Señorita Manners

John was furious when his steak arrived too rare. “Waiter,” he shouted, “Didn’t you hear me say ‘well done’?” “I can’t thank you enough, sir,” replied the waiter. “I hardly ever get a compliment.”

Most of us have worked at one time or another in the restaurant industry, maybe it was a lemonade stand in grade school or as a waitress in college. But when travelling no one wants to be the chump and many of us are wary and guarded for fear of being taken advantage of. Tipping is a subject of much discussion on travel message boards; when and how much is appropriate? Please do not confuse tipping with charity. It is as insulting to tip with used clothing or school supplies in Mexico as it would be at Denny’s. Tipping your server has been a long-standing North American tradition. While tipping 15% of the total bill has been the standard for a long time, that tip can vary depending on the service you receive. It is a system of payment, especially in job sectors where wages are low. In Australia for instance, the minimum wage for waiters is $15 Australian dollars/hour. As a result, eating out is a lot more costly in Melbourne than in Mexico.

The friendliness and attitude of the server has got to be a top priority in determining a tip. The food could be wrong because of a chef’s mistake, the room temperature could be cold because the manager set it that way…but a server’s attitude is nobody’s responsibility but the server’s. Most people that go into restaurants are happy and looking forward to eating a nice meal and not having to do the dishes afterwards. If you get a server with a poor attitude who seems “put out” by having to serve you, a small tip, would definitely send him or her a message. You should never have to put up with that. By the same token, a server who is happy, smiles a lot, and seems to thoroughly enjoy waiting on you, should definitely get 20% or 25% for making your evening even more pleasant.

A little quiz for those of you who have never waited tables:

  1. What is the average hourly wage of a server?
  2. How much should you tip your server?
  3. Is it OK to verbally abuse, throw your food, your drink, even your cigarettes, at your server?
  • If your answer to the first question was minimum wage, or more, you’re not even close.
  • If you said “as much as I think he deserves” for No. 2, again, not even close.
  • And if you laughed at the third question, fine, but don’t think it doesn’t happen.

Remember that your server is a person. More than likely he waits on you so he can pay the bills. In Oaxaca wages for servers can be as low as… nothing… yes nothing. This is especially true in high tourist traffic areas such as beaches or ruins. Servers are willing to work for nothing because they expect to make their wage in tips. In resorts or in town, servers may earn 600 pesos a week- still a small amount for a 48 hour week. They are also usually obligated to share 10% of their tips with kitchen staff whose wages can be as low as 1000 pesos a week. When staying at a resort I suggest a minimum of 40 pesos per person per meal- at the buffet and more in the higher end restaurants! Low wages are one of the reasons all inclusive resorts in Mexico are so much less expensive than in the US or Canada.

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