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The Tipping Crime

As I sat in my booth, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my highly anticipated pan of deliciousness, I could feel my stomach growling deeper and I knew every mouthwatering bite would be pure pleasure… pure ecstasy even… maybe so much as that moment of euphoria when you know you’ve experienced heaven and have returned to tell the people of your discovery as the chosen one. But it’s already quite obvious by the typical long lines, call ahead ordering policy, and even the expansion of all-season seating, that this is a favorite spot for about 9.473 million of my closest friends who populate this amazing cultural melting pot known as the Greater Chicago metropolis. I mean where else would you expect to get a sensationally tangy sauce and creamy melty cheese on a doughy, crispy, buttery, one-of-a-kind crust of perfection? I mean, New York, Italy, Hawaii… they’ve all got their “thing”…and Chicago’s “thing” is the Deep Dish Pizza. And I knew that if I did not get my slice soon, I would definitely die. The 35 minute wait for a small deep dish is a risk when I’m ravenous and on the verge of death, but the reward makes it all worth it.

Our server arrived at our table with a seemly steamy pan that required a hot pad to carry it. As we watched our server gently lift a slice out of the deep dish and onto my plate, I felt my head fall into a canine tilt and my smile turned to the inevitable look of confusion. I KNOW my pizza… I have gotten it from here many, many times and until recently could depend on great food, great service, and an overall great experience. But alas, this time it was not stellar. It was not even close to stellar…and this.. this was NOT my pizza.

“Um… is this a deep dish?” I asked.

“Yes ma’am, it’s surely is,” he said with confidence.

I was rendered speechless when his lifting of the slice out of the pan revealed a very sad wannabe cheese stretch which undoubtedly resulted from sitting under a hot lamp too long…or not. It was pretty scarce in toppings and the crust looked like the sad dough fragments left in the bottom of the bowl, pressed together and rolled as thin as possible to cover more pan surface, thus giving the illusion of a much more impressive slice of heaven.

I can’t be fooled of course. And so now I was faced with a dilemma and unfortunately the consequence of performing “The Send Back” far outweighs any possible benefit of consuming this obvious imposter. I mean we’ve all heard about the kitchen recourse horror, which is enough to scare any customer out of performing “The Send Back,” not to mention the inevitable added waiting time and whatever complications will certainly arise. So what to do what to do… We decided to try a slice, which we did, and then we mentioned it to our server. Cue sympathetic approach to appeasing customers, the expected throwing under the bus, and insistence to report to management!

The server apologized and fetched the manager. The manager arrived and apologized and agreed it’s not up to standards. So she offered a new pizza which we declined due to the wait time, offered a frozen pizza to replace the real one, which has apparently become the newest solution to this problem, and comped the bill. Our server then returned and profusely apologized, and agreed with everything we said, and had very sad eyes and a pouty lip, and thanked us for understanding, and was so rehearsed to be such a sympathetic and compassionate server. Certainly worthy of a tip, if not the Nobel Peace Prize… don’t you think?

We thought the frozen substitute would have been a fair consolation but au contraire, it was not good, it was not even close to good. So after we tried it a couple days later, we packaged it up with the intent to return to the restaurant and have a man-to-man chat with the manager. But we never made it so the pizza went in the garbage. If we only had the time to carve out so we could take yet another 40 minute round trip to tend to an issue that probably doesn’t even matter that much because we’re just one customer.

We are a cook and a baker and we know how to make pizza dough. We make it all the time as a matter of fact so the choice to go OUT for pizza is made solely for the experience… that is, to take in the experience of dining out and everything that goes along with it. When you throw in what is certain to be delicious food, it’s sure to be a good time…except when it isn’t. And it’s usually the service that dictates the success of our on-the-fly evening out…not the food at all. So although the server was compassionate, and sympathetic, and understanding, yada yada, he failed to complete his mission of providing excellent customer service and therefore his tip showed it.

