Traditionally, my column between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is about “The Best and Worst Tips of the Year.”
Over time, tidbits in each category reached new and surprising heights in everything from creativity, to shock, to faith-in-humanity-restored generosity. Case in point, no matter where I’ve worked over the past 15 years, a $100 bill turned origami crane has found its way into my tip jar at holiday time.
There was the family of six who left me Bible-thumping religious pamphlets and joined hands at the table to pray for my soul, and the souls of my daughters. The last time I saw them, they burst into song.
The mini-revival, while a bit uncomfortable, was touching because it came from a good place. They were honestly trying to give me something of meaning, and never once acted judgemental or assuming. And, as I’ve said in the past, I need all the help I can get.
Other tips of holiday seasons past have included a Portland Dine Around book, chock full of coupons all ready to expire within the week. Then, there was the well-used thesaurus, along with a five-dollar bill. Thinking the book was forgotten by a student of some sort, my co-workers laughed, saying no high school or college kid uses paper reference books anymore. Hoping it was a coincidence, and the diner wasn’t a reader of this column, I pocketed the fiver.
People have left me half-used gift certificates to competing restaurants, scratch tickets, an embossed dinner invitation to a financial planning session at DiMillo’s, and two tickets to a local dance studio’s presentation of “The Junior Nutcracker.” Those thoughtful items replaced cash.
On the other hand, one longtime regular who has migrated with me across Portland left a voucher for Red Sox opening day tickets. His buddy, a bar-dwelling Bud Light drinker, insisted on fixing the treacherous brakes on my 2002 CR-V (rotors and all) free of charge.
One year I received a bonsai tree, complete with the little trimming scissors and a box of homemade goodies, from an elderly couple who rarely left more than 15 percent in cash gratuity. That one brought me to tears.
The naughty and nice list of years gone by goes on, with some of the naughty stuff requiring an R rating.
That said, 2015 was a very different year in terms of holiday tips.
For the first time ever, my restaurant work is seasonal and only one shift a week, so I’m not a go-to favorite among a colorful crew of regulars. Everyone is friendly and nice enough, and I did receive a lovely pair of earrings from one generous couple, but there is really nothing earth-shattering to report this year in the good, bad or ugly tip department.
However, I am happy for my good friend in Boston who received a free timeshare week valid until June 2016. He’s full of guilt because the voucher came from customers he despises, and has vowed to be a less cynical server in 2016.
In keeping with the true spirit of holiday giving, he’s sharing the gift with someone less fortunate than himself in the end-of-year-tips department.
I’ve already started shopping for airfares.
Q — Why do waitresses ask if they can bring change when a bill is being paid with cash? It’s awkward. — Sharon W. , Scarborough.
A — Awkward? Sometimes. Out of line? Not always.
I once worked at a place where it was taboo to make any inquiry about the transaction. Servers were supposed to bring back exact change, broken down into ones and fives, unless instructed otherwise by the customer. More often than not, the phrase, “Oh, that was for you,” was the reply upon returning to the table.
To avoid any misunderstandings, and to save time for both yourself and your server, be clear in your intentions. If you want to leave a $10 tip and only have a twenty-dollar bill, just say, “Please bring me back a ten, then the rest is for you.” If you want to leave a lesser tip due to lesser service, or want to be discreet, say, “Please bring two fives and 10 ones.” Then, leave what you will.
Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.