In The Service Industry, New Year's Is Often About Just Getting By
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
It's New Year's Eve, and around the world, people who celebrate in bars and restaurants should spread good cheer and leave good tips. The people who work tonight to make your holiday bright would appreciate that. They might not appreciate what might seem to be innocent questions. Linda Tirado, author of "Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America," wrote about this for the Guardian, and she joins us now from her home in Ohio. Thanks so much for being with us.
LINDA TIRADO: Happy to be here.
SIMON: You worked a lot of New Year's Eves, I gather, right?
TIRADO: I did - about 15 years in a row worth.
SIMON: And what kind of question would get to you?
TIRADO: You know, actually, the thing is, what do you - what do you resolve to do? How are you going to better yourself this next year? And I'm looking at somebody who's half drunk and, you know, thinking of all the things they're going to do. And I'm thinking, well, mostly my goals this year are to make rent on time every month. And - and there's not a whole lot of room for self-improvement, but there's that constant awareness that you should be working harder and doing better. So the New Year's resolution thing always seemed particularly cruel to me because my resolution is always to improve constantly in everything because otherwise you don't survive. You know, an improvement to us - to me at the time would've looked like a 10-cent raise.
SIMON: Yeah. What would you say?
TIRADO: Oh, I always told them world peace and lose five pounds because when you're having a conversation with a service worker, very frequently we're very constrained by the fact that we are representing this company. But, you know, I think most - most anybody in the service industry has snappy comebacks to that one thing that every customer asks you. Like, somebody - on Thanksgiving, everybody will be like, man, don't you wish you were home with your family? And what you want to do is go, are you kidding me? Did you just ask me that really? Just here's your butter. Go. Enjoy. And what you say is, you know, oh, God, no, my uncle's terrible. I'm so glad to have an excuse not to be there right now. Thank you for coming to buy the butter, ma'am.
SIMON: You have to come up with an answer that will - I don't know - make them chuckle and maybe leave a better tip.
TIRADO: Yeah, because, particularly when you're talking about tipped industries, where if somebody has a bad experience and they leave you zero dollars, that's your rent money. You get paid $2.13 an hour. And particularly on alcohol-fueled public holiday, it gets even a little sketchier because you never know who's going to have, like, a fight with their friends, and nobody remembers the tip. And it's not that you did anything. It's just that drunk people are less frequently reliable as far as social norms.
SIMON: You wrote a very successful book a couple of years ago, and now you're a professional writer. What are the holidays like for you now?
TIRADO: Oh, man, I do nothing. It's fantastic. I don't think I'm ever going to have the inclination to do a lot of work around the holidays because, to me, luxury is not doing a whole lot of anything. And it's - it's good to see the kids. That's a huge difference. I never saw the kids near the holidays. My youngest is 3. You know, seeing a 3-year-old on Christmas is pretty amazing - and not having to stress about the bills. The holidays were often the worst times of the year because you have so much extra social expectation and spending that needs to be done. You can be cheery and merry if you're not calculating in the back of your head the nickels.
SIMON: So tonight, when - when people are out to have a good time, they should remember the servers that they deal with this. This is a living for them.
TIRADO: Yeah. And, hey, everybody - everybody wants to have a good time, servers included. You know, everybody likes when all of the customers are happy and there's that kind of good feeling of conviviality in the air. If you can work in that environment, then that is actually a really great thing to do for your servers beyond tipping, is create an atmosphere that makes their workplace into the party that they're missing.
SIMON: Linda Tirado is the author of "Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America." Happy New Year. Nice to talk to you.
TIRADO: Happy New Year to you, too.
SIMON: And tomorrow on Weekend Edition Sunday, you can hear how servers and customers feel about restaurants with no tipping policies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.