Everyone Gets a Bonus

   One of the more bizarre things that happened this summer was that a table asked me if I knew who Rebecca DeWinter was and did I know where she worked and did I read her column?

   The couple recognized me immediately. “Oh good, you’re our favorite waitress.” I smiled and said thank you. I had absolutely no idea who these people were, but I was happy we were starting off on the right foot. “You remind me of my daughter’s friend,” said the woman.

   “I get that a lot,” I said. It’s true; I have a generic kind of face. I look just like everyone’s friend of a friend or cousin or that person they stood next to at this Dave Matthews concert that one time.

   I told them I’d read the column and that I, too, wondered who the mysterious Rebecca was and if she had ever waited on me. The man was particularly passionate. “I loved her columns. I clipped them out of the paper. I thought they were spot-on, the summer people can be so demanding. We’ve been coming out here for 30 years, so we know what they’re like.”

   Why, thank you, I thought. That’s very k. . . .

   “But with these last few columns, the ‘How to Behave’ ones, she’s shown herself to be just as condescending and contemptuous as the people she’s writing about. I mean, tipping. The waiter is the most important person to me in a restaurant; they’re my liaison. I rely on them to let me know what’s going on.”

Oh.

   The woman tried to shush him. “Really, this isn’t the most appropriate thing. You’re berating the poor girl.” The man dismissively waved his hands. “Bah. Everyone works for a bonus, that’s just how it is. If the waiter does a good job, they get rewarded. That’s how it works. You know there was a letter to the editor this week? It basically said the same thing.”

   I did not know there was a letter to the editor. I made a mental note to read it when my shift was over.

   It would not have been polite for me to tell him that his logic about tipping and bonuses was woefully misguided. It would not have been polite to point out that everyone does not work for a bonus. There are many, many people, particularly in the service industry, who do not receive bonuses. And it most definitely would not have been polite to tell him that most people who do receive bonuses do not have thousands of customers deciding how much they should get.

   I went with something neutral: “Well maybe she’ll redeem herself? At least it’s not bland writing if you have such strong feelings about it.” Nothing like complimenting yourself when no one else will.

   He agreed, which almost made up for his calling me “condescending.” Contemptuous I don’t take as an insult. Of course I hold bad behavior in contempt. Doesn’t everyone?

   They thoroughly enjoyed their meal. He was a vegetarian and was thrilled with his entree. “It’s more than just a grilled vegetable and risotto; that’s what everyone else does.” I made a lame joke when I brought out the dessert menus: “There are plenty of vegetarian options for you!” They laughed and the woman said, “That’s how we know you’re not her. You have a sense of humor.”

   Gee.

   On a $78 bill they left me $12. Of that $12, 7 percent goes to the bartender and 20 percent to the busers. Because my restaurant pools tips, the remaining $8.76 is divided between four servers and the runner. I walked away with a $1.70, which left me wondering where my bonus had gone.