Many waiters, especially in these tense economic times, need every tip they can get. Unfortunately, tourists from foreign countries, unaware of American tipping customs, frequently forget to leave their server a gratuity. Martin, a server from Raleigh, North Carolina, and was recently stiffed by a large group of what he described as “very pleasant Britons.” His outrage at their behavior inspired him to write a letter to Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I have decided to republish the letter on my blog. (Please note that Martin’s political sentiments do not necessarily reflect my own. If you wish to respond to Martin, he can be reached at milleronic[at]gmail.com.)
The Right Honourable Gordon Brown;
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland;
First Lord of the Treasury; Minister for the Civil Service
10 Downing Street
Westminster, London, England, United Kingdom SW1A 2AA
October 12, 2008
My Dear Sir:
While it may trouble you to receive this correspondence regarding the behaviour of your delightful citizens abroad, specifically in the former colonies; now commonly known as the United States of America, I feel compelled, as a citizen of afore stated former colonies, and thereby a cousin, if you will, of the otherwise pleasant British, to inform you of some rather disturbing actions which your people engage whilst visiting or travelling this side of the Pond.
Personally I find the British charming, polite, urbane, civilised, and otherwise of a generally agreeable lot. Not having had the pleasure of personally attending an Arsenal or Manchester United football match, I leave the reputed hooliganism and accompanying rows to cultural idiosyncrasy, one not evidenced in my experience. Nevertheless, the one behaviour of your citizenry here in America of which I find the most annoying, disturbing, and ultimately maddening is the ignorance of a peculiar American cultural artefact, which manifests itself most obviously in the act of the tip. As a waiter, and one who has served the Queen’s subjects (and your constituency) on more than several occasions, and because of the vagaries of the American economic system, professional waiters in America depend wholly upon the tip, which, as I understand in Great Britain and Europe, is meant to be an extra reward for good service, due to the fact that waiters there receive a salary of liveable degree. In America, waiters receive a pittance salary, usually of an hourly nature, and far below the minimum wage, which is more often than not applied to income tax; subsequently the majority of waiters in America owe taxes at the end of the year. To put it simply: American waiters depend upon tips for their livelihood.
Mr. Brown, I urge you, if only for decency’s sake, to inform your citizens, before travelling abroad to the United States, that while dining out in a restaurant where waiters take orders and serve food, that the tip is not compulsory, but mandatory, the amount of which is meant as a level of satisfaction of service provided. Excellent service is rewarded in excess of 20% of the total cheque amount, for example, a $100 meal with excellent service deserves a $20 (or greater) tip. Average service requires a 15% tip, and poor service can be indicated with a 10% tip. Under no circumstances is it acceptable to “stiff”, or simply not tip, a waiter in America, or leave a tip under 10% (with the exception of absolutely abysmal service).
As the global economy continues to deteriorate, I can understand a certain reticence in the spending of money; however, British people in America have been displaying this ignorance for far longer than the duration of the current fiscal crisis; therefore, I can only surmise the problem stems from a lack of education of the British People, and you Sir, are the political leader of Great Britain, so this grim task must remain your responsibility, nay, your duty, for the sake of the continuing good reputation of the British abroad.
I have prevailed upon the United States Department of Homeland Security to distribute proper American Etiquette Pamphlets, including proper tip technique, an e-z Tip calculator (sponsored by Applebee’s), and common American slang terminology to all foreigners arriving in America, in an effort to improve international waiter-guest relations. As of the date of this letter, I have not heard from the Department of Homeland Security’s Undersecretary to the Assistant Adjunct of Customs Enforcement and Cultural Assimilation’s Office’s Secretary’s Assistant, although the Border Patrol is very interested.
Please Sir, I beg you, do not let this simple lack of education evolve into a further international crisis. Yes, our military are busy at the moment, but after the elections next month, we may have some troops to spare. Do you want to be remembered as the PM who let Britain’s subjects starve while in America, or truly, has the sun set on the British Empire?
The Waiters of America
PS. Please forward this letter your your pals, the Prime Ministers of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, as we have similar problems with them, and post this letter in a good location in the Hague’s Bulletin Board of International Notices next time you’re there – the European Union has been slow to adopt our policies as well, and is in need of a gentle reminder. Actually, we’ll deal with the Canadians as we see fit.
(Waiter’s note: Actually Martin, the last time the U.S. invaded Canada, it didn’t work out so well for us.)