Herein lies the argument, If it’s the cook’s fault, why is the server paying for it by being stiffed? The answer: The cook’s fault? Irrelevant! What matters is the way the situation is handled by the server that ensures that despite the poor quality of food, the experience can be saved, and not just be saved, but one worth having.

So there are several ways this could have been handled by the server, one of which was NOT to say, “to be perfectly honest, when I was cutting it I didn’t think it looked very good, or even right for that matter. So I am not surprised”… (insert cricket sound here). Aaaand….. if you knew it looked funny and was no good, then WHY... for the love of all that is holy, did you deliver it to my table and serve it to us? Were you hoping we wouldn’t notice and that we’d just eat it and it would be delicious and you would once again, effortlessly be gifted a tip on the table as a token of our appreciation for your awesome service? Or perhaps you knew that asking us to wait another 35 minutes for a replacement would be upsetting and you didn’t feel like enduring the wrath of yet another upset customer, or maybe…. well, whatever the reason, if YOU won’t eat it, chances are I won’t either so save yourself the trip and do it right. After all I am the one paying for it.

So why will the server be the one to pay the price in his tip? Because he is the one who has to earn it. He or she is the one who is the face of the restaurant that I see while I’m there and since no one introduced me to anyone else while I was here, I am relying on my server alone to make the right decisions so that I can enjoy my experience while I’m there. I know he isn’t cooking my food so I’m not going to blame him for anything related to the preparation of my meal, but I am going to expect that he has acquired the skills necessary to provide me with the experience I pay for. And IF the experience is delivered as one would expect, then he or she has earned at tip as my APPRECIATION for his or her assistance in making my experience one worth having. It has become a crass expectation that a tip will be left on the table regardless of the level of service and the only question is, “how much?” And I doth protest!! No More!

Tipping was designed to be based solely on the service given, not the size of the bill or how good the food was. This is why servers get paid a pathetic wage while the cook’s wage tends to be more competitive, though I use that term loosely. Tipping should be a reward or acknowledgement that the expectation was met or exceeded, not an obligation, and it shouldn’t come with an hour of feeling guilt afterward because I didn’t leave a tip. After all, the server knows how much they are being paid and that tips are supplemental. Unfortunately, the server was trained by an ineffective manager with poor management skills and inadequate training, so next time we visit the restaurant we can pretty much plan on getting inadequate service.

So this consequence of penalizing for bad service has the reverse effect in many instances. This Tipping Crime is when we have become pre-guilted into being a tipping customer even if the service is par or subpar. And why should I have to automatically be expected to pay a minimum of 20% when the service is a big Zero? I go into a restaurant with the expectation that I will get what I pay for. This includes the menu selection, portion size, fluid and cohesive menus, good food, good service, inviting environment, stimulating ambiance, etc. The expectation of the experience is typically predetermined by the menu prices, and the level of service should never come into question. It should be expected that no matter where you go, you get the best possible service and that service should be a reflection of the desired image they portray. It is not selective bargaining in that you don’t get to choose who you wait on and how you treat them. The bottom line is, I don’t have to eat there. If I don’t care about service, then I have no need to dine in your establishment. But If the menu prices tell me it’s a fancy place and I choose to go based on that impression, then I expect elevation on every level and all that really means for a server is, know the policies, know your menu, care about your appearance, and treat every single client like they are your friends because you just never know who you’re talking to.

All this said, I do expect to be treated like a paying patron who is excited to be OUT of my kitchen for a while and has chosen YOUR establishment for my dining pleasure and experience. It doesn’t matter if you are slinging 5 courses to a table of suits, or running a register at a coffee joint, the service is the first and last impression of the establishment and THAT is what I tip on. If you’ve earned it, I will give it. If you haven’t, sadly all those employees with whom you share your tips will be disappointed yet again to learn… You’ve been stiffed!

Stay with us through this journey of tipping and get some great reviews in the process. From your favorite restaurants to reception venues, from Event Planners to Day-Of Coordinators, we will try to cover all facets of food and beverage and capture the essence of what is trending, what people want, and how to get it!

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