Tipping Point

Bad service? Whatever your peeve, don't get mad, get management.

Dear Dara,

In the past, you have run letters from diners frustrated at the poor quality of service at local restaurants. I am writing from a different point of view: that of the server. I work at a very busy local restaurant that has been characterized by some as an institution. I recently calculated that in the past few years, I have waited on as many as 10,000 people.

Naturally, it's expected that I take care of the guest. But it seems a great many of the dining public don't understand that monetary compensation is expected in return for quality service. I have worked long enough in this industry to be able to safely conclude that there is absolutely no relationship between the level of service I provide and the tip I receive, and I have accepted this. Nonetheless, I always do my best to deliver the highest quality service.

Zelo manager Jason Gillquist gets tip-top service from Erin McFarland (left), and Jake Malmberg
Kathy Easthagen
Zelo manager Jason Gillquist gets tip-top service from Erin McFarland (left), and Jake Malmberg

Location Info



831 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55402

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

I hope you would be willing to enlighten the local dining public on a few points:

1. Some people feel entitled to treat their servers with as little respect as they like, but these same individuals want us to treat them kindly and respectfully. Servers are not slaves, nor are they punching bags.

2. The standard tip is 20 percent. If you cannot afford to tip your server, you cannot afford to eat in a restaurant that offers table service. The reasons servers deserve 20 percent are the very demanding physical nature of the job and the constant disrespect and degradation we endure with a smile on a daily basis, as well as the knowledge of food and drink that we provide.

3. I, like most servers, am required to tip the bar staff and my assistant, which totals 30 percent of my tips at the end of the night, another thing most customers don't seem to appreciate or have any awareness of at all.

4. There is a reason why your mother always said to keep your elbows off the table. It is difficult to set a table with flatware, and to serve drinks and food when your elbows are occupying the surface in front of you.

5. The bar is for drinks and tables are for food. If you are only getting drinks during dinner hours, it is recommended that you do so at the bar instead of taking up valuable table space.

6. Please and thank you: use them.

It might seem like I am simply venting, but I guess I'm actually searching for a reason why some people find 10 and 15 percent tips acceptable when I have done everything I can to offer them good service. Last night, for example, a couple left me $10 on a $150 tab. I couldn't think of a reason in the world why people who can afford a $75 bottle of wine cannot afford to leave a decent tip—especially when I assisted them with selecting the bottle. Clearly, they're the kind of people who don't feel obligated to tip on wine. But they didn't even leave me a decent tip on the meal that I served them to the best of my ability on a busy Saturday night. I can't quite figure out what these sort of people expect from me. A lap dance?

In the end, I would like all of them (bad tippers and rude customers) to know that the one thing I've concluded in my years of service is that the tip reflects more on the guest than it does on me.

—Andrea, Sick of Crappy Treatment


Are people really not tipping out there? I almost can't believe it. Let me tell you about the worst service I ever had. It was in a small Italian restaurant in south Minneapolis, and Dude was coked out of his gourd. After describing dishes so quickly I couldn't keep up, and after working a glorious up-sell of a wine that the restaurant ultimately didn't even have, Dude proceeded to hallucinate imaginary objects beneath my table, dove down after them, and passed out. Acting as if this happened every day, which it well might have, the rest of the staff gathered round and carried Dude off, one server at each shoulder, and the server's assistant, who might better have been called the server's enabler, carrying his feet. The server's enabler then brought the dessert tray, and, soon enough, the check. I tipped, in a flummoxed, giggly sort of way, 20 percent—though why was not entirely clear. For the widows and Hazelden, I suppose. I just kind of assumed everyone was as goofy as I. No?

To find out, I called up managers at one of the Minneapolis restaurants regarded as having some of the most flawless service in town—Zelo, the downtown Rick Webb-owned restaurant that is sister to suburban Bacio and Ciao Bella (Zelo; 831 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; 612.333.7000). What exactly is it that they do at Zelo that they don't do at other restaurants? I spoke to both the general manager Jason Gillquist and manager Scott Schoenig, and they both emphasized that what sets Zelo apart is not the training and the excellent staff, though they do have lots of training and an excellent staff, it's the management support for both server and guest.

Next Page »