Dear Salty: This past weekend I was out with friends at a new-ish Japanese restaurant in town. I hadn’t read anything about it hosting live music, but about 30 minutes after my friends and I sat down, a trio of musicians started performing. They were set up so close to our table that it made talking difficult, especially when one of them began singing.
We were already through our appetizers and waiting for the main course when the music started, and it really cut into our conversation. I asked our server if we could move tables, but the restaurant was full that night. It ended up being a really bad experience, because we couldn’t hear each other half the time and the music was cheesy.
Because it was such a bad experience, I tipped way less that I normally would. Bad experience = bad tip, right? My friends said I shouldn’t have done that, and now I want to know who’s right.
Peace And Quiet, Please
Dear Peace And Quiet,
Amateur move, toots.
Look, I understand that your dining experience is viewed as a whole. You come away either having had a good time, a bad time, or somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, when you stiff the server (and likely they’re paying out the busboys, too), you’re punishing the wrong party.
Restaurant managers who hire musicians to perform view it as a “value-added” proposition. They’re paying these musicians maybe $100 each because they believe the live music will enhance your experience, and that you’ll have a grand time eating rice noodles to a clarinet rendition of “Careless Whisper.” Managers believe the goodwill—in repeat business, in good reviews online, in word-of-mouth—will far exceed the $300 the restaurant spent. Until it’s not.
Rather than taking it out on the poor server, you should do what I always tell frustrated diners to do first: Tell the manager. The front-of-house manager has one job beyond all, and that is to make sure customers in the dining room have a smooth and pleasant experience. The keyboardist is going ham on Coldplay’s “Clocks” and it’s ruining your night out? That’s not smooth nor pleasant.
This is what probably would’ve happened if you expressed your frustrations to the manager instead of being a cheap-ass on the tip line: The manager would’ve apologized profusely (especially because you couldn’t change tables), and most likely, took half your bill off, or maybe even comped you outright.
In your decision to punish the server, all you did was seem whiny and pay full-price for your meal. Taking a deep breath and asking for the manager could’ve resulted in a more pleasant outcome for everyone—and maybe a free Volcano Roll for you.
Remember: Customers vote with their wallets. Enough people complain to the manager, and Poor Man’s Chris Martin and Co. will have to find some other trattoria to belch out “Yellow.”
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