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March 9, 2019 5:18 pmComments are Disabled

A stark contrast I’ve noticed between customer service — most notably with wait staff — in the US vs Europe. In Europe, you have to do a lot of work to get a waiter’s attention. They don’t scan the tables looking for customers to help, and they tend to not even notice the ‘hand wave’ signal. They won’t bother the customers at the table asking if they need or want anything for what feels like an excruciatingly long time, if at all. Other than the initial order, anything extra you want–water, a side dish, the check–must be earned.

I never noticed it because in the US, it’s natural that waiters want to help you–or at least act like it. In even the worst-run restaurants, wait staff will go out of their way to ask if you need anything, scan their tables for customers looking for attention. Certainly I’ve never had a waiter forget to bring the bill when asked (it has happened multiple times in Europe). Restaurant economics depend almost entirely on two factors: occupancy and turnover. If a waiter isn’t turning over tables (and the fastest way to do that is ask ‘can I get you anything else’ when the customers appear to be at the end of a meal) then the restaurant is losing money.

I’ve been shocked to see even restaurant owners seemingly ignore customers’ request for the check, an extra drink, or anything else. Some may attribute this to the laissez-faire attitude Europeans tend to have about dining out. I’d be curious if it’s this, or there are some economics at play.

“Tipping” you might be thinking about now. And yes, it’s true, the US is almost unique in the developed world for its approach to tipping, though some are trying to change that. But it’s hard to make an argument for tipping changing staff behavior precisely because tipping is, in the US at least, effectively mandatory. Have you ever tried not leaving at least a 15% tip on a meal? You’ll be glared into oblivion, at best.

So, this is where I ask my waiter friends: do you believe that your behavior is different towards customers because of tipping policy? For those working in non-tip restaurants, is service worse because of it? (I would also turn this around on customers—have you observed if services is worse in non-tipping restaurants in the US?)

And if it doesn’t come down to tipping, what else could it be?

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