Get the Tip

Why do we tip 15% and not 10%? 20% instead of 15%? Sure, it is some sort of ransom “to insure prompt service,” but really we tip based upon our expectations. If we expect lousy service and they exceed the expectations, we generously tip. If we expect Class A service but are delivered a Waffle House experience, we stroke some appalling number on the credit card slip as to make sure they “get the message.”

At lunch yesterday, the poor waiters were terribly short-staffed. Two tuckered table jockeys were tirelessly running full pace to underwhelm the needs of 12 tables.  As we opened the door to the restaurant, subtle hints of the abysmal service foreshadowed the experience: 5 minutes to be greeted, grunting faces of the patrons, kids hanging from the rafters. But a nice enough wink and nod from the sushi chef led me to believe that we would be taken care of. “Silly man that is hoodwinked by the sushi chef is doomed to a dinner of defeat,” my fortune should have read.

You know the drill. We sat down. Ten minutes pass before our waiter makes it to our table to take drink, dinner, and hell dessert orders, but this waiter wasn’t out back puffing on a stogey or flirting with the hostess–he was genuinely working as hard as physically possible, furiously juggling tables like a carney who just through a flaming chainsaw into the mix. There is no question that he was working hard, but he simply didn’t have time to get drinks on our table or tend to our basic needs.

My wife commented, “we’re not tipping this guy,” and I thought, we are not getting our basic needs met we probably shouldn’t tip this guy–very much at least. I did feel sorry for him, but I was also walking to the bar with crying children hanging from my leg just trying to get a soda and a milk. So, I postulated, “he could have fixed this…with little more than 5 seconds effort.” Had the overworked young man greeted us when we came in and said, “guys, welcome, we have an extremely packed house, and we are two staff short, I would love for you to stay but I want you to know that I am going to do my best to keep up.” Done. My expectations are set: (1) if I stay here, the service is going to suck, but I trust that this guy is going to do his best to take care of me, or (2) I am not in the mood to deal with this today, but I will be back because he took the time to address me. Instead the winking, nodding sushi chef dis-served us and the restaurant. He set the expectation that we will take care of you despite the chaos you see unfolding.

Often we think we want more business, even when we can’t handle it; we communicate our best wishes instead of our realities to our customers; and therefore we set unrealistic expectations in our customer’s minds. Communicate realistic expectations and work like hell to outperform, or you’ll end up working like hell communicate why you didn’t.

Jeremy Floyd

Jeremy Floyd is the President at FUNYL Commerce. Formerly, he was the CEO and President of Lirio, Bluegill Creative, a marketing and communications firm in Knoxville, Tennessee. In addition to managing the digital strategies, Floyd was an adjunct professor for the University of Tennessee Chattanooga MBA program teaching digital strategies and social media. Floyd blogs at and tweets under the name @jfloyd. Jeremy is licensed to practice law in the State of Tennessee and holds a law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from MTSU in English and Philosophy.

  • Jonathan

    how about the cat who takes your entire order from memory without writing it down and them screws the order up. THAT cat deserves nada!

  • Good post. I understand what you mean… and I guess I fall short in that respect sometimes. for me it falls down to prioritizing… trying to make everyone the priority at the same time just doesn’t work too well.

  • Oh, and I like the Waffle House.. Bacon helps make everything better! 😉

  • @robert owen

    I agree. One could make an economic argument that if you have 10 tables and can only service 5 well, then you should focus delivering exceptional service to 4 deliver mediocre service to the rest and the net tip will be higher, but setting the expectation, i would expect, would net even a higher tip (as you get the sympathy $).

    BTW, agreed Waffle House is great for bacon but not so much for wine suggestions.

  • Good observations but there are some underlying problems.

    I’ll focus on the most glaring. Taking your kids to a trendy sushi restaurant instead of a fast food joint with easy refill soda machines placed boldly out front.

    Noticing your parental oversight, the chef should have said, “No kids served here!”

    You might have walked away mad, but your kids would have been thanking you as they played with their happy meal toys.

    But since both you and the chef failed to communicate, you’re right, the server should have set, “Get the h%@@ out of here or be prepared for the lunch from h%@@!”

  • Lew

    I agree that the waiter or the sushi chef could have pointed out the shortage of help and given you an option rather that pack in more customers to make more money. That way you would probably feel okay in going back to that restaurant. Too often we fail to communicate because political correctness. I prefer to communicate what is on my mind often for the benefit of that establishment. For instance last Friday I spent the night in a local hospital. I was told the cardiac doctor had left for the day and I would have to stay another night in the hospits to get his take on the procedure. I communicated with my male nurse and asked him to relay to my doctor that I needed to be discharged and let them call me when they get the results of the procedure. I wrote a note for the hospital that they should ask the doctor to come back and read the echogram or have a backup doctor to do it. I received a call from the hospital today and they agreed with me and said they would make that a matter of concern to the hospital for a possible change in policy. After that doctor has a responsibility for the whole day. If it is a full service hospital on the weekends as I was told in the emergency room they should have a doctor or a backup there all the time.