You couldn't pay me to be in a restaurant on Valentine's Day. Or Mother's Day, to be honest. I dislike crowds in restaurants so much that when the Spouse Thingy and I go out, we're most likely to go early, when the old folks (shuddup...older than us) typically dine. Tonight everywhere is going to be packed, every table in use, and that would drive me a little bit nuts.
You'd think tonight would be an awesome night to be a server. And it might be, if it wasn't Saturday. Saturday's usually a decent night to be part of the waitstaff; more people are dining out on Friday and Saturday, and it's a reasonable tip night (note I said reasonable, not good; there's a difference there and we can thank the economy for that) But combine Valentine's Day and Saturday, and it's just a really busy night when a whole lot of poor tippers are out, buying the least expensive things on the menu they can, and tipping 10%.
That's not their fault; you get what you can afford and tip what you can. Tonight people who normally don't eat out because of cash flow will...on a Saturday when the customer base is usually made up of people who can tip in the 15-20% range.
Like it or not, the guy that brings you your food in Applebee's or Chili's relies on those tips, and Uncle Sam makes presumptions about how much you're going to tip, and taxes him on the total of your tab. Because of the economy, business in restaurants is down (as much as 50%, depending on who you talk to.) Some of the chain restaurants are closing some of their stores, because business has dropped off so much. Fewer customers = fewer tips = cash strapped servers.
Why does it matter to me? Probably because the Boy works as a server. It's not an easy job; you get to deal with a lot of nice people, but you also get a huge share of society's assholes, the egomaniacs who seem to think they're so much better than the person taking their order and bringing them their food. You get screaming kids, you get jerks who send food back because OHMYGOD the parsley is touching the corn, you get confused customers who insist they ordered the enchilada supreme the last time they were there,m even though it's an Italian restaurant. You get the worst of what the population has to offer, but you have to be nice to them because hey, forget the tip, they have stabby things like forks and knives on their tables.
Servers get screwed by the types of people they have to serve, and then by the insulting tips those people leave.
But you're not one of those jerks...right?
If you go out tonight, think of the person who's working hard to make sure your Valentine's dinner is a decent one. The person is liable to have been on his or her feet all day long, working a double shift because times are tight, the staff is short, and frankly, they need the money. They're not out celebrating, because someone needs to be there to make sure YOUR V-Day happens.
Chances are your server is going to be way overworked today and is going to be gritting through his or her teeth because of sore feet, aching back, pounding head...yet they will make every effort to be pleasant and helpful. Be patient and return the favor. Please.
Tip heavy if you can. Make your baseline 20%. If you have a coupon, great, use it, but tip on what the total would have been before factoring that in. If your server goes above what you expect, throw an extra buck or two in there. Just for tonight. If your service was horrible and it's not because of the crowds and confusion, tip lower, but still tip.
Tip in cash. Yes, it's easier to add it to a credit card or debit card charge, but trust me...cash tips work best for your server (anytime, not just tonight.) That way they don't have to wait to be paid; they have the cash in hand at the end of the night, and tonight they just may want to end their very long workday with a drink. And they have to tip on that, too.
If your meal was spectacular, send a tip back to the cook, too. Trust me, cooks remember this.
Sounds expensive, but come on...this is a big night, right? It might be my kid smiling at you even though his feet are on fire and his back is =this close= to giving out. He's working his ass off, he knows what this night means, and he's giving it his all. Don't stiff him on the tip. He earned it, and he has to pay rent, too.
(And for the record, I rarely tip less than 20%. I know way too much now about what servers and cooks go through to ever think that 10-12% is "enough." That low is a punishment tip...and oh yeah, they get the message.)
Happy Valentine's Day