A couple of restaurants in Burlington, Vermont are in hot water (“It’s not hot enough,” yelled an old lady who brought in her own tea bag.) after they were caught adding the gratuity to the check of a family they assumed to be French-Canadian. Two different restaurants added the tip to the bill for the family but it turns out that they are actually residents of Vermont who just spoke French. The family was none too pleased.
Burlington did some kind of big tourism push to the fine folks of Quebec (Québecois? Queebs? Queckers?) in an effort to win their tourism dollars. The Canadians saw the commercials and hopped, skipped and jumped over the border for a quick a getaway to The Green Mountain State, but it turns out that plenty of the restaurant servers are like, “No thanks, I’m good” when it comes to the tips they are leaving. The Vermont family complained and had the tip removed but what about the next French-speaking family who dines out in Vermont who really is from Canada? Are servers supposed to be alright with a shitty 5% tip? Are Canadians bad tippers?
The servers in Quebec are making $8.35 an hour while Vermont servers are making $4.10 an hour. Maybe the servers in Canada aren’t as dependent on tips as Vermont servers are so maybe the tipping isn’t as crucial up north. I find it hard to believe that so many Canadians who live that close to the U.S. border are completely unfamiliar with the tipping customs in our country. Is it possible that some foreigners are feigning ignorance just so they can skip out on the tip? I think it is not only possible, but very likely.
Working in New York City, I serve customers from all over the world. It’s hard to not cringe when I hear a foreign accent asking me what the specials are. No, I don’t want to generalize that every single customer from another country is a bad tipper, but very often it is the case. Don’t these tourists read guide books before coming to the United States? Whenever I go on vacation, I do. I will be going to France in two weeks (home to the world’s surliest servers and maybe a place I will end up staying forever just so I can feel “at home.”), and I have been studying guide books for a month now to make sure I understand how to act in their country. I do not want to come across as the Ugly American and I will do my best to fit in and tip correctly. According to guide books, the service charge in Paris restaurants is added to the bill, so you only leave a nominal tip in appreciation of good service. Tell me, Parisians, is this true? I can only assume that the guide book is correct. Could it be that the guide books that United States tourists are reading are misinforming them? I wonder what the books say in regards to tipping. I hope it says something like “Servers in the U.S. expect a tip for a job well done. 15-20% of the bill is standard, more if they did an outstanding job or less if the service was less than exemplary.” For all I know, it says. “Servers in the U.S. wait tables for the pure joy of it. Their hourly wage is more than adequate and they are pleased with a a dollar or even a verbal ‘good job.’ In some cases, feel free to leave Bible quotes or coupons. They love that.”
Generalizing how a group of people tip is great big Pandora’s Box that once opened can never be closed. It can easily go from a discussion about tipping to an argument about race and I do not want to go there. I have said it before and I will say it again: I try to treat every table the same so that if I get stiffed I know it was because of them and not me. You will hear plenty of servers complain about the crap tip they got from the four-top of black women but did that server automatically give them crap service because they assumed the tip would be bad? Possibly. But haven’t we all gotten great tips from someone who we didn’t expect to get one from? Conversely, we have all gotten horrible tips from someone that we thought was going to leave at least 20%. Waiting tables is like a slot machine. You never know what you’re going to get, but it all evens out in the end.
But back to Burlington, Vermont: should the restaurants be adding the gratuity to French-speaking tables? I say no. If you’re going to add the tip automatically to some tables, it has to be on all tables. Otherwise, it’s just racial profiling and who has time to racially profile when there is coffee to make and bread baskets to fill?
I have gotten bad tips from French people. I have also been stiffed by French people. It’s the way of the waiter world. When I am in France, I will do my best to tip accordingly but if I fuck it up, I feel like it’s okay. They probably hate me as soon as I sit down just like I would hate them if they sat in my station. I expect the only difference would be that I would pretend to like them while the French waiter will look down at me and openly mutter with disgust, “Stupid, Americain, pig.” Seriously, I might love it there and apply for a job at le Pain Quotidien in downtown Paris and serve French Toast and French Fries all the live long day.