Okay, I'm going to go completely out on a limb here, and being anonymous, I gonna really not hold back. What the heck, call me a coward, I'll get over it.
To give you an idea of how often I eat out, here are some facts. I have never gone out for dinner with my parents in my life. I have been married 17 years to my hubby, and having 4 kids has seriously affected our finances, in that we go out for fast food maybe once every couple of months, and for a 'nicer' meal, like Swiss Chalet, once or twice a year.
I have to tell you that my jaw is dropping when I read your and other blogs like this. I thought you all were paid minimum wage, which as far as I know here in Canada is getting close to a very respectable $10per hour. I know that the polite thing is to tip, and we do, generally not more than 15 %, but here's my point. I thought that getting a tip was exactly what the word sounds like, an extra little something something for a job well done. From what I read here, it is tantamount to giving your waitress the finger, if you don't tip at least that regardless of service or quality of food. We work hard for our money, AS DO YOU, but is it really the case that when you don't tip (enough) you are really the lowest scum out there?
I wanted to address this fully, hence the post. First, being anonymous doesn't make you a coward--that only applies to the asshat who likes to anonymously troll my blog every few weeks! Nothing wrong with it otherwise.
I did a quick search, and it seems that servers in Canada do get minimum wage. In that case, a tip is absolutely an extra. If I got minimum wage for my job, I wouldn't bitch nearly as much as I do! Of course, if I got minimum wage I'd find some other minimum wage job instead--serving is worth it because of the potential to make more, and also because you get the cash in hand, now, and taxes are taken out of the wage you do get.
In my state, that's $4 an hour. It used to be $2.13; it still is in most states. I went years without getting a physical paycheck that was for more than $2 total. I think California is the only state where servers receive a true minimum wage. Everywhere else, servers get the shaft, and tips really do make up the vast bulk of our income. It's a sort of social contract; customers get lower food costs in exchange for the inconvenience of tipping. If that were eliminated, the price of menu items would go up. I wrote a blog post about it last year, but it's pretty long so I'll just summarize it.
At my particular restaurant, increasing server wage to minimum would cost the restaurant an extra $300 per day, a 42% increase. There are two ways to compensate for that: cut portion sizes, or raise prices. Either way is less hard goods for your dollar amount, and most likely the cost would just be tacked on to menu prices (as it was when the increase to $4 happened). If server wage were increased to minimum wage, a four person tab of $77 now would become $109--whereas with a 15% tip it's only $88.50.
Essentially, with the current system in the U.S., customers are paying for the foodstuffs, the cook's labor, and the operating costs such as electricity. When they don't tip, they're getting service labor for free--it's not included in the base cost of their food, after all. Furthermore, servers get taxed on the imaginary percentage they "should" be getting. A lot of people think that servers either get a fuckton of tips they don't claim on a good day, or on a bad day that they'll just claim what they get and that's that.
(This is about to get long, but I'm trying to be thorough.)
While I'm sure there are a few places that still happens, they're very few. Owners and managers of private restaurants have to make certain that their staff is claiming a certain percentage of the restaurant's total sales (I think it's 8%?) or risk getting audited. That may not sound like much, but if you factor in a bar, to go service, the regular dining area, and at some places banquet halls where. Bartenders may or may not get tips depending on the situation; to-go servers may or may not; banquet halls may have a self-service line and not have to pay a gratuity. There are a lot of sales with often only the dining area workers getting tips they have to claim. So even if the restaurant doesn't have a computer system that regulates what servers claim, the people in charge will monitor it.
If they have a computer system, as corporate restaurants do, it's even worse. Say I have $500 in sales. If it was all in cash, the system is going to require me to claim at least $50 in tips. If I got less, I can have a manager approve it--but again, they have to watch the overall percentage. I couldn't get away with consistently claiming less as it would trigger alarms in the computer system and I'd be questioned. So sometimes, because of that, I have to claim more than I made.
