Friday, 20 July 2007

Service Not Included

'The homeless guy on Hungerford Bridge makes a fortune by holding a piece of card with ‘Thank You’ written on it.'Tipping a waiter or waitress is one of those issues which seems to somehow divide entire nations through difference of opinion. Many people seem compelled to give a waiter extra money for doing his job of waiting on tables, yet no-one seems compelled to give a bus driver extra money for doing his job of driving the bus.

Similarly, no-one ever seems that keen to give struggling writers like myself extra money for struggling with their scripts, let alone putting up with the struggle of everyday life. Yet the homeless guy who sits on the steps of Hungerford Bridge seems to make an absolute fortune by simply holding a piece of card with Thank You written on it. Somewhere, somehow, I clearly took a wrong turn.

Tipping and tipping methods seem to go by a variety of curious names. The most common of these are:

1. Optional Service Charge: ‘We’re asking you to leave a tip by adding it to your bill’
2. Compulsory Service Charge: ‘We’re forcing you to leave a tip and have added it to your bill’
3. Service Not Included: ‘We’re neither asking nor forcing you to leave a tip, but could you really live with yourself if you didn’t add one to your bill?’

Pink and I have endless arguments about the morality of tipping. She will tip everyone from the bus driver to the homeless guy on Hungerford Bridge. I tip no-one, usually because I have no money left to tip with after paying the extortionate food and drinks bill which London establishments are so good at handing out. Pink has some kind of ‘special’ savings account which does not allow her to access her money for five years, so I usually end up paying for both of us.

The Slug and Lettuce in Canary Wharf’s Nash Court appears to have developed a new ‘stealth’ form of tipping by forcing its customers to use waitress service whether they like it or not. This naturally exploits the more weak-willed group of patrons who find it a nearly impossible task to refuse money to anyone who has brought a plate of chips to their table.

I went there with Pink last weekend where we decided to order a bottle of wine and, feeling a bit peckish, something from the food menu. I noticed that there were five waitresses milling around, but none of them seemed particularly interested in serving us, even though I was casually waving the menu at arms length and trying to make eye contact. However, they seemed to be having a jolly time discussing boys and clothes at the waitress station near the door.

Pink can be irritable at the best of times, even more so when she is on an empty stomach, so I decided to go to the bar and order our wine and food. However, the young chap behind the bar, after opening our wine, told me that food ordering was waitress-service only and I could not do so at the bar. I did not really understand the logic of this and relayed this too him, but he politely said he would send over a waitress.

On returning to our table, I kept an eye on the barman and noticed that, after ten minutes, he still had not spoken to a waitress, let alone sent one over. I began waving my menu again, as one waitress veered dangerously into the outskirts of customer territory, holding a cloth which she dragged limply over the corner of a table to try to look busy. But no sooner than she appeared, she was gone, and I was left waving my menu at nothing but oblivion.

Pink said that I should go back to the bar to try ordering again, and where was that ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy I’d been bragging about all this time. Feeling rather manly, I went back to the bar and tried ordering again, only to be told that I should speak to a waitress and that one would be sent over. I sat back down next to Pink and began the menu-waving routine again, but to no avail. By now, Pink was becoming borderline hysterical – it was the formula of alcohol without food which was causing it – and so I decided that enough was enough and I would confront the waitresses at their station.

Confronting five young waitresses talking about boys and clothes can be quite an intimidating experience, especially when you have interrupted their conversation at a critical moment causing them to glare at you with positively hostile tendencies. I asked if I could order some food, but one of them just said that she would ‘send someone over’. Not standing for this, I insisted that they take my order immediately and one young confused-looking waitress pulled out her notebook whilst the other four walked off to continue their conversation elsewhere.

I began relaying the order to the confused-looking waitress – a relatively simple affair, as there were only two menu items for her to remember – but she just looked at me blankly, poised with her pen and notebook, and kept nodding. I pointed to the menu and queried the actual size of a ‘baby’ Chicken Caesar Salad, but she just nodded again. Eventually, I realised that the confused-looking waitress looked confused because she seemingly did not speak a word of English and my ordering had been a complete waste of time. So I gave up, went back to the barman, and asked him to ‘send someone over’.

Myself and Pink finally got our meals. When we had finished, it took just as long – with much menu-waving – to get our bill. But when it finally did arrive, I noticed that it had Service Not Included printed at the bottom. So I just scribbled I Know under it, before not leaving a tip.


Two Write Hands said...

They're darn lucky they made any money at all from you at that establishment! I would have paid for my drinks and walked to the next place serving anything edible.

You were right not to tip. The comment was a nice touch. :)

insanity-suits-me (Dawn) said...

Your post reminded me of my sister's post on shoplifters...she had to deal with two teenage store clerks who weren't very professional...
You would think they would be better trained to deal with the public.
I loved your comment and not leaving a tip!!!

My apologies for the schmooze award...I think my sister and I got our wires crossed when we informed the nominee's. (she thought I did and I thought she did) oops :(

Diesel said...

I've definitely been to a few places where service was not included.

Forest Parks said...

Ha Ha Ha,

I'm visiting the good ol' USA right now and am going to live in Montreal for a while in sept so I am now surrounded by a situation where if I don't tip I am obviously somehow in league with the devil and must be burned in a public park.

I'm having real trouble dealing with the fact that I have to leave a tip even under similar circumstances to yours and when I visit the UK again I know i'll accidentally keep tipping bad service out of habit!

PS: I'm enjoying the writing on your blog. I will make sure I keep coming back.