the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Biggest Tip She Ever Got


I’m writing some internet content for a company in San Diego and I’m staying in town for the week — at the Hyatt downtown.  I love staying in hotels.  I love seeing all the tourists and business people.  I love big hotel lobbies.  The one thing I don’t like about hotel life is all the "tipping" you have to do.  This is something I’ve inherited from my parents, who are always nervous about being seen as "under-tipping."  Even today, when my parents go out to eat and pay with their Visa card, my father always goes over to the waitress and says "I left you something on the Visa," just to make sure she doesn’t give him "the evil eye" as he leaves the restaurant.

I haven’t been in the hotel for five minutes before I’m tipping the valet guy for parking my car (which is already costing me eighteen dollars a day!).  I tipped the bellboy after he carried up my one piece of luggage.  I noticed how he kept on telling me about the "great bars" in the Gaslight District in order to make me feel like he was my buddy.  Did he really care?  No, he wanted a nice tip.   There’s nothing wrong with that.  I know that’s how this guy makes his living.  It just makes for a very phony relationship.  Couldn’t he just be honest and say "I’ll tell you where the hot girls are in San Diego, if you give me five extra bucks."

I wasn’t able to blog for half the day because the wi-fi didn’t work in the room — and I know how many people depend on me.  A technician came to my room and fixed the internet access.  I gave him a tip, even though it was the hotel’s own fault that it didn’t work.  Since they caused the problem, shouldn’t the hotel offer to tip him for me?  A half hour later, the wi-fi wasn’t working again.  The technician came up and fixed it again, and then had the chutzpah to wait around for another tip, which I never gave him (but felt guilty about, like I was Ebenezer Scrooge not giving one of my poor employees a ham for Christmas). 

Let’s see how fast this technician comes to my room the next time the wi-fi goes kaput.

Some countries don’t tip.  I’m sure that’s why this hotel’s restaurant adds a 15% "gratuity" to the bill whether you like it or not — basically to force the Japanese and Swedes to tip.  Of course, like a dock worker in the former Soviet Union, when there’s not much incentive for a waitress to work hard, she just doesn’t.  The service in the restaurant was atrocious, and I had no choice but to tip this moron 15% — which I probably would have done away, being a wimp like my father.  I couldn’t bear a waitress looking at me with an evil eye.

To read about real waitresses working hard in bars, see Mary and Kdunk.

I grew up in an apartment building in New York where we had "supers" — guys who came up to your apartment to fix things like your toilet and kitchen sink.  Even though they made a pretty good salary, my father always tipped them for their services.  What really used to bug me was how during Christmas, the apartment building gave each "super" a big bonus, and every apartment resident would give them a big tip as well.  It never seemed as if these tips were really from the heart.   They always seemed like the forced blackmail of the Mafioso.  God forbid you didn’t tip the super!  Your toilet would be overflowing all over your apartment, and the super would always be "busy."  But of course, he always had time to help someone who gave him a big tip.  Luckily, he always helped my big tipper father, but I don’t think any of the supers ever visited the cheapskate Weiselfeiffer family in apartment 3C — and I mean not even once in twenty years.

My own personal experience in tipping came at an early age.  When we were very young, my friend Rob and I were not allowed to take the subway by ourselves.  One afternoon, being adventurous (or at least Rob was), we decided to disobey our parents and took the long ride on the 7 train to Times Square.  We even had a final destination — one of the last remaining "Chock full o’ Nuts" coffee shops that our fathers used to go to.   A Chock Full of o’ Nuts cafe, for those not in the know, was like a Starbucks before its time — a place mostly for coffee and a muffin.  We sat down at the counter, thinking that people would think we were adults if we just acted like it.  We ordered two coffees.


Waitress:  Do your parents know you drink coffee?

Rob and I:  Sure… yeah… we always drink coffee…

The waitress shrugged.  I’m sure she saw weirder things working in Times Square (this was before the Disneyfication).

Waitress:  You want it regular or black?

We said black, since it sounded more adult.