If that $500 was all on credit cards, it's even worse. At the end of the night, I go through each credit slip and enter the tip into the computer before running my checkout. When I clock out, the computer again wants me to claim 10% of that $500 even if every sale was on a credit card and the system knows I only have $40. Again, I can get the manager swipe, and it's less of an audit danger there as there's documentation .... but for a lot of reasons, sometimes I won't get that manager approval. Maybe I'm in a hurry and the GM is on the phone with her sister and ignoring her job or Lapdog is pissed off and not answering when he's spoken to.
The worst case scenario, though, is when every last sale is a credit card, and every last tip is on a credit card. If I get all my tips on credit cards, and they add up to $86, there is no way to claim less--even if I had to tip out $20. Or maybe I got $80 in credit cards and $6 in cash, then had to tip out $20--I still have to claim at least the $80. And then whoever I give those tips to has to claim them, and so the goverment basically gets to tax that cash twice.
Imagine this situation. I have three or four tables or two, and maybe I make $20 off of them in credit card tips. Then a table of twenty comes in an takes up my entire section for the rest of the evening. Their bill comes to $250, and despite them having a great experience, the old granny who pays doesn't leave a tip--and our system doesn't even have auto-gratuity capability.
My checkout slip reads $350 in sales, and when I check out I have to claim the $20 in credit tips. The manager saw me throwing things and/or crying in the kitchen, so he knows I got stiffed by the big party and swipes his card so I don't have to claim the extra $25 (minimum) I should have gotten from them. However, I still have to tip the bartender who made me twenty drinks during the course of the evening, and sometimes I have to tip a bus kid or two, too. So I get taxed on $20, and I only take home maybe $14 for six hours of work, plus I'm pissed off, plus the bartender and bus kids are pissed too because they got shorted.
Yes, it's an extreme example, but this has happened to me. In that case, those twenty people got my time, effort, and service for free, and they cost me money. Because I have to pay taxes on that $6 I had to claim, but also had to tip out. The same thing applies if it's a table of two who don't leave me 10% of a $20 bill. Is it a lot of money? No, but it adds up, and I don't go to work to pay to serve people their goddamn fried chicken! And certainly there are days when I make well above the 10% the computer requires me to pay ... but if the extra is on credit cards, I'm still claiming it. And if I don't, it's really only compensating for times when I lost out because of situations like the above.
So are people who don't tip the lowest scum on the face of the earth? No. They rank about pedophiles, rapists, and murders. But they are low-grade thieves, I think. And if your server provides good service, and if you're in a place with the social contract regarding tipping and low food cost, then not tipping at all is a huge finger to your server.
As far as not tipping "enough" ... well, that's subjective. If I get 10% off a couple of people who were low maintenance and polite, then I'm not thrilled but I'm not pissed. If somebody runs me like I'm doing a goddamn Jane Fonda workout video and then leaves me ten percent or less? I start having thoughts of stabbing.
On the other hand, if I screw up majorly, like I did with the steak guys, I expect nothing. If I'm mediocre and I know it (clap your hands), I don't get cranky about a mediocre tip. But if you're nice to my face and telling me what a great job I did, and if everything was perfect with your meal, and you tip my 5%? I'm going to remember you, and not fondly.
Similarly, if something is wrong with your food that is completely out of my control--say, a steak with a large vein of gristle through the center--and I fix it promptly and with an apology, and then you stiff me or short me? You will be remembered. Especially if because of that "error" you got your food for free! Now you've cost the restaurant money, you've gotten free food and labor, and you've cost your server some money too. Unless the server caused the error or was a bitch about it, there is no earthly reason to punish them! Why should I pay taxes on money I didn't get because a cow in Wisconsin grew connective tissue in an inopportune place?
Also, please keep in mind that blogs like this naturally highlight the best and the worst--there's a hell of a lot of in-between. Probably 50% of my customers don't tip me "enough" since the economy went tits-up, but unless it's under 10% or they were jerks, I'm probably not going to mention it here other than as part of an overview.
This may be a lot more info than you were looking for, especially since you're in a place where servers do get that minimum wage; but I'm wordy.