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Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Lucky for you, despite the title, this post has nothing to do with Malclom Gladwell.

However, while no intellectual blowhards will be referenced in the paragraphs that follow, there will be references to math, which as many (high) high school students will tell you, “Blows, hard.” In fact, you could even argue that the subject of the post is the opposite of Malcolm Gladwell (though I’m not sure what you’d gain by picking that particular battle).

Let’s begin.

First, I’m going to need you to close your eyes.

Next, I’m going to need you to open your eyes because you won’t be able to read the rest of the instructions unless you do.

(I did not think this through.)

Now, imagine the last time you went to a diner.

Remember your waitress — the one person literally standing between you and pancakes?

I’m going to make a few guesses:

– She was either very old or very young
– She could fake a smile through American History X (title-to-curb-to-bathroom-to-credits)
– She successfully carried more plates at one time than seemed reasonable
– She let you know in the nicest way possible that there is no way on God’s green earth that you can substitute a meat for a non-meat

She also probably puts up with more junk than a urologist and — most crucially — is compensated in a way that suggests her only source of income is the result of her being the sole beneficiary of an “Eat Your Brussels Sprouts and Make Your Bed” allowance policy.

This is our fault.

It is our fault in part because of our willingness to operate in a society where certain food service workers are paid an hourly wage of less than what we are (for some reason) willing to pay for a small — excuse me, tall — frappuccino.

But mostly, it is our fault because we so heavily rely on objective math when we pay our bill at a restaurant rather than objective reality.

I have devised a way of melding these two rational, objective approaches (math and reality) into one SUPERAPPROACH (note: this sounds like, but should not be confused with, the word “SUPERREPROACH”, which is the state of being beyond reproach — in space!) that you may consider utilizing while preparing to tip your local neighborhood waiter or waitress.

In order for the superapproach(tm) to work, we need to first agree that there is some inherent value to the work that a waiter or waitress provides that is completely independent of the cost of the food/drinks purchased.


Okay, good.

There is a reasonable tendency to tip based solely on the total value of the food ordered.  I say “reasonable” because our social rules tell is this is the approach is the way to compensate our server.  But if we think about this norm for over thirteen seconds, we will come to the conclusion that it makes even less sense than that time I tried to write about Planet of the Apes (Warning: I am legally obligated to inform you that you should not even consider clicking on that link).

Here’s why our current tipping culture is not worthy of defense.

SCENARIO #1: You are at a steakhouse.  Your waiter, Jimmothy McNicenberg, approaches.

JMcN: May I take your order?
You: Where would you like to take it?
JMcN: …
You: Ho ho, actually, yes, I would like the New York Strip steak with a side of mashed potatoes.  And an oatmeal stout.
JMcN: How would you like your steak?
You: ASAP!
JMcN: …
You: Medium.
JMcN: And for the lady?
You: She will have the chicken salad and a glass of pinot noir.
The Lady: I can order for myself, you know.
You: Make that two glasses.
JMcN: …

Jimmothy serves you two plates, a few drinks, and according to standard tipping rules, makes $15-20.

SCENARIO #2: You are at a diner for brunch.  Your waitress, Lorainedrop Snugglefish, approaches.

LS: May I take your order?
LS: …

[five minutes pass]

LS: Uhh, are you ready to order now?
You: Yeah, sorry about that.  I haven’t eaten yet!  You know how it is!
LS: Right, shug.  What can I get you?
You: Well, first, a question: the menu here says the Mexican omelet comes with red onions, green peppers and cheddar cheese.  Can I get it with green onions, red peppers, and substitute bacon for the cheese?
LS: Yes, yes, and no.
You: Okay, well, then just get me four eggs, one poached, one sunny-side up, one over-easy, and one over-medium.  With home fries, well done, of course — can you make sure the edges are crispy? — and a raisin bagel scooped out — Atkins, ha! — with light cream cheese on the side.  And half-caf-decaf and a medium orange juice.
LS: And for you, ma’am?
You: She’ll have the…
The Lady: I will take care of this.
You: Women!  Can’t live with ’em, can’t calculate my self-worth without ’em!
LS: …
The Lady: Do you have soy milk?
LS: No, we only have whole milk.
The Lady: [sighs] Okay, well, can I have the tomato basil and mozzarella sandwich, on wheat, lightly toasted?  And on the side, can I have a half grapefruit — pink and pre-sliced, please — with some cane sugar sprinkled on the top — but not too much, and make sure it’s all natural not Splenda, you know — and an iced tea, with no ice.  And some water, with a little ice.  Crushed ice, please, thanks.  Oh, and I need a new fork.  Mine fell on the floor.
: Is that all?
: We’re kind of in a hurry, too.  We have to be somewhere in a half hour.
LS: I’ll see what I can do. [she leaves]
You: Man, what was her problem?

Lorainedrop Snugglefish (not pictured above), who just wrote enough on her waitress pad to qualify for a Regents diploma, serves you four plates, four drinks, and “earns” from you about $3-4 based on standard tipping practices (STP).  And maybe you’re saying, “Zach, you are misrepresenting my hypothetical self!  I would tip way more than that for a $17 brunch!  I’d tip like $10!” Well, if that’s the case, please kindly send me a copy of the New York Daily News article praising your boundless generosity.

Whether we’re talking about the waiter at the steakhouse or diner waitress, we ought to first recognize that a similar service is being offered, i.e., carrying out — literally and otherwise — an order.  And again, to the extent that this task has a specific value independent of whether you’ve ordered $100 or $20 worth of food, we should treat these two situations similarly to the extent that it is reasonable to do so.

Here is what I propose.


By default, tip 15% of your bill, just like society tells you.

Tip 20% if you are trying to impress a date.

Tip 50% if you are trying to impress the waitress.

At a diner or otherwise uber-cheap restaurant, never tip less than $5 on a full meal.

Additionally, add a percentage point — or dollar, whichever is more reasonable based on the total billed amount — for any of the following:

  1. Any order consisting of more than one complex sentence or three commas.
  2. Any question that could have been answered by reading the menu.
  3. Any instruction that the waitress will have to verbalize to kitchen.
  4. Each time the waitress shakes out her writing hand during the ordering process.
  5. Each time the waitress alerts you that what you’ve ordered “actually isn’t very good.”  (This is the easiest way into my wallet.)
  6. Each three minute increment lounging at the table after bill could have been paid.

You might think this is a lot to memorize, but to remember these rules, just keep in mind this simple mnemonic:


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