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Story Time

Good employees hard to come by

Ate dinner at a local restaurant last week. First time ever (in my recollection) I never left a tip for the waitress who served me.

I wasn't being cheap, at least to my way of thinking. Most service industry employees who I've encountered at their places of business can attest that I'm not a tightwad when it comes to leaving a gratuity. Oh, I don't go overboard when it comes to leaving tips, but generally I fall into the category of tipping 15 to 20 percent of whatever the total bill is. Poor service usually results in a tip that hovers at about 10 percent of the bill.

Food was fine last week, that wasn't the problem. Service, to put it bluntly, was so far below standards that to have left a tip would have been akin to offering a $20 reward to anyone who could locate my missing cat, and then paying the money to some guy who showed up on my doorstep with my feline in hand, openly admitting he stole my pet.

I guess you know you're going to get poor service when, in your initial contact with the waitress, you tell her you're there for dinner, and she only brings a dinner menu for you, not for your wife. The second clue might have been when I attempted to order dinner for both myself and my wife, and she cut me off by directing all her questions to my better half. I know, I know...in some marriages the wife prefers ordering for herself, but, in our relationship, my wife actually likes for me, after she's made her dinner selection off the menu, to verbally place the order.

Up to this point I just chalked up the service as a bit on the shoddy side...from either an inexperienced food and beverage server or from a person who took no pride in her job. Still deserving, though, of a four or five dollar tip from a bill that would eventually fall just pennies short of $40.

The coup de grace arrived with our meal, however.

I can understand how our waitress might have forgotten to warn me that the small, metal dish containing the sauce for my fish was beyond touchable because it had been left on the kitchen grill for too long. What I couldn't understand is why-after I picked up the sauce bowl, dropped it on the table because of the searing heat and used napkins and any other towels I could get brought to the table to sop up the buttery mess-did the waitress not return to take away the mess that had been created. Obviously, it was too much to hope that she might have replaced the sauce that had been spilled. Better yet, it might have been nice if she had inquired if I needed ice for the blister that quickly formed on one of my fingers.

I guess the icing on the cake was when our waitress brought our bill and I paid her with a gift certificate that totaled more than the bill. We waited for 20 to 25 minutes for her to return with our change. Being a gift certificate I didn't expect cash back, but I fully expected a voucher for the unused credit. She never came back to our table.

I've since returned to that restaurant. I didn't lodge any complaints to any of the restaurant employees when I was there last week, nor on my return visit this week. But somehow the manager learned of the discrepancy before I reappeared there a couple of days ago. He was quick to refund the unused credit (with cash, mind you), although I quickly tipped all of it back to another (and quite professional) waitress after paying for an adult beverage.

The point of all this, I guess, isn't so much that lousy service doesn't warrant leaving a gratuity. I've worked in the food service business and I realize how important tips are to those people who have selected that line of work. As I mentioned earlier, this is the first time I can ever remember not leaving a gratuity, and there have been plenty of reasons over the years not to tip.

The point I'm trying to make is that this isn't an isolated case. I've had numerous employers tell me that, when it comes to hiring workers, we have A) a shortage of skilled labor, B) a pool of unemployed people seeking jobs but who carry with them personal baggage that makes them sub-par candidates and C) an even deeper pool of unemployed people who aren't seeking work because they've found ways to beat the system.

Don't know how to get around these problems. The only solution I know of is that when a business owner does land a good employee, he or she should be compensated accordingly. Too often I've seen two people doing the same job-one who doesn't have a clue what's going on and the other performing above all expectations-and getting paid the same wage.

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