“Could we get some menus, thanks”, you ask.
“Sure, I’ll be right with you”, is the reply from the waiter.
They are the words you got anyway. But you also got a little something extra with that reply. You had to read between the lines. Maybe it was in the tone, maybe it was in the body language. But something about their reply also said, “Why the fuck couldn’t you eat somewhere else?”
It was subtle, but it was there.
You got your menus. (Eventually.)
You got to order meals. (When your waiter was in the mood.)
And you got your food (after a while).
Technically, you were given everything that could have been expected.
But you also got the impression that you were an imposition, causing the waiter to exert effort and taking up time that they could have been using for other things, such as reading the paper or chatting up the waitress. No need to pay for that feeling of guilt though. It was complimentary, like the bread.
I am certainly not suggesting this happens all the time. Also, I’d hate to try and put a percentage on how often it happens, because its just impossible to tell. But I am saying the percentage is higher than zero and I suspect most of us have experienced it at some point.
But from the waiter’s perspective, why would they try any harder?
Its not like they’re going to get paid any more for providing good service. Their wage is fixed (and for a lot of them its fixed at the minimum).
Its not like they even really want the job (because for most its just a casual job on the way to something better, such as a ‘real’ career). So, you not returning, due to bad service, doesn’t concern them.
And many people are not going to complain to the mananger, because its not as if the waiter has been openly hostile. Everything they have done to make you feel uncomfortable and hesitant to ask for anything from them has all occurred beneath the surface, out of the eyes of management and its even hard to pinpoint yourself. It would be hard for even the waiter to identify because its not deliberate on their part, but a result of just not being bothered. As such, its free from specific identification and criticism.
So there is no real reason for a service-employee to try and ensure any level of service beyond the barest of minimums. Given this incentive structure, we shouldn’t be annoyed when we get bad service. Really, we should be amazed if we receive any level of service, whenever we eat out.
(Of course, one could argue that, even without these lack of incentives, people will still do their job properly because that’s what they are “supposed” to do and they will also take pride in a job well done. But if human beings really operated like that, I suspect communist states would have had a better run and McDonalds wouldn’t have to give police officers discounted food, just so they would patrol the area.)
Some countries think they have this issue sorted, by lowering service-employee fixed wage rates and having the customer make up the wage via tips.
Read any public forum that discusses tipping in the USA and this will be the first thing anyone says. Tips ensure that the service-employees deliver high levels of service, because if they don’t they will not get paid. Further, the argument goes, it gives the service-employee the incentive to put forth really high levels of service with the hope of extra-ordinary tips as a motivator.
But, it seems, that under such conditions tips just become expected. (After all, tips, in such circumstances, are needed for the service-employee to live). In this situation, customers often tip regardless because they are so petrified of what would happen if they don’t. If a service-employee is going to get a tip anyway, then the situation becomes very much like the one I described in Australia. No incentive and a reasonable chance of the service-employee exhibiting no effort.
So in the end, I’m not sure that lowering Australian service-employees fixed wages and having customers tip on service-quality would have any positive effect on service levels, or if it would even encourage service-employees to pretend they don’t hate you, just because you chose to eat where they work.