, or management to check on you and make sure you’re doing ok in their absence?  How big is your server’s section?  If it’s a bartender, is he or she making drinks for the entire restaurant (most likely) as well as taking care of guests at the bar and some tables?  If your server is standing around, not doing much of anything and generally not giving a shit, then that’s not 20% service.  Probably isn’t even worth 15%.  If your server is hustling his or her buns, refilling drinks, taking orders, running food that may or may not be for his / her own tables, and SMILING while all this is happening – well, that’s a server / tender who deserves a good bump in their tip percentage.

   This brings me to another point; servers and bartenders have to tip out too.  You may notice that they get a little help from their friends.  Bussers, barbacks and tenders, and expo line staff (people who make sure your food is pretty, hot, and arrives at your table in a timely manner) all get tipped (usually manditorialy by restaurant procedural standards) by servers and bartenders based on their individual sales.  It may be a team effort, but everybody gots to get paid.  So keep that in mind before you are tempted to stiff your server.

   Another thing that shoud be mentioned is the time a guest spends at a table.  If you’re in a party that is camping at a table and not spending money, that table cannot be turned around for use again, which is a whole new tip opportunity lost.  Likewise, a party with multiple children / youths that don’t watch their kids is a ridiculous burden to your server.  When unattended, often (no joke, OFTEN) they are known to spread out to tables all thru a servers section, muss up the tables (I’ve had a party of one mom and 6 teen girls dump all my salt and pepper on the table and make a ridiculous mess and diss me with a less-than-10%  tip), dump drinks on the ground, open sugar packets and make designs on the table top…oh the list goes on and on…AND WE SERVERS ARE NOT YOUR CHILDREN’S BABYSITTERS!  Bump up that tip if your kids need sitting…SIGNIFICANTLY.

   A $5 tip is not a suitable tip for an $80 tag.  No way.  And tipping twice the tax is not always appropriate either, as in some bars the tax amount is already added into the price of a glass of wine or your beer.  At the bartop, it’s a dollar a drink, plus 20% for food service.  Bartop tipping should always be higher…those seats are prime real estate.

   Oh, and one final pet peeve…don’t joke to your server about the tip by saying something like, “Your tip depends on it”.  (It can be so many different things, from extra ranch to a stronger cocktail)  Condescending statements like that are not favored and will certainly not get you any special treatment.  Remember to talk to and treat your server like the human being he or she is, for cryin’ out loud!  We really do want to make you happy!  Don’t make it difficult by assuming a server’s only position in life is to wait on people.  We are so much more…I like to think of it as entertainment.  If you saw me work, you’d probably agree.

   How do I tip?  I am a very tough customer.  Because I do this for a living, I have high expectations for how I want to be cared for in a restaurant.  I want to be served like I serve.  In my mind, the server starts off with a 20% tip, and I will go up or down from there accordingly based on the standards that I have mentioned above.  I hope this can help servers and guests alike see each other’s side better.  As always, all comments are appreciated and welcome!  And thank you for listening to my rant – I hope you’ve enjoyed it, or at least been entertained!


{March 14, 2009}   Building the perfect drink

(Hello out there!  I know it’s been a long while…I’ve been dedicating all my writing energies to my English 101 class, which is why I’m here today.  Our in-class assignment for Saturday the 7th was to crank out a 600-800 word essay developed by process analysis.  Since I earned an A, I dedided to post my work for any to enjoy!  If you try the recipe, let me know what you think!)

     There are many positive qualities one must possess to be a successful bartender, but key to being a great bartender is making a perfect drink.  The perfect drink should be both aesthetically pleasing with an appropriate aroma and flavor balance.  At Red Robin, the most popular house drink is a Sand in Your Shorts, which requires a specific method of building to result in a beautiful, delicious, and refreshing cocktail. 

     We begin with the appropriate glassware; remove a thistle glass from the rack above the well.  Thistle glasses are identified by their footed base, bulbous bottom, and high, flared edges.  Be sure the glass is clean before filling it to the top with ice.  The ice should be free of debris; stray sprinkles (a.k.a. jimmies) from over-zealous servers garnishing their milkshakes too close to the bar’s ice well are often to be found.

     After the clean glass is set with ice, it is time to start pouring.  The vodka and triple sec are added first.  Their bottles are conveniently located in the speed rack at knee level right up at the well.  Take a bottle in each hand and free-pour a 2-count measure (1/2 oz. each) into the thistle.  The next 2 liquors to add are the Midori and peach schnapps.  These bottles are also next to each other in the speed rack, but over toward the right where the more expensive bottles of liquor are stored.  Pour in the same manner and amount as the vodka and triple sec.  Should any of these bottles run empty during pouring, simply remove the pour spout, throw away the empty bottle, and replace the pour spout in a new bottle from the storage area on the wall of the bar.

     Once the initial four liquors are in, the straw should be placed in the glass.  The color pattern of this drink is the sincerest part of its charm.  Inserting the straw after the more colorful fruit juices and Chambord are added will agitate the layers of colors, thereby decreasing the cocktail’s visual appeal.  One ounce of sweet and sour is added next.  This mixer is located in the juice well to the left of the speed racks.  One can tell when one ounce has been poured by the height of the liquid in the glass; at this point the level of liquids should reach the top of the bulbous portion of the thistle glass.  From the juice well, take the orange juice and cranberry juice in each hand and pour approximately three ounces of each juice into the glass until they reach the top of the ice.  Some of the ice will settle during this process, so a few more cubes should be gently added to the glass.  There should now be a space of 1/2 to 3/4 inch at the top where there is no liquid.  This space is necessary to accommodate the final float of liqueur, and to keep the drink from splashing over the sides of the glass while a server walks with it.  The final liqueur, Chambord, is located behind the milkshake machine.  A half-ounce float of Chambord is a beautiful top to this drink.  To successfully float the Chambord, pour slowly and aim for the ice rather than the liquid.  Allow the Chambord to release slowly down the ice and into the drink; its royal shade of purple will remain independently on top until the drink reaches the guest.

     Ready to deliver this beautiful concoction?  Not just yet.  An orange wedge should be placed delicately on the rim of the glass.  Be careful not to upset this beautiful drink you’ve worked so hard to build!  And, per Red Robin standards, do all you can to get this miniature piece of art to the guest within four minutes of the drink ticket coming up on your printer.  In some cases, a server may already be standing at your well urgently awaiting the drink.  Occasionally, the bartender will find him or her self calling for a drink runner – any available server, busser or hostess – to ensure timely delivery of the drink.  But the most fun is taking the time to deliver the drink oneself.  I enjoy delivering  the drinks I’ve made to guests.  I am proud to show off my talent and I let the guests know it!

     I have been practicing the art of bartending for over ten years and have enjoyed nearly every minute of it.  It is an art involving many talents like the ability to talk to, engage, and endear guests, think and work at an outrageous pace, and organizing and prioritizing every task of every moment as it comes flying along.  But if you can pay attention to the simple details of building a perfect drink and follow through with diligence, you’re already on the road to being a successful bartender.

et cetera