This past weekend I waited on a group of six men from Holland who were in town for a farming convention. They had absolutely NO clue about the gratuity system in the United States (as in, the company pays my taxes, about $2.20/hour) and everything else I earn comes from tips and tips alone. And they really weren't just playing dumb. Like, they barely spoke English, but we all knew enough German (a bit different from Dutch) to make it work. But still, I didn't want to offend anyone by throwing out the old, "Hey, just so ya know... you gotta tip me..." because I HAVE run into a similar situation and the people I was waiting on then just gave me that Duh kind of look and said, "Ja, Vee know."
Anyway, these gentlemen, left me nothing. Not a blank receipt, not even the change to round up to the next whole dollar. Nothing but a blank book.
Their tab was $235.00. I was a little upset.
Meanwhile, at the front of the restaurant, an old homeless woman huddled in the corner, hiding behind a sign hoping that we wouldn't kick her out into the cold (it was in the 20's that night -- yes, in Atlanta). She didn't have a bunch of crap with her and didn't bother anyway, so the staff toward the front of the restaurant just let her be. But as the hours passed and she just stood there, they decided to invite her to sit and gave her a bowl of chili.
She stayed until we had to lock the doors and company policy required that only staff be allowed in the building. Before we had to gently ask her to leave, she quietly wandered toward the back of the store, found a broom, and proceeded to sweep. She wanted to do something in return for the chili.
Unfortunately, at this point, we really needed her to leave so all we could do was thank her and hope that she wouldn't freeze that night. That maybe, she had enough wits about her to try to get somewhere warm. We weren't sure that she did.
When I learned of all this, the lost tip seemed insignificant. I cut my losses and handed her some cash as I left and pleaded, "Please try to get somewhere warm tonight!" She seemed confused by this request, and muttered something in her crackly old voice that I couldn't understand. I don't know if she ever did get on a bus or train and make it to a shelter or anything, but I can only hope she did.
The realist in me knows that I can't be responsible for everyone out there who doesn't have a job or a roof over his or her head. But I have to remember that even when we have to budget and keep track of our expenses, we at least have something to budget with. I'm not going to start giving away my earnings to every less fortunate person I see, I can't pretend to be that generous. But next time the numbers come up short when I'm cashing out at the end of the night because of an ignorant table or two, I'm going to work really hard at being less concerned.
When you have immediate gratification for your hard work with a paycheck every week or cash in your pocket at the end of each shift, it's hard to put yourself into the shoes of someone who doesn't have that, either because they have to do a shit job for shit pay, or no one will give them the chance to work to begin with. Every dollar you earn is a dollar you didn't have before. Every kind gesture you can show others is a highlight to their day that they may have otherwise gone without.