“I’m gonna take care of you tonight.”
An innocuous statement, though the meaning changes depending on the person or the locale. It means one thing coming from a hustler in an alleyway, and quite another coming from your lap dancer.
In the context of the service industry, servers of every stripe despise that phrase because we know what that statement really means: It means you’re not.
This is not a treatise on what could be different within the service industry. We all know that things could be different. Most servers make $2.13 an hour. Add in tips, and a livable wage emerges, a few dollars at a time. The pay is neither as extravagant as some think, nor as destitute as others imagine. But depending on the place, most people can make above the minimum wage, with flexible hours. Many can and do support themselves through this trade specifically through our tipping system. So let’s talk about that first.
Shortly after I turned 21, I was loudly scolded by a bartender because of my ignorance concerning tip etiquette. I learned quickly. The going rate is about 15-20 percent . People who buy drinks by the round tend to tip about a dollar per drink, sometimes more if it’s at the end of the night and they’re trashed. Depends on the customer.
Tipping is the main reason we can support ourselves in this industry. I can quote the opening to Reservoir Dogs with the best of you, and despite Buscemi’s logic, tipping is the way of things in our culture.
And some customers have weaponized it.
The patron I want to discuss today is the Boaster. The Boaster appears at any time, usually someone you’ve never laid eyes on before but who wants all of a regular’s perks. The Boaster could be any race, gender, or age. But all tend to be loud, flashy, arrogant and with a look that suggests they live beyond their means. They sometimes order a top shelf liquor and mix it with red bull or sour mix. Or both. Cranberry juice is an indicator, as is the presence of a leather garment. Sometimes they travel in packs, like a bachelor party. Sometimes they take the lead in a group of aimless drinkers. Sometimes they’re alone.
Every Boaster wants to be noticed. And to them you’re just another set of eyeballs to capture and then leverage.
They like to use the person serving them as a way of seeming generous to the others in their company. Often, the Boaster is looking for a puppy dog — someone who will pay attention to every drunken whim, be it shots all around or another Long Island Iced Tea. They sometimes need a faux confidant to hold the evening’s secrets, or an agent in helping them out with their plans.
They always say the same thing: “I’m gonna take care of you tonight.”
And they never do.
We have all fallen for it before. The flashy newcomer. The insider’s voice. And then when it comes time to settle up, a wave of server’s remorse.
For seasoned restaurant and bar vets, it becomes a game of chicken. The bigger the Boaster, the higher the tab, the greater the stakes become for anyone saddled with a customer like this. With every round of Jagerbombs, we want to believe.
It’s one (of many) reasons bartenders and servers are the most cynical people you know.
At some establishments the Boaster can get away with this behavior because of that wrongheaded business trope “The Customer Is Always Right.” Whoever believes that the customer is always right hasn’t caught one in a compromising situation in the bathroom at 2 a.m. Sometimes, the customer is just an asshole.
Here is the part where the ordinary citizen, who does not work in the industry, asks: “So, what do we do, Douglas? How do we come across as the magnanimous customer everyone loves to see without activating anyone’s D-bag alarms?”
It’s easy: Be nice. Come in and order a drink. Start a tab or pay for each one — we don’t give a shit. Be a decent person and spare us the Daddy Warbucks act. You wouldn’t even be here if you were.
Don’t treat us like the help (even though we are). And don’t dangle a biscuit with the expectation of better service because you’ve done so.
And tip accordingly. Twenty percent or a dollar per drink is perfectly fine.
The denizens of the service industry are reliant on the generosity of the customer. Always. We don’t expect much and a server or bartender with any worth just wants to make sure you’re happy. A promise doesn’t make us work any harder and flashing cash isn’t an excuse to be patronizing or rude. This isn’t Vegas. We’re not savages.