Let me begin by saying, I’m a firm believer in a fair wage and I’ve always been a generous tipper at 20-30% . In fact, there have only been two times in my life where I felt the service was so deplorable I left the server absolutely nothing.  The most recent of these events occurred just this last weekend, in a California beach-side community, at an upscale diner.

It was Sunday, during the 11 o’clock hour  when my partner and I had arrived at this quaint seaside eatery located right in the harbor. The restaurant had been recommended  to us by friends, whose opinions fare similarly to ours. Since we’re always looking for a new local dig, we thought we’d give it a shot.

The ambiance was warm and welcoming. Immediately to the left was a large, classic-oak bar stretching the length of the restaurant, with plenty of imported beers on tap. A matching oak hostess stand was  to the right and a traditional “Please wait to be seated” sign was posted.  With no hostess in view, and a relatively busy restaurant, we waited.

It was roughly 3 minutes before the bartender noticed us, at which point I noticed him scan the restaurant for his hostess.  He made eye contact with a middle aged woman who appeared to be flustered as she was hastily removing cocktail glasses from a table in the bar area, carrying more it appeared, than she could manage. The bartender then looked back in our direction and spake over the noise of restaurant conversation and silverware clanging, “Just grab a seat there when she’s done”. We didn’t have intentions of sitting in the bar, but we weren’t exactly given a choice.

We approached the table as the woman was wiping it down. At this point I saw her apron and realized  she was not the hostess, but instead a waitress, potentially our waitress. I remember thinking to myself,  “perhaps she was merely filling in for the hostess this particular day and was having trouble keeping up?”.  Before I could scoot my chair in, she was gone, without any sort of greeting, and on her way back up to the hostess stand. I guess now she remembered she was filling both roles.

She promptly escorted another couple who had been waiting to the dining room- apparently they had been given the option.  With no new customers at the door, she meandered her way back to the hostess stand and grabbed a couple of menus before heading our way. She tossed them in front of us while saying, “I’ll be  back with water and to take your order.” Still, without a friendly greeting of any kind.

Returning with our waters, again, all but tossing them in our laps before saying, “So, have you decided yet?” We hadn’t decided, and we spoke almost in unison, “Just another moment please, but..” She had heard the first half of our response, but was clearly not interested in the second half as she was already two tables away. So I raised my voice with a hint of irritation, ” Excuse me, but we’d like some drinks to start.” As if in the military, she spun on her toe with a snap, and an awful expression to boot. I guess we were an inconvenience to her.

My partner ordered an Arnold Palmer, and I ordered a Mimosa. While writing our drink order, without making eye contact, the waitress said, ” You just wanna make that the bottomless champagne, it’ll be cheaper that way.”, as if telling me, rather than suggesting. But, when someone in customer service offers me a cheaper alternative to getting what I want, I take it without question.  Soon, she returned with our drinks, and while setting them down said ” Have you decided yet?” And at this point, we had.  Jared ordered, I ordered, she turned and left the table. As she walked away, I realized, I didn’t even know her name… I was having a one night stand with my waitress.

While waiting for our food, I looked over the menu, which she simply left at our table after taking down our order. I looked to the beverages section and noticed the Sunday bottomless champagne special she had mentioned, which,  up until this moment had been her only saving grace.

Bare with me while I explain the math: One could purchase a single mimosa for $5.00 a glass. Or, they could purchase the bottomless champagne for $10.00 and a side of juice for $2.50 a refill. By comparison, you  could get one mimosa for five bucks, or one mimosa for Twelve-fifty.  In short, to break even one would have to consume four mimosas- it wouldn’t be until your fifth that you actually received any sort of bargain, discount, or deal.

When the waitress returned with our food, I politely asked her to explain the Champagne special to me. (I say politely because I know you catch more flies with honey than vinegar).  She however, impolitely explained the math I had just worked out in my head moments ago. I then  inquired, even though I already knew,  “So I would need to drink five of these to get a deal?” To which she interjected, ” It is a deal! If you don’t want it that’s fine, I’ll take it back and you can just have the one you’ve ordered.”  Without waiting for a reply, she snatched the remaining champagne from my table, let out an exacerbated sigh, and lost any chance of receiving a tip, all at the same time.

Now, before you come up with excuses for this server and reasons why I’m despicable for leaving her nothing, wait. Take a moment and think back to a time when you were provided less than satisfactory customer service. Did you feel like giving that person your money? In America, one has the potential to earn greater wages based on merit, in theory. While some of the hardest working individuals will never achieve greater than mediocre wages, an individual who works for tips sets the bar as high as they’re willing to jump. Unfortunately, when you set your bar low, and your jump is pathetic, you don’t deserve my money.

Bottom line is, I’d had enough. My experience had  become a memorable one, but for all the wrong reasons. We were not greeted promptly, in fact we hadn’t been formally greeted at all. We were not given a choice of seating (bar or dining room). We were not given a name by which to address our waitress. We were misguided on the price of things. The service was downright rude and disgusting. However, the worst part for me was, the food was just okay.  I’ve been known to change my tune toward a server after the chef came through with a Hail Mary dish that saved the restaurant’s reputation, but today was not that day. Unfortunately, no one in that restaurant seemed to care.

Now, I’m not one to cause a scene; it’s just not my style. So we waited patiently for the bill and left our gratitude in the form of a $0.00 tip, actually written in to the tip line of the credit receipt. I wanted her to understand I hadn’t just forgotten to fill in the tip line by leaving it blank,  that I was in fact issuing a tip of zero dollars and zero cents.  In as many words as I could fit on the back of the receipt I told her why I was leaving nothing and why I felt justified in so doing.

I told her she was only the second waitress I’d ever given a zero dollar tip.  I explained that her service was unprofessional, classless, and rude- and when I’m paying $15.00 for a plate of eggs I expect more, MUCH more. In  my career, I have prepared food, served tables, and hosted thousands of guests in several different restaurants and never have I ever let a customer down the way she let us down that afternoon.

My goal was to make a point, and potentially prevent her from treating another customer the way I had been treated. I believe it’s our obligation to keep our peers honest. When we receive adequate service, we ought to deliver praise. However, when we receive inadequate service or attention from those paid to provide it, we ought to deliver scorn. And while I can be almost certain my lecture landed on deaf ears, I can be completely certain my money didn’t land in her pocket.

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