The waitress gave us our coffee and we forced ourselves to drink this awful-tasting sludge.   When we were done:

Waitress:  Anything else?

Me:  No, thank you, Miss.

She gave us the check.  Rob took one glance at it and broke out in a sweat.

Rob:  We only have enough money for the coffee and the train ride home.  We don’t have anything for the tip!

We both lived in the same apartment building as our Mafioso supers, so we knew that tipping was extremely important.  There was only one solution:  We would write the waitress a nice thank you note.

I took out the Bic pen I always carried with me and we both composed our masterpiece on the back of the Chock full o’ Nuts napkin.

Dear Waitress,

We are sorry, but we don’t have enough money for a tip.  But you were the best waitress we ever had.  If we had money, we would give you the biggest tip you ever got.  Thank you for the cofffee.

Yours truly,

Neil and Rob

We took out the money we owed and left it on the table.  We turned the napkin towards the waitress and we ran out.

To this day, Rob and I still wonder how this waitress responded to our little note.  We hope that she was incredibly touched and framed the napkin and put it on her wall at home.   Maybe she’s retired now, and sometimes looks at this napkin as the highlight of her waitressing career. 

I hope she wasn’t upset.  I would hate to think that as we ran out of the Chock Full o’ Nuts, she gave us the evil eye for not leaving a tip.  


  1. kristine

    i think the tipping of not-supposed-to-tip-them people, in mafioso fashion as you said, is an old-fashioned habit that is slowing dying. which is probably a good thing. but tipping those who rely on it is essential. unless they sucked, i guess. but then you just give them a small tip. never a non-existent one. i bet that chock- full o’nuts waitress was pissed.

  2. Melliferous Pants

    I was expecting “Chock Full o’Nuts” to be a completely different type of establishment.

    I bet she loved your note.

  3. Edgy Mama

    What a well-raised child! That is sooo funny that you left the waitress a thank you note. I probably would have done the same.

  4. Jack

    Curb Your Enthusiasm had a great episode about tipping.

  5. Helena

    Great story, I feel the same way. I remember once I went to this carwash and it turned out they didn’t give cashback for tips if you used a check card to pay. I had zero dollars on me. Taking my keys from that guy without having a tip handy was the worst feeling ever. I tipped double the next time, and they’ve since changed their practices.

    So have you seen any of those hot San Diego chicks?

  6. Brooke

    As a former waitress, I can tell you that the cuteness factor of that note depends entirely on the age of the writers. You said “very young” – just how young is very young? If it’s over 11, it ain’t cute.

  7. Hilary

    Did you eat at Kemosabe??

  8. Neil

    For your sake, Brooke, let’s say I was 8. I want you to continue to think of me as “cute.”

    Hilary, not yet (she lived in San Diego). Ate at Prado in Balboa Park. What a beautiful park with great museums. Almost as cool as Central Park.

  9. M.A.

    That letter was really cute. I had a boyfriend who was a waiter for a little while. I left him this tip:

    Flirt with your customers more and they’ll tip you better.

  10. modigli

    Considering you didn’t order the venti-nonfat-carmel-machiatto with extra carmel and whipped cream outrageous equivalent that Chock-ful-a-nuts might have had back then; she probably thought you two were cute. (did that ridiculous run-on sentence make ANY sense?) It would’ve been different if you ordered the most expensive thing, made her run around, and then left the note!

    Who knows, there just might be some old (chock full a) nutty retired waitress somewhere in NYC who thought that was so cute that she now sends thank you notes to her super every christmas instead of a tip! LOL!

  11. susan

    you always have the cutest/funniest stories.
    my parents hate parting with cash b/c in korea, they don’t tip.
    i’m always mortified when they tip less than 10% in restaurants. i compensate by adding more because i’m a “wimp”, and i hate that guilty feeling. but then again, you can make me feel guilty for just about anything.

  12. mary

    I’ve stayed at that Hyatt before and I tipped my little heart out. Which is funny because the people that I tipped already make a normal wage. I make, oh… 2 dollars an hour. And PS, that’s bullshit about the parking there. It should be included with the room, dammit. Yeah, the one with the faulty WIFI!

