If the tables were turned, you'd tip

Friday, September 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

I'll give you a little tip:

Don't give little tips.

The monetary kind, I mean. "Gratuities," if you prefer.

The waiter you stiff may be my son.

Yes, Corey has been working as a "server," to use the new, gender-neutral word. First at Cracker Barrel, now at Don Pablo's.

And our household has suddenly become attuned to the subtle science of the tip.

Did you know that a little smiley face drawn on the back of a restaurant bill has been shown to increase tips?

Did you know that Corey says it's not worth it? He ain't drawin' smiley faces for nobody.

On the other hand, Corey is a fairly natural schmoozer. And he has done well depending on the kindness of strangers.

It's an odd thing working for tips. You really do count on kindness for your pay. As with all servers, Corey's wage from the restaurant is a measly $2.13 an hour. Nobody is going to hustle tortilla chips all night for that. So it's only the tips that make it worthwhile.

Or not.

Some nights Corey comes home in a happy-go-lucky mood. That's a hundred-dollar night. And some nights he drags in with just pocket money and tired feet.

I get a vicarious thrill from the uncertainty of it all. I've always been a slave to the paycheck – the direct-deposit, gone-before-you-get-it paycheck.

Corey, on the other hand, never knows what the night will bring. I cheer at his stories of unexpected big tips. And I sigh over the complete stiffs that come once or twice each night.

Where there's smoke ...

Servers begin to see patterns pretty quickly. Corey mentioned the other day that he would be working in the smoking section that night. I offered my sympathy.

"Oh, no, that's good," he said. "Smokers are drinkers, and drinkers are tippers."

It's those water-sippers who count out tips in dimes and quarters.

You hear all sorts of thoughts on tipping – or not tipping. But I heard the first religious spin on the subject the other day.

"If I only give 10 percent to the Good Lord, I'm sure not giving more to a waiter," says a friend of a friend.

And servers might respond from Psalm 37: "The righteous give generously."

I got an inadvertent sermon from Corey the other night. He told me about a big family group that came in to celebrate a birthday or something, stayed forever at the table and then left only a dollar or two behind.

"That's just terrible!" I fumed.

"Well, I don't think they get to eat out very often," Corey said sympathetically. "You could tell they were really excited about it."

And I was stung to realize how lightly I take the luxury of eating out. And all my blessings, for that matter.

His mother and I especially enjoy eating at Corey's restaurant. It's such a treat to watch him work. At home, he doesn't budge from the couch.

The real tip-off

I do sympathize with people who feel put-upon these days by the whole tipping thing. More and more people seem to have their hands out.

A fellow was telling me the other day that he knew tipping had gone too far when he encountered a tip jar at the place he gets his propane tanks filled.

"Hi, I'm Bubba. I'll be gassin' your tanks today."

On the other hand, I guess I have become a little bit of a zealot when it comes to making sure waiters get a decent tip.

Our daughter had an interesting experience the other night. She had just returned to Baylor for the fall semester, and a bunch of friends began a big night out with dinner at a crowded Mexican restaurant near campus.

According to one version of the story, the waiter was sort of eyeing Ali when he brought food to the next table. And as he did so, he let a whole plate of Mexican food slide off his tray – and right on top of Ali's head.

Her mother's reaction: "Oh, no! Were you hurt?"

My reaction: "Did you still tip him?"

Steve Blow can be reached at 214-977-8374 or at sblow@dallasnews.com.