The self-fulfilling prophesy of the cheapskate single diner

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Since I travel a lot on business, it’s not unusual for me to end up eating alone in a restaurant. I usually pick a higher-end place with an interesting menu and wine list, order good food, drink expensive wine, read a book or browse the web on a mobile device, and tip well when I pay the bill. However, I’m a strong believer in tipping for service, and I likely help to propagate the folklore of the low-tipping lone diner when I’m not treated well.

Recently I was in Boston, and had an extraordinary example of how not to treat a woman (or man) dining alone. I had a night free — or rather, opted not to attend the conference dinner event — and walked down to the Legal Test Kitchen, which is part of the Legal Seafoods chain. The menu on their website looked good, and their site said that they had wifi, which was doubly good for playing around on my iPod Touch.

It was a Tuesday night, so they were a bit busy but not overly so, and there was a free table immediately available. So far so good, until I had to wait 15 minutes for the waiter to take my drink order. I ordered a glass of one of the most expensive wines on their list (still reasonably priced), and asked the waiter about the wifi since I couldn’t find an open node. He didn’t know, but promised to find out. A long wait for my glass of wine, then I ordered the most expensive dish on the menu, a lobster Pad Thai, in part on the recommendation of the waiter who claimed that it was his “favorite dish”. No wifi information was forthcoming, and when a different waiter dropped off my food, I didn’t even get a chance to order a refill for my now-empty glass. The Pad Thai was okay, not great, and I really missed that second glass of wine. My original waiter came back when I had finished and asked if I wanted another glass of wine (um, a bit late for that, buddy), then asked if I still wanted that wifi information (ditto).

All in all, I felt ignored, and am unlikely to go there again. This may be an issue of a single diner, since the larger tables around me seemed to be getting fairly good service, although not from the same waiter — mine seemed to just disappear off the face of the earth for a long period of time, that being the time when I wanted another drink and the wifi information. I probably should have complained, or flagged down enough other passing waitstaff that one of them would have reminded mine that he had a customer here, but was feeling too lazy and non-confrontational to make a scene.

I tipped a standard 15%, feeling that I should have reduced it due to the bad service, but the bill amount was small enough that the difference may not have been noticed anyway. I was left with the feeling that I’d really like to get a message out to waiters everywhere: consider that we’re not leaving a crappy tip because we’re cheap, we’re leaving a crappy tip for crappy service.

2 Comments

  1. Carsten says:

    So wait – you got treated poorly and basically ignored, but you still tipped 15%?

    That confuses me. I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem is not necessarily the bad service, but our complacent assumption that we *must* tip, that it’s somehow customary, the default action.

    I think I’d like to try and actually treat the tip as a tip for a while. Work on the assumption that wait staff get paid some minimum hourly wage and that that covers taking order, bringing food and beverages, bussing the table and dealing with the financial aspects of the transaction.

    And that anything over and above that baseline deliverable is what should be considered for the upside payment of the tip, the ‘bonus’ in business speak.

    I don’t know that I can do it either, but every time I walk out of a restaurant angry, I sure want to 🙂

    Oh, and btw, I like your Off Topic blog. Just discovered it.

  2. sandy says:

    Yeah, tipping for crap service, how Canadian is that? My only hope is that someone from Legal Test Kitchen sees this and lights a fire under their wait staff.

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