Vail Daily letter: Time for auto-gratuity? |

Vail Daily letter: Time for auto-gratuity?

Matt Lipovsky
Vail, CO, Colorado

The British are coming! Prepare to auto-grat!

I’ve been serving in fine-dining restaurants in Happy Valley for 15 years now, and the last four years, I’ve held the title of head waiter at a Beaver Creek dining establishment.

While this position as waiter lives and dies by the gratuity because our hourly is below the minimum wage, it’s apparent that when foreigners visit (some, not all) they take advantage of their own “ignorance” and conveniently leave what they deem appropriate.

Speaking collectively for all servers, we know that those who continually practice this “ignorance” really know what the tipping protocol is here in the states, and this was grossly displayed recently when I confronted an English couple (who insisted on paying) dining with three Americans on their way out the door.

The man thought it rude that I asked him how the service was, as he was trying to quickly escape the restaurant. While everyone replied the service was exceptional, he, knowing what I was getting at, interrupted their compliments with, “But I’m English!” repeatedly.

Why we continue to accept being burned continually by these people with their deliberate lack of respect is beyond me.

Auto-gratuity should become the norm no matter how many in the party when dealing with (some) foreigners, most notably those from England.

They finally proved what we all have suspected since they started stiffing us long ago – that they have no problem insulting us on our own land. When I explained the 7 percent tip they left reflected extremely poor service, the man continued, “But I’m English!”

Granted, there are restaurants that don’t hold up to the standard I am referring to; i.e., the chains. Not that these restaurants don’t deserve the same percentages, they do. However, the check averages are much lower.

With the high-caliber restaurants we have here, in Vail and Beaver Creek, come servers who have made this their profession because of their knowledge and equal love for food and wine – this isn’t just some college summertime job we took on to make a few extra bucks.

We treat these expert diners with respect and gratitude and expect the same courtesy when paying the bill.

This is how we make our living, for we, too, have families and mortgages, insurance payments and medical bills and are stricken with calamities like aggressive, life-threatening cancer. And all the while we are expected to smile and thank a customer for the proverbial slap in the face we receive when they’ve decided that what they gave us “was a reasonable addition to the service rendered.”

If you’re not prepared to abide by our customs and tip the standard 18 percent to 20 percent, then stick to drive-throughs.

In addition, this applies to all diners – if you decide to enjoy a night out with friends and family at a pricey restaurant, be prepared to tip on the whole bill. If you don’t tip on a pricey bottle of wine, then bring your own wine key, glasses and polishing rag. Be prepared to do your own wine presentation to your guests and pour for them the way etiquette calls for. Again, I’m speaking on all servers’ behalf because we’re all talking about it.

Profiling? Damn right. I also believe we should profile in airports. My 71-year-old mother and my wife with three kids should not be pulled into security check (they have been).

Rather, it should become a discretionary approach. If a server knows the service lacked the particular attention some tables (people) need because of a busy section, then they should let the table decide their tipping fate.

Nine times out of 10, you will still get a decent 18 percent to 20 percent tip because they’re enjoying their company, the food and wine, and understand that there are other tables that need attention. But when a four-top of British folks show up and give you all of their proper (pompous) knowledge of food and wine and shower you with “verbal” tips, you know damn well to whack ’em with the auto-grat.

I know that there are managers out there that have backbones and respect their employees who are consistent and professional and back their servers up when there is a tipping issue.

Let’s all now implement a auto-grat tipping protocol at our own discretion when it’s called for. There is nothing illegal about this.

The deliberate insults to our profession, with the unappreciative dictating our pay, who therefore directly effect our ability (or inability) to live here, have got to be recognized and finally countered with the auto-grat.

Have a manager-server meeting on this issue to agree on what’s appropriate and stop having the damning conversation about how we agreed to these unfortunate risks when we decided to take up this profession.

We didn’t agree, and we can do something about it.

Matt Lipovsky

Support Local Journalism