My server spilled coffee on me. Should I still tip?


waiter handing the customer a cup of coffee on a wooden board

Photo: Visoot Uthairam (Getty Images), Graphic: Nicole antonuccio (Getty Images)

I am a chef and have dozens of friends in the service industry. Here’s an interesting question I’d like to hear your take on: An otherwise good waiter accidentally spills coffee in your lap. Based on this information alone, would you give no tip, normal tip, or higher tip?

– Coffee on my knees, love in my heart

Dear Coffee Lap,

First, come on for a second. Come on, doll. Closer. A liiiiiipetit closer. There, let me affectionately pinch your cheek. You deserve a squeeze because as a person in the industry you are probably a great rocker. In fact, it seems you know this trade almost as well as I do — and, as you know, honey, anything can happen when you have a Blue Plate Special in one hand and one. Shingle with a Shimmy and a Shake in the other. Coffee spills are a reality, as are the corns on my barking dogs and the permanent grease stain of bacon on my left mermaid. When you’ve been in the industry for as long as I have, these things happen.

I’m going to give you an example. A few weeks ago, I was training a new server. Cute thing; looked like a young Goldie Hawn, bless her. We were jostling each other to work on brunch, doing our best to meet a group of girls wearing these trendy big brunch hats. You know them ; they have edges big enough to accommodate a fucking spaceship, and they make you look like a cross between an ostrich and my aunt Tat’s preacher husband. Either way, the poor new girl gets a little pissed off, accidentally hits the edge of one of those awful toppers, and splashes some coffee on this lady’s True Religion jeans.

Sweet thing, all hell broke loose. You would have thought the new waiter called a deranged PETA rep to spray that customer’s heirloom furs with red paint. The guest was not happy and she wanted to make sure we all knew that. Meanwhile, the waiter is fully aware that she has passed out. She has tears in her eyes; she apologizes profusely; she offers to compose the meal. In the end, the waiter did not receive any tips and the guest reported the manager in an attempt to get him into trouble for accidentally spilling some liquid. Talk about having your eggs longer hard.

My point is this: to err is human, but to tip generously is divine, especially when you can come home, change your pants, and get on with your day. Withholding a tip is your right, of course, but are you really teaching your waiter something valuable, or are you just an asshole?

Having said that, I don’t think a big tip (like 50-100%) is necessary in these situations, although it will definitely make someone’s day. If you can afford it and feel like reassuring your server, go ahead and make this mild cheddar. Otherwise, stick to a standard tip amount. Don’t act like a pancake, sweet pea jerk. Chances are, your server is bothered enough by snafu already. No need to add insult to injury still affectionate.

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