January 20, 2015

The Tipping Point: Viral Video Raises Both Money and Questions Regarding Gratuities

(Photo: "restaurant,” by Flickr user Lea Latumahina, via Attribution 2.0 license)

(Photo: “restaurant,” by Flickr user Lea Latumahina, via Attribution 2.0 license)

A lot of people who have worked in customer service know the pain of the phrase “the customer is always right.” The struggle is probably most applicable to people in the food service industry, either a waiter at a restaurant or a delivery driver for a pizza place. Well, for all those who have been wronged by rude clientele, the response to a viral YouTube video (with nearly 700,000 views in roughly 5 days), receiving coverage by major news networks like Fox and CNN, is fair and just comeuppance.

Backstory: employees of a car dealership (unnamed here, but with enough digging you’ll find it) ordered pizza totaling something like $43 and gave the delivery driver two 20s and two 5s. The driver, thinking the extra $7 was a tip, left, and was called back to return the $7 as change. The video is of the exchange between the driver, who seemed polite for the most part, and the rude employees of the car dealership showing the ridicule the driver received from them. The video, taken from the dealership’s surveillance camera, was posted to YouTube by the dealership employees themselves, intended to exploit the delivery driver’s discourteous customer service. Instead, the video backfired, and viewers felt compelled to start a fund for the delivery driver to raise the tip that he never got. The donations, mostly in increments of $7, have now totaled more than $31,000!

All of this shows the power that social media and the Internet can have, if current online reviews for the unnamed dealership are any indication. This whole scene also functions to add validity to another issue plaguing the customer service community: the issue of tipping in general. Although a lot of people will properly contribute their 15-20% depending on the quality of service, other people will tip improperly, seemingly unaware that the federal tipped minimum wage is $2.13.

Because the livelihood of so many servers is determined by the generosity of the customer, servers have a difficult time depending on an inconsistent, fluctuating salary. For this reason, a lot of restaurants have started to abolish tipping, and just pay wait-staff a fixed wage (proposed to be roughly $35,000 annually). Although this no-tip plan could be better for a lot of waiters, waitresses, delivery drivers, etc. who may be stiffed out of their just desserts, it will certainly limit the number of pictures of checks posted to social media and the number of videos.  In the end, the customer (and the tip they choose to give) is always right…that is, unless you don’t give them that choice.