Monday, April 12, 2010

Detaching From the Result (Especially If the Result is 12%)

You must discipline yourself to let go of desire and attachment to outcome. What does this mean? It means that when we service a table we begin to develop expectations of what gratuity we will receive, based on such factors as the amount of the check, the amount of attention given to the table, the temperament of the guests, etc. And what usually happens? The gratuity does not match our expectation and we become frustrated and resentful. “Did they not appreciate all the attention I gave them? The extra sauces, the constant refills of water and coffee?” It matters not. There is little to no correlation between the work performed and the money received. The Ninth, and final, Rule of Service: The size of the tip is inversely proportional to the demands of the guest. If you judge your job on a check-by-check basis, you will never be at peace - it never balances out at a one-to-one ratio. Even if you judge on a night-by-night basis, you will not be at peace – every waiter has had both the experiences of a night where one worked exceedingly hard for poor tips and the night where very little was done and all guests were tipping with the generosity of the Buddha himself. Perhaps judging by a week-by-week basis, or month-by-month it will start to even out. But better still not to look for any correlation at all. Divest yourself of any personal stake in the table, discipline yourself to not even look at the tip. If you approach your job with the attitude that your duty is simply to try to get your guests what they want, and then you will walk away with some random amount of money that bears little correlation to what you actually did that night, you will have serenity in your work and in your life. To be at peace, one must relinquish what they feel they are “entitled” to. The question you must ask yourself: would you rather be right, or at peace? Because the two seldom go hand in hand.


Do not compare the tip to the total. Then, and only then, will you be free.

--His Holiness the Dali Lama


One of the hardest parts of waiting tables is letting go of the idea of “deserving.” In a perfect world, the table that had you walk them through every item on the menu, needed their diet cokes refilled a dozen times, had an immensely convoluted order that required a five-minute conversation with the kitchen manager, asked for a plate of bar fruit to snack on (and not be charged for it) and generally just ran you into the ground, would tip 25% at the absolute minimum. But that’s not how this job works (the best tippers, in fact, usually seem to be those who require the least attention).

It’s a job where the actual amount of work you do doesn’t really have much to do with the money you make (if it were, a cup of tea would cost $6.95). Sometimes that works in our favor: There’s nothing inherently more difficult about waiting on a table that had two filets and a bottle of wine vs. a table that had two salads and some iced tea, but for some reason I’ll make $20 more for the table with the filets. So I guess it doesn’t make much sense from the guest’s perspective either.

The truth is, I have little to no control over my tips. All I can do is give the best service I can give, time and time again, and hopefully the good tippers will tip even better, and the horrible tippers will at least leave a few dollars more than they usually do. Other than that, it’s out of my hands. Once you’ve said to yourself, “How could they only leave me (insert shitty tip here)?! After all that work!” so many times, at a certain point you have to ask yourself if it even makes sense to ask that question anymore.

A large component of Eastern philosophy is detaching from the results of your actions. In Christianity it would be taking the action and turning the results over to God. The point is the same: at the end of the day we really have little to no control over the specific outcomes of what we do, and that’s true with so much of life beyond just waiting tables. We have to let go of our ideas of what’s “fair.” All we can do is our best, and hope that if we do our best enough times eventually we’ll get better results than someone who only gave a half-hearted effort or didn’t try at all.


  1. why would a cup of tea cost $6.95?

  2. Ah, my non-waiter friend - it is because the actual amount of labor involved in prepping a tea - presenting the tea box, getting honey and/or lemon, milk (not cream) (which is kept completely separate from the hot water/coffee station) or sugar, setting the plate for the tea pot, doily, hot water, coffee cup (which better be sparkling, since there's nothing to mask the coffee stains) - is a lot for something that costs no more than a soda (which requires me to fill a glass somewhat with ice and press it against a lever). Again, this goes back to the idea that there is no real correlation between the work provided and the money received (a $13 martini, for instance, only requires that I walk to the bar, pick it up, and walk back).