Dear Etiquetteer: I completely am in favor of tipping for good service in a restaurant. My husband and I consider 20% of our check the standard; if we had good service we will tip above that. However, waiters/waitresses run back and forth filling water, fetching extra sauce, relaying specific instructions to the kitchen, etc. Tip jar personnel, on the other hand, walk two feet to fill my coffee that is worth 50 cents. I am then charged over three dollars for the coffee. What is the protocol here?
Dear Tipping Pointed:
Etiquetteer feels no obligation to contribute to a tip jar; it's put on the counter as an opportunity rather than a mandate. (Restaurant tipping, however, often feels mandated regardless of the quality of service received.)
But Etiquetteer would encourage you to think a little more broadly about a the duties of someone at the counter. One must not only serve the coffee, but make it in those gigantic coffeemakers (which might also involve grinding the beans), filling and refilling the multitude of dairy pitchers (because no coffee place can just offer cream any longer), washing and drying dishes (or monitoring inventory of paper goods), stocking the bakery cases, mopping and cleaning so the place doesn't violate a health inspection, and last but far from least, putting up with customers to can't make of their minds, ask silly questions, or (the worst) approach the counter talking on their cell phones or texting. In that light, a casual gratuity for pleasant and prompt service is not really so out of place.
Easter Sunday will be upon us soon, and of course Etiquetteer longs for the Easter parades of the last century. But rather than harken back to images of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire and Ann Miller and Peter Lawford, Etiquetteer considers the remarkable efforts of the late Julia O'Neil to present her ten daughters and two sons with Perfect Propriety each Easter. Mrs. O'Neil went to extraordinary lengths to dress her daughters in identical outfits she made herself, buying bolts of cloth and purchasing hats wholesale. And each of her daughters, and herself, too, looked as beautiful as an Easter nosegay. As Boston Globe columnist Jack Thomas wrote when Mrs. O'Neil died in 1978, "They were a photographer's delight, a charming, irresistible Easter Sunday sign of spring and a symbol of the best of Irish Catholic life in Boston."
Americans, as a rule, have not yet figured out how to reconcile their own personal comfort, which must of course come before all things*, with Perfect Propriety. They don't have to be mutually exclusive. The O'Neil family, like many middle class families of yore, understood that one's appearance indicated one's self-respect. Etiquetteer hopes to see yours in evidence, which would put Etiquetteer "all in clover when they look you over."
*You did hear the sarcasm dripping from Etiquetteer's pen, didn't you? Good.