Ginger Tippers Unite!

March 4, 2012

Last night, I took a friend out for her 40th birthday to a Cuban restaurant/nightclub and when the bill came I discovered that they had already added a 15% tip. Or, to be more precise, the bill listed the food and drinks we consumed, noted what a 15% gratuity would be, then in the final tabulation added a “Service Fee” of that precise amount. Then, to top it off, they added a blank labelled “Tip.” Apparently for me to add additional money on top of the tip they had already included.

Now perhaps this is common, or becoming common, but it was the first time it happened to me — I’ve only seen “gratuity included” with larger groups and last night it was just the two of us. So I wrote “already included” in the tip blank, so our server Javier knew I wasn’t deliberately stiffing him, and signed the check. But what’s interesting (to me) is that I ordinarily tip 20%, so Javier, or more likely Javier’s bosses, were keeping from tipping more generously.

And realizing that, it occurred to me, after I had already finalized the bill, that maybe I should have added that additional 5%. Not because Javier was especially good at delivering our meals, but because I need to be a good tipper.

You see, I have red hair. And I’ve spent the last 9 or so years living in ethnic communities dominated by black or brown hair. I’m not being overly self-conscious when I say that people notice me. I know this primarily because, on more than one occasion, servers at restaurants and bars have remembered me when they had no reason to do so.

One time, about 12 or 13 years ago, I went to a Mexican franchise restaurant with a couple of co-workers. We sat at the bar and the Latino bartender carded my two similarly-aged co-workers. When they lightheartedly asked the bartender why he didn’t card me, the bartender said that I “was a regular”. But I had only been there once before. Six months earlier. The bartender had probably served thousands of other customers in the interim.

From that day on, I realized that I needed to be a good tipper to assure that, if I ever wanted to return to a particular bar or restaurant in the future, my food would not be spit upon. If I ever short a server, they will likely remember it was the guy with red hair and make sure I get the Tyler Durden treatment the next time around.

But here’s a twist that only occurred to me recently: people that I meet only once, are not likely to remember anything about me other than my red hair. Which means, if there happens to be another red-headed guy who stops for a meal in my neighborhood, servers are likely to believe that he and I are the same person. Which means he and I will share a collective tipping karma: he’ll get credit for my good tipping habits and I’ll get blamed for his bad tipping habits.

Thus, I feel obligated to put call out to all red-headed guys in their 30’s and 40’s, living in- or visiting the Southern California area: in the interest of our respective dining experiences, please tip your servers well. Fifteen percent may be customary, but it won’t be remarkable. People remember the extra good and extra bad experiences in their day-to-day life. So go ahead and make it 20%, so we can all benefit from the good will of our servers with good memories.