The Tipping Point

New Yorkers are great at leaving something extra. Tourists suck. A cocktail waitress spills the beans.

There are ways to get around this problem. Without the option of auto-gratuity they'd have in tonier restaurants, some servers resort to drastic measures. On one of my first days working at a little tourist hot spot of a jazz club, a bartender I used to work with let me in on a little secret. "Overcharge whenever possible," she cautioned. "If you hear a weird accent, if you can just tell by the look in their eye, the beer is eight bucks rather than six. You keep the extra two—they'll never know."

She's right. Fumbling drunk people in a strange, crowded setting will almost always fork over whatever money you ask for. "Aida," one of my former co-workers, overcharged all the time. "That's $118," she announced one Friday night, without so much as a stutter, to three toasted, cavorting Floridian lushes she "had a bad feeling about." The real amount was $98. A silicone-breasted blonde handed over her card, not even asking for a printout. Sure enough, the gratuity line on the charge slip later read $5, but Aida just shrugged. "I took care of the tip," she said. "Works every time."

One must be careful when attempting these antics. Nobody wants to face the wrath of New Yorkers who think they've been cheated (although waitstaff has been known to dupe natives mistaken for out of towners). When the summer heat—and the tourist invasion—come around, the most seasoned New York bar workers leave their old tricks behind and come up with new ones. In a world where we don't even depend on the boss for our salaries, the American value of rampant individualism is more annoyingly resonant than ever. We're used to feeling alternately validated and powerless. Maybe someday we'll be able to run around being rude all night.

There is something the matter with Kansas!
photo: Kate Englund
There is something the matter with Kansas!

Nona Willis-Aronowitz has written forThe Brooklyn Rail.

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