The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

Another Look at Village Tart, and Random Stuff About Tipping

Warning: Lots of words in this one. Sort of boring. No interesting photos. If you're new to this blog, you should probably scroll down the index page and look at something else.

I've been thinking about this topic for days. And here I finally am. Because...

I REACHED SEASON SIX OF LOST! Last night. Around 4 a.m. Which in the scope of human accomplishments is about on par with managing to break the vacuum seal of a stubborn jar lid. Just think about all those hours, poured into a show that makes little sense...[single tear rolls down cheek]...but in my mind, that's part of the fun of watching it. At least I know the end is near. I would've gotten frustrated with it a long time ago if I had tried to watch it from the first day it aired.

So. Back to food. Ish. Related things.

counting the money
Figuring out the tip. Wooooeee. [This photo was taken at Veselka.]

You may have noticed that I rarely talk about the service I receive when I eat out. This is a combination of having low standards and luckily rarely encountering bad service. As Al said at lunch last weekend, I'd probably have to get stabbed by a waiter to think, "Man, that service was sort of subpar. And gosh, look at this mess I'm making, spurting blood all over the floor. I should clean this up. Oh nevermind, I just fainted."

For as far back as I can remember (circa 2004; my mental cogs aren't in the best condition), I could count the memorably crappy restaurant experiences independent of food quality on one hand. I usually tip around 20% no matter what service I get when I eat in New York City. Methinks this practice came from regularly reading Waiter Rant and books by Anthony Bourdain, except they would probably tell me to tip more for exemplary service, and I rarely do that, nor do I tip less for just okay service. My tipping practices are on autopilot. Ideally I'd be a more generous tipper when the situation calls for it, but hopefully I'm fair.

What I left out of my recent post about Village Tart was that the service was iffy. Out waiter was super attentive—perhaps overly so—for most of our stay, until the very end when we wanted our check. That part took seemingly forever. I think we ended up asking another waiter for it. The place was much busier when we left than when we got in, but still; it's not a big place, and bringing a check shouldn't take more than 15 minutes, right?

But I'm so used to waiting for stuff that it didn't stick out in my mind as crappy service. "People forget stuff; whatever. Not like he stabbed me in the chest." Maybe I'm too laid back.

Back to the "super attentive" part. This was another, "This is sort of annoying, but whatever," thing for me. The waiter came to our table more times than average to ask if we wanted anything. We probably looked like we wanted something else, seeing as all we started off with was a tart and two pots of tea and we held on to a menu. But how many times does it take for the question, "Would you like anything else?" to turn from "attentive" to "holy jebus, stop being pushy"? I don't know; I didn't count. At some point we did order something else: the disappointing $9 arugula salad that I mentioned in my previous post. Hooray. Fail.

Maybe it was the question "Would you like anything else?" that was annoying, the underlying message (whether intended or not) being, "You should order something." This past Monday I ate at Rub BBQ with Greg and we were asked by at least three different employees how we were doing while eating dinner. That didn't feel annoying; it just felt like we were being taken cared of. (The waitstaff at Rub are nice. And I love their burgers.) But it's not like we would've wanted any more food considering Greg had a Flinstones-sized beef rib and I had a burger and fries.


I don't remember how much we tipped on the final bill at Village Tart, but safe to say, less than 20%. My friend paid with her credit card and we left the tip in cash. Unfortunately, she found out that they charged an extra $3 to her card. Ruh-roh. (That's "uh oh" said in Scooby voice. Why? I dunno.) In all my years of eating out and paying by credit card, that has never happened to me. Could it be chalked up to human error? Sure; humans make mistakes. But the other explanation is someone wanted a bigger tip and didn't think she would notice. (She called the restaurant and got her $3 back.)

I always lean towards giving the benefit of the doubt, but no matter the reason for the error, make sure to save and check your receipts, if you don't already.

So that's the full recount of our Village Tart experience. Maybe I should've written that in my last post (although I didn't know about the extra $3 charge until after I wrote it), but I'd much rather focus on food unless there's some terribly shitty service going on.

I've been thinking more about tipping practices since reading David Sax's curmudgeonly New York Times article "Hey, Waiter! Just How Much Extra Do You Really Expect?" and Waiter Rant's response. Two very different looks at tipping, of course, with lots in between if you read the comments. I don't feel like delving into their posts; I just wanted to point it out in case you were interested in reading way more about tipping than you may have thought about before. You should probably do something else though since it's a Friday night.

And after reading all that...I honestly still don't know what to think. And I don't really feel like talking about it anymore since I used up my Friday night writing this rambling post when I should've been shoving food porny photos in your face (next post!!!). I've never been a waitress, nor do I ever want to be one after hearing about how much it potentially blows. I preferred the system in France where the tip was usually included in the bill and you could leave a few Euros behind if you really wanted. Here, I'll probably continue with my fixed 20%. Until I get stabbed.


