In celebration of the release of his newest book, Keep the Change, in paperback, we asked Steve Dublanica (Waiter Rant) to dish on a few things. We highly recommend Keep the Change both for the (often snorty-laugh-inducing) stories inside and the handy tipping appendices in the back.
WORD: What’s the best tip you’ve ever received?
SD: The best tip I ever got was $500 on New Year’s Eve. It was from a drunk customer who had been a royal pain in the ass all year. Originally he had given me $250, but I went up to him and said, “It’s not enough.” He was so inebriated that he doubled it. So yeah, I rolled a drunk guy.
Most memorable tip? Getting a gift certificate to an adult emporium. I didn’t want it so I offered it to my fellow waiters. Of course, the resident pervert snapped it right up.
WORD: There were some shocks as I read the book — you call into question things I’ve taken for granted about tipping for years (for example, the “buck a drink” standard for bartenders). What was the most surprising discovery for you?
SD: When you think about it, the buck a drink thing is unfair to bartenders. Sure, a buck a beer is acceptable, but not for the twenty dollar martinis they foist on you in Manhattan. If you order a drink like that whilst sitting at a table, the waiter will make 15-20% on that drink. So why should the bartender only get a dollar? He made the damn thing.
What surprised me the most? Two things. First off, I didn’t know that bathroom attendants often buy the lotions, hairspray, bobby pins, colognes, mints and prophylactics they offer their restroom clientele. So when you take stuff from them without giving up some green, you’re hitting them in their wallet. Bathroom attendants only ask that you give them $1 for the night and you’re covered no matter how many times you pee. If you take something from the basket, however, you should give extra. And don’t look down on bathroom attendants. In these recessionary times, I think a lot of people’s animus towards restroom workers is because they’re afraid they’ll end up doing the same job. Also, these toilet guardians are often horribly exploited by the concessions who run this service for nightclubs and restaurant, often not paying them minimum wage and stealing their tips. And these people provide a valuable service. They keep drugs and hanky panky in the stalls to a minimum and they clean up after you. And if you’ve ever seen a ladies room in a nightclub you know what I’m talking about. By the way, the attendants told me women were the worst tippers.
I was also surprised that casino dealers are just like waiters. They’re paid below minimum wage in the expectation that tips will make up the difference. Just like waiters, if they don’t work, they don’t get paid. All the tips dealers get are pooled and divided after the shift and paid to them via check. If the casino has a bad night with cheap tippers (called “fleas” in Vegas parlance) they suffer. But if some oil sheik drops $250K in tips — KAching! So a dealer never knows what he’s going to make — just like waiters. And I’ve also said that waiters were like gambling addicts — living for that ONE big tip to make their rent. That’s a tough life.
WORD: You got a chance to work at several of the jobs you profile, including as a dog groomer and barista. Was there something you wish you could have done during the research that you didn’t get to do? What was your favorite experience?
SD: I never got to be a male stripper. They make a bundle in tips but, alas, I don’t have the body for it and I’m too lazy to exercise.
Hands down my favorite experience was working in a wonderful coffee shop named Ristretto in Portland, Oregon. There’s just such a nice vibe to that town. Sure it’s full of hipster slackers — but they’re nice hipster slackers — unlike some of the poseurs I’ve seen in Brooklyn wearing $500 bucks worth of recycled Salvation Army castoffs with a cultivated air of affectatious indifference. But I digress.
When you watch a barista try and turn feeble low fat rice milk into a frothy cappacino for a some miltiant vegan, well, they deserve a tip! Good coffee is an art and, I’ll hand it to Brooklyn, they’ve got good coffee. Tip them well. A buck for a chemistry experiment. Just your change for a cup of simple Joe.
WORD: People (especially around the holidays) sometimes ask if they can tip our booksellers. It calls to mind the “tip creep” you identify in the book — the spill-over of tipping practices into professions that don’t traditionally have them. Is there a profession in which you’d like to see tipping become more commonplace?
SD: Tips have actually been a flashpoint of anger in bookstores. At Barnes and Noble, the booksellers on the floor griped that workers in the store’s cafe were getting tips while getting paid at the same rate as them. So B&N forbid tipping in their cafes. No tip jar. Those booksellers were killjoys. If you’ve ever had to clean up a restuarant at the end of the day you know those workers should get a little extra. So no, I don’t think booksellers should put out a tip jar. How about a jar for the poor or to support literacy programs? I could get behind that.
WORD: Like our basket for the Greenpoint Food Pantry!
SD: Where would I like to see tipping become more commonplace? Shoe shine guys. Yes, they get tipped, but often only a dollar. What people don’t know is that, let’s take a five dollar shine as an example, the shiner has to kick back most of the fee to the concession. So they only keep a buck or so. That means they live on tips. Three dollars on a five dollar shine is good. Hey, these people are dealing with your shoes. And in the NYC area your soles pick up a lot of nastiness. Five million people, give or take a few, make their living on tips. 2.5 million alone are waiters! So when you tip, you’re helping keep your brothers and sisters afloat. Besides, they have to get the money for hip clothes from somewhere!
P.S. I really do like Brooklyn. The beer they make there is fantastic.