Well, I Try Not To Be
© 2010 Leighann Lord
It was a good gig: dinner and a show. For comedians this means getting a meal and money to perform. There are some gigs that feed you in lieu of compensation but this was the double header. What was really nice was not being relegated to the bar menu. That’s the menu where anything that might be remotely healthy for you is fried into submission. Zucchini sticks anybody? And while fine fare for a frat party, hot wings and nachos isn’t exactly the dinner of champions. So, it was a nice night, except for the surly service.
The waitress who took our order was brusque but efficient, so I didn’t think too much of it. The restaurant was crowded. All the servers where hustling to take orders, bringing drinks and meals to their tables. A small red flag went up when the waitress dashed away without asking if we wanted any appetizers, but I really didn’t need a plate of fried calamari did I?
The food came quickly – prime Rib for him, shrimp scampi for me – and it was delicious. We ate leisurely, show time still an hour away. When we were done, a bus boy came by and unobtrusively cleared the table. I hadn’t seen our waitress since placing our order, but that was okay. We weren’t in a rush. It was nice to sit and let our food digest.
Over the next 30 minutes the restaurant emptied out. Our waitress made the rounds to the remaining tables, laughing and smiling with the other customers. At the table next to us she told them what was for dessert – cheese cake, chocolate cake, peanut butter pie. Yum! When the Diners seemed unsure, the waitress smiled – the first time I’d seen her teeth all evening – and said she’d bring them coffee while they decided.
When she turned from their table, I was ready with my dessert choice (I wanted to try the pie) assuming she’d stop at our table next since it was on her way, but she didn’t. She walked on by like I was Dionne Warwick. What the frak? We didn’t even get the perfunctory, “You folks doing okay?” Or, “I’ll be right with you.” It occurred to me that we also hadn’t been treated to my all time favorite: a waiter waiting until your mouth is full of food before asking you how everything is.
I’ll be honest. My first thought was racism. But something about that assessment didn’t feel right. I turned to my Husband and said, “I’m not imagining this am I?”
“No,” he said, stifling a chuckle. My anger, when not directed at my Husband, makes him laugh. Nothing tickles him more than when I’m all aglow with righteous indignation. Apparently, I’m cute when I’m mad. When the waitress passed by our table again without acknowledgment, or dessert, I was done. I had The Face: lips pursed, jaw tight and my left eyebrow arched to infinity. In my Husband’s eyes I must have been absolutely gorgeous. Fearing an aneurism was eminent, he clued me in.
“It’s because we’re the comedians,” he said.“So! What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means comics are notoriously bad tippers.”
“We are?” I said.
“Well, I’m not and you’re not, but most are. That’s why nobody wants to wait on comics. She drew the short straw.”
As the waitress made another consciously oblivious pass by our table my Husband said, “Excuse me, can you bring us the check when you get a chance?”
“Y’all are the comics, right?” We nodded. “You don’t get a check.”
“Oh thanks,” my Husband said. “Can we please have some coffee?”
“Sure,” she said – sans smile – rolling her eyes as she walked away.
“See. I told you. She’s acting that way because we’re the comics.”
“That’s not an excuse for shabby service?” I said, my eyebrow still arched dangerously high as if to keep pace with my blood pressure.
“No, but it explains it. Waitresses work for tips and comics don’t tip.”
“Well, I wouldn’t either for this kind of treatment.”
“All it takes is one comic to mess it up,” he said, pleading her case like a defense attorney.
Part of me sympathized, but seeing her be so gracious with the table RIGHT NEXT TO OURS, and not to us really pissed me off. I didn’t know who I was madder with: the waitress or the comics who might have screwed it up for the rest of us.
And now I was in a quandary: to tip or not to tip? I didn’t want to reward bad service, which it certainly was, nor did I want to reinforce the stereotype that comedians are bad tippers by leaving something small or nothing at all, which is what I really wanted to do.
In the end I compromised by breaking the law. I put a $20 bill on the table and wrote on both sides in small block letters for the world to see: “Not all comics are shitty tippers.”
I over tipped to make a point. It reminds me of that episode of “A Different World” where Whitley Gilbert goes into an upscale store and the sales woman assumes she can’t afford to shop there because she’s Black. And Whitley — one of my all-time favorite Black American Princesses — buys out the store.
Yes, both Whit and I acted out of ego, but in my case it wasn’t just about the waitress. She may be the front line face of the restaurant, but the kitchen staff shares in the tips she earns too. Should the cooks and bus boys pay for her piss poor attitude? No more than I should have to pay for the bad tipping practices of previous comics.
And to my colleagues who may be guilty of terrible tipping I say, please knock it off and show some class. If someone is serving you, tip them, especially if the meal is free. I know, I know, you don’t have any money, right? And the person taking and serving your order does? Waiting tables is not the gateway to wealth. No one is playing the stock market on 15% of your chicken parmigiana. But if you can’t afford to tip, then you can’t afford to eat. Bring a sandwich, eat it outside, do the gig, and go home, cheap ass.
And remember the funny business is a funny business. You never know when the waitress you stiff today will be the booker who won’t take your calls tomorrow.
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