Verbal Tips Are Fraud

By Duke Cullinan

The concept of the Verbal Tip is understood by any waiter who has been in the business for more than 2 or 3 . . . shifts.

‘You were the best waiter!’

‘Thank you so much! You were really great tonight!’

I truly hope some of these particular diners are reading this, so they can understand we know what they are doing. But then, the kind of diners who pull this shit are definitely not interested in how the waiter feels about things. So why should I expect they would seek out a waiter’s rant?

Verbal Tips are as intrinsic to food serving as:

  1. Skating on sidework.
  2. Getting free drinks from the bartender (during or after your shift).
  3. Hitting on the hostess or hitting on the bartender (depending on your inclinations).

An exhaustive list? By no means.

The idea here is that every waiter knows about, understands, and has gotten Verbal Tips.

Frankly, Verbal Tips are one of the most reviled ‘features’ of food serving. Bear with me, but the most common refrain from the waiter is something like, ‘Everything was perfect! Nothing went wrong. They were happy. They said they were happy. The food was great. Nothing came out late. We talked . . . and F’n 10-percent!’

The Verbal Tip is fraud. That’s right. Just like Bernard Madoff said he was giving you a solid return in relation to your contribution. In reality he was keeping the money himself. Here’s how it breaks down for Bernie Madoff (and for Verbal Tippers):

  • We give good faith (service or money).
  • He keeps the money.
  • We get the words.

It’s fraud because these people are redefining the interaction of service and tipping. Just like Madoff and his ilk redefine the concept of investment and returns. There is only one definition for tipping. The guest gives the waiter money commensurate with the quality of the job done. Notice there are no commas, or dashes, or parentheses in that sentence. There are no loopholes. This commandment is etched in stone as much as the Employee Manual Moses’ brought down from the mountain.

The Verbal Tipper has defiled this universal law and twisted it into: ‘I will substitute some kind words for a certain amount of money.’

Look, a commendation and a pat on the back is great from your mom or your kindergarten teacher. It’s also nice from your employer, but your boss doesn’t say, ‘Hey, great job today – and by the way, because I just recognized you verbally, I’m reducing your paycheck 10% this week.’

Besides being fraud, Verbal Tipping is ridiculously condescending. Think about the mindset:

‘The real prize for this waiter is not making money and surviving. It is the honor of serving me. If I leave mere money – heck, anyone can do that, and it’s just perfunctory – he won’t appreciate it. I’m going to give him something way more valuable than money. I’m going to let him know that I approve of him.’

Thanks, guy.

Verbal Tippers are also liars (as differentiated from being perpetrators of fraud, a bigger lie). They are liars because they espouse a ‘philosophy’ as quoted above, but the true motivation is not to approve or reward. It is to save money. Everyone knows that waiters make minimum wage (or less!). Are Verbal Tippers also going around ‘rewarding’ and ‘approving of’ the girl running the fitting room at The Gap? How ’bout our favorite, the cashier at the 7-11? I’ve never heard anyone give the old Verbal Tip to the 7-11 guy. Or the dude hawking flowers at the freeway off-ramp? Or the young man selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door?

Verbal Tippers reserve their special reward for only those situations where it can save them from withdrawing money from their wallets.

Let this be the rule from here forth – no, wait. This has always been the rule: A Verbal Tip shall only, and we mean only, be administered as a reinforcement or supplement to the real, actual, concrete money tip that has been given. If the guest feels there has been excellent service, then the statement will be the percentage of tip awarded. If the guest feels he wants to ‘supplement’ the waiter’s tip at this point, then he can go right ahead and commend him verbally for his competence and his personality and his full head of hair. Anything at all. But the Verbal Tip is only to underline what his actual tip has already stated.

Thank you.

Reprinted with permission from Waiternotes.

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