When restaurant waitstaff answer my myriad questions and do everything in their power to ensure my food is allergy free and gluten safe, I always reward them with a handsome tip. The better the service, the higher the gratuity. So this morning’s Today Show’s discussion about whether restaurants should start paying waiters a living wage and stop the practice of tipping alarms me. Evidently, some high-end restaurants are already including service fees in menu prices and paying their staff higher wages.
My concern is this: Will waitstaff provide quality service to an allergic foodie like me if they aren’t relying on tips?
Based on my experience of dining in gratuity-free Italy, I don’t think they will. While I certainly had some superb meals in Italy and met some gregarious waiters, the service wasn’t all that great. In fact, more often than not, the service was bad.
Take my dinner in a small hotel in beautiful Positano for example.
Sitting down at the bistro table, I handed over my laminated translation card with highlighted food allergies (dairy, gluten, soy, corn, asparagus, capers, etc.). The gray-haired waiter with a pleasant smile barely glanced at it–yet he insisted he understood my special needs. Concerned, my husband reiterated my litany of allergies and went over every ingredient in the dish I ordered—a simple plate of vegetables and a plain piece of meat (at least that’s what I thought I was ordering).
Halfway through the meal, while the waiter filled our wine glasses, I gushed over the delicious food.
“It’s the cream that makes–” Stopping midsentence, the waiter turned as red as the tomato on my fork. He obviously knew cream was dairy and I couldn’t eat dairy–yet he served it to me!
We spent the next day walking up and down the steep cobblestone streets looking for the Italian version of Imodium. (By the way, anti-diarrhea medicine isn’t sold over-the-counter in Italy. You have to ask the pharmacist for it. How embarrassing.)
Of course, the system of tipping in America does not guarantee good service. We’ve all experienced difficult waitstaff. Still, I can’t help but think if I generously tip a waiter who took my allergies seriously, he or she will give me–and the next allergic foodie after me–good service again. Tipping is a reward system. Without a reward, there is little incentive for waitstaff to make sure my food won’t make me sick tomorrow.
A side note: My husband and I couldn’t get used to not tipping in Italy and we often added an extra 20 percent. We suspect that’s why waitstaff kept refilling our after-dinner Lemoncellos!