SamuelGoh / March 6, 2010 2:06 AM

I never get the idea of tipping. I mean, I do, but when it becomes necessary, people expect to get tipped even for lousy service -.-

Jannie / March 6, 2010 5:03 AM

Long-time lurker here. I completely agree with you Robyn. I'm currently living in Czech Republic (but NOT Prague) and I much prefer the system here. Same as in France, where wait staff are paid a living wage. Here if you want to tip, you just round up to the closest coin and it's referred to as "drinking money" for the staff, so they can grab a beer after work. I dread my return to North American this summer, as I know I'll be trapped in the tipping mire again.
(I will also note that this does not seem to apply to the tourist traps of Prague, where many receipts are obnoxious and point out that "Tips are not included" .)

Mahar / March 6, 2010 8:34 AM

Over here most restaurants have a service charge of 15%. Basically it's an auto-gratuity.

We tip on top of that if we think the service is excellent.

Otherwise, we follow 15% tip in places when auto-gratuities aren't applied.

I think we're rather laid back here when it comes to service; someone has to be really mean or incompetent to merit a complaint here.

Julie / March 6, 2010 9:19 AM

First and foremost, I have to state that I cannot believe a waiter would actually add more to the tip. That's just wrong. Your friend should have done much more than simply call the restaurant to get her money back - that's credit card fraud. During my serving years, a good friend came in and left an extravagantly large tip. Later, punching the total into the computer, I joked to another server that I'd been overtipped and was just going to enter a more appropriate sum. A manager overheard, and I received the lecture of my life on credit card fraud - we were never, ever, ever, ever, by no means, to alter the tip amount that was written on the check. No matter what. And legal reasons aside, it's just a scumbag move.

However, I will say this, having spent years waiting tables. Whether the American tipping system is right or wrong, it is what it is, and a server can expect to earn money based on how much is ordered. If there are three people taking up valuable real estate in a station and they're barely eating, a server is going to be frustrated. Not only are you fruitlessly running back and forth trying to make sure that they are cared for (you said you held onto menus, implying you did want to order more), but you see your bottom line dropping. It's no-win. If the restaurant is empty, it's miserable because you know you're not going to make much. If the place is busy and running on a wait, you're pissed because bigger eaters could be at that table. No matter how graciously a server treats you in that situation, they are seething inside.

I'm not saying that the waiter was correct in his behavior or attitude. In the name of customer service and professionalism, you shouldn't be treated with anything less than the utmost respect. That server was terrible on all levels. However, I think it is every enlightened diner's responsibility to enter a table-service establishment as a willing consumer. If you want to loaf about, sip tea, and share a single dessert amongst three people, there are plenty of coffee shops that will be more than happy to host.

Rosa / March 6, 2010 12:42 PM

The waiter was *definitely* out of line for adding to your credit card bill. As Julie (above) pointed out, it is beyond annoying, it is criminal. If your friend wanted to make a bigger fuss, I suspect the waiter would lose his job or face criminal charges.

However, you three were somewhat out of line yourselves. First there were four of you (I'm going by the picture above) and you ordered two teas and a tart, then later added a salad. That's it? That's a paltry order for a full-service restaurant with a full menu. (In a coffee shop without table service, go nuts, sit there all day over your cup of tea, but *not* in a full-service resto.) Pitiful, guys. It's pretty clear that you've not waited tables before, otherwise you'd see how annoying that is; The waiter's potentially losing money, the resto's potentially losing money.

Additionally if you kept the menu, the waiter was obligated to check back for an order. You *gave* him the idea that he had to check back often. Then you got annoyed when he did? Ay yi yi. I've worked in some places where a table holding onto a menu would make the managers go nutso--on *me*--and I'd be pelted with questions from her/him. ("Why do they still have their menus? Have they ordered? Did you see that table? Have you checked back with them? Maybe they want to order now. Go check.") The implication being, of course, that I wasn't providing great service. At some point (since he was so often at your table) you should have informed your server that you wouldn't be ordering anything else and surrendered the menu. (He probably would've stopped pestering you at that point.)

Finally, because you held onto the menus, he held onto the check. Why would he assume that you needed the check if you still had menus?

So: Four of you take up a table in a full service restaurant and order as little as possible. Then you hang onto the menus giving your waiter the idea that you might order more and you get annoyed that he keeps checking back to see if that's true. To add a final insult, you undertip. C'mon.

In short: Annoying people all up in this story.

roboppy / March 6, 2010 1:30 PM

Julie: We thought it was the sort of place we could hang out and get some cake and just drink tea, but we were wrong. (I mean, I thought it was more of a bakery/cafe than a restaurant.) None of us had been there before, so we know better now. And I'm not surprised he came back a few times; I think that's part of the reason my friend bought the salad. Hanging on to the menu was the wrong decision, though.

Rosa: The photo above isn't from Village Tart; there were three of us total. Not that that makes a huge difference. Going in, we thought it was more of a cafe-like place than restaurant, because we wouldn't knowingly enter a restaurant and just order tea and a dessert. Anyway, we won't do that again.

