Recently we were out for breakfast at one of those diner-type places with an extensive, descriptive menu and lots of choices. We’d been there before, scrutinized the menu, consumed the food, and enjoyed the experience.
This time, though, we had a waitress whom I’ll call Madge — because she looked like a Madge. You know the type: probably in her 50s, raspy cigarette voice, dyed hair, has worked at the place for years, hates her job but can’t change her life, will do what is necessary to keep that paycheck but radiates a surly, “don’t cross me” attitude. No friendly banter. Just place your order promptly and let me serve the food and move on.
Normally this kind of server wouldn’t bother me. I much prefer the brisk, no-nonsense old pro, for example, to the fake-friendly chatterbox who won’t shut up, the incompetent who botches your order, or the lurker who repeatedly intrudes on your conversation.
In this case, though, one member of our party wasn’t brought an English muffin on the side, and when we asked about it the waitress reacted with barely controlled hostility. She curtly responded that it wasn’t part of the order, because the egg dish already was served on an English muffin. We knew that wasn’t true because we’d been there before, ordered the same kind of dish, and gotten an English muffin on the side. “Are you sure?” “Could you bring one now?” we asked. “I think I know the menu, honey,” she replied dismissively. “It’s not part of the order.” You’d think she would simply bring an English muffin as part of good customer relations, but that simply wasn’t part of Madge’s worldview.
Who wants to have a semi-angry encounter with a waitress over breakfast? The incident was off-putting — but then Madge unforgivably compounded things. During a stop to fill up our coffee cups, she made some brusque remark about knowing the orders after working there for years and then barked out a laugh. Why bring up the unpleasant incident again? Her asinine comment just made us stew about it even more.
Finally the meal ended, and we had to make the tip decision. Normally I’m a generous tipper; I remember being a waiter and how tough the job is. Sure, Madge was an unhappy jerk, but I don’t think I would completely stiff a server unless they served me food with glass in it. I rationalized that Madge wasn’t going to change, and leaving her no tip, or only a penny, was just going to make her treat the next group of customers even worse. Madge had brought our food and kept our coffee and water glasses filled, even if she was an ass with a vulcanized soul. So, I left her a tip, but one that was below normal.
As we walked out, one member of our party scanned the menu again, confirmed that an English muffin was part of the order, and went back in to confront Madge. That probably had more of an impact on her day than leaving no tip, but the whole incident still bothers me, and I wonder: for the good of humanity, should I have left no tip?