I don't disagree with what you said as for why he kept coming over. It does make sense. We gave back the menu after the salad (didn't hold onto the menu until the check), but I think that the salad tasted meh lowered everyone's morale.

Anyway, I'm glad to get a waiter's point of view—that's what I was looking for. I'm not going to speak for my friends, but if they'd probably say something different than me about our experience.

eatyourheartout / March 6, 2010 2:38 PM

Etiquette of Americans tipping should be changed so everyone is happy and dandy and less restless and frustrated. On both parties.

If the table needs to be cleared out I'd kindly inform the clients that there will be a table sitting time limit or the table will be needed soon rather than have people walk over asking the same question over and over about needing anything or such. Heck, if the waiter even touches the plate as the plate is still full - that's the worst move. Gets quite unpleasant.

There are establishments with sitting limits if not a better way to communicate to other human beings.

Clients, also, should be courteous and leave when their table is needed.

I tend to over tip regardless of food quality. I never felt inclined to understand the silly American tipping system until I began eating out more frequently, which is why I realize I was over-tipping for a while.

However, rude service (regardless of food quality) I have no problem under-tipping. I can tolerate awful service, but only for so much. Past three strikes I start deducting. If the waiter is obviously trying his/her best to make up then that's a plus and the attitude I want to see.

Work on being more respectful with another or find another job that requires no customer service etiquette.

As for clients eating, be courteous or speak up if you feel the service sucks or there is something wrong with the dish. That's something I've began to do now.

New Yorkers are too critical and judgmental. It's rubbing down on me. Quite frankly and sadly.

Trip Advisor's Tipping & Etiquette in US:

Nicholas / March 6, 2010 3:07 PM

Why can't we be more like Japan... where there's no tipping (understood by both parties, and taken as an insult for the server)?

Jannie / March 7, 2010 12:24 AM

One more thing to note as a difference between the US and here in Europe (again, specifically here in Czech Republic and exempting the tourist traps). Here, whether you go to a cafe (which serves a much different function here than in the US), bistro or restaurant, etc . . . there is no push on the part of staff to turn over tables. Once you have a place, it's yours for the evening. They don't based their business model on turning the table every hour or so. People arrive, order what they want and leave when they're ready, instead of having staff trying to shove them out the door so new customers, who may or may not exist, can replace them.

FN / March 7, 2010 2:37 AM

I agree with Nicholas - I wish everywhere were like Japan: no tipping AND excellent service.

Paris, as you probably recall is no tipping but I don't even think there is a Fremch word for service. You're lucky to get a menu in the first 15 minutes after you sit down.

In NY I have proudly not tipped due to bad service. It's harsh but it gets the point across.

Jasmine / March 7, 2010 11:27 PM

Oh my. Now I feel ashamed of how badly I tip my waiters/waitresses. I suppose I get this from my Chinese parents, who never go beyond the 10%. Everyone is kind of arguing/showing off, but I think I should tip better, especially when I see that I'm being treated with proper service. But I mean, if you keep giving them high tips, it's not much as an incentive to work harder.

But I enjoy reading this post, it's nice to read stuff besides looking at food porn. Which I also do appreciate, just a little overwhelming sometimes.

Cathy / March 10, 2010 8:08 AM

I've heard that always writing something on the tip line, like a dashed line when not leaving a tip, may help avoid such fraud from happening.

Gloria / March 10, 2010 9:22 PM

Well, I haven't really been in the service industry for too long, but I have eaten out quite a bit and I have to say, being overly attentive has never been that annoying to me. Actually, I'm a pretty aggressive customer so I'll ask for what I want, even if the server is across the room (and they always hear me cause I've got a booming loud voice) or if I want them to leave me alone--"I'll tell you when I want to order, thanks."

But I really hate when servers just forget about me and refuse, I mean REFUSE, to give me my check. How long do I have to sit there before I can leave? It's like they love having control over me and not letting me go. I always think "um, don't you want me to leave so you can get some other customers to sit here??" I mean, dude, let ME help YOU.

I usually tip 15-20% (cheap, I know, but my tips depend on my own financial situation at the time and I'm poor *sigh*) I think it's kinda funny how you got people all worked up about this. And it's kinda ironic too. Like you said you would rather have done this if this was like a bakery/cafe instead of a full service restaurant. But I think that's what distinguishes bakeries/cafes from full service restaurants--the service. I can go anywhere and get food, good or bad, cheap or expensive. But when I want to be "served" by someone, I go to a full service restaurant. Funny.

I was actually a waiter for a teeny wile but where I worked, it was all about the customer, never about the tip. They tried to brainwash us into thinking about ourselves as being there to make each customer's experience the best and making anything they want, no matter how impossible or annoying or ridiculous, happen because we are on THEIR side. So, I guess I can't really be that helpful in that respect.

But I do work at a bakery and trust me, there are way more horrible customers than you guys. In fact, I don't really think you did anything wrong. Man, I could tell you some stories. It's not the same, but man, there are people who make it really hard to be nice. In fact, I'm gonna go write about some of them on my blog. Thanks for the inspirational post!

Something random from the archives