  13. Aurorealis

    I can’t seem to figure out the tipping rules for a hotel stay, so I always feel like a confused loser when I’m away from home.

  14. amanda

    i had manicure at a place on “the island” (and, no, i am NOT from long island, 🙂 but had a boyfriend who lived there once) and had no cash on me and the place didn’t take credit cards, so i paid with the last $10 i had which left nothing for a tip. i told my boyfriend he had to go back to the place to give the male manicurist with the spikey hair a tip for me. i am sure he didn’t. and he’s no longer my boyfriend…haha…see what not tipping can get you?!

  15. psychotoddler

    I always tip, even with lousy service. I understand that a lot of these guys and gals depend on tips as part of their earnings. We recently had a miserable experience at a restaurant in Cleveland. I still tipped.

    Often I go out of my way to tip so no one will think I’m a cheap Jew. Maybe that’s what our parents were thinking?

    I still think it’s extortion.

  16. lizriz

    Really? You really did that? Too cute!

    You know what gets me? Tipping baristas in the coffee shop. They don’t make waiter pay, they make regular pay. I don’t tip at a walk-up sandwich shop to thank someone for making my sandwich that I’m paying for. There’s no waitering happening at a walk-up coffee counter. What’s up with that?

    Now, the fact that Chock full o’ Nuts had locations is simply mindblowing. DUDE, they could so totally bring that back!!!

  17. JJ MacMillan

    She poured two cups of coffee, ferchrissakes, an expenditure of energy less than she spent combing her hair that morning.

    This blackmail of the service sector is exactly what’s wrong with having a classless society. By gum.

    And you darn kids get off my lawn!

    (great story, there’s a cabbie with a shank still looking for me)

  18. Brooke

    You were 18, weren’t you.

  19. The Moviequill

    in Vegas we tip a buck, two if she has nice legs…

  20. leesepea

    I paid my way through (junior) college as a waitress.

    There are some people who you can just tell would leave you a bigger tip if they could have afforded it, and some who you can just tell are just being cheap. It’s all in the way they treat the staff; if they complain a lot and act like you’re not doing your job well enough, they are going to be cheap as hell. If they are polite and treat you like a human being, you will get 15 – 20%, even though they didn’t make you “work” for it.

    I’m sure this waitress could tell you would have given her a nice tip if you could have.

  21. Megan

    The topic of tipping was one of the first thing my ESL class spoke of on the first day of class this summer. My Korean students told me that this was the biggest change they noticed between American culture and their own. I was fascinated by that.

    I bet that waitress thought the note was cute, especially since she already acknowledged that you boys were young. If she cared enough to ask about you drinking coffee, I bet she’s caring enough to find the note sweet.

    Or, she’s a total bitch and has been cursing you to this day.

  22. Stacey

    “Often I go out of my way to tip so no one will think I’m a cheap Jew.”

    Ha ha. I do that, too, PsychoT. I always leave 15% for bad service, 20% for good.

  23. Leesa

    I was a waitress for years and I’ve gotten a couple of notes like that. I just believed it was sincere and at least I didn’t do something to not deserve a tip. I didn’t keep the napkins though.

  24. jenny

    i love it! i just had a conversation with someone about tipping and how i always want to make it the perfect amount to make the bill an even number. ok, i’m not OCD…but why does it have to be so fricken complicated?

  25. xtessa

    that letter to the waitress is hilarious. my father was never a big tipper, wouldn’t tip if he could get away with it. i got the guilt complex so i compensate for my father’s cheapskate ways by tipping big. when i moved to Hong Kong, i was surprised that tipping was not of the norm. waiters and hairstylists actually gives me the evil eye when i try to tip.;)

  26. anonymous city girl

    I tend to over tip, unless the service just isn’t, but the waitperson acually impacted the meal negativly. I took my grandmother out once and the bitch was so condesending to her, I left a 10% tip and let the manager know.
    When I am with someone who under-tips when I think the server should be getting tepped well, I will try to compensate. I had a bad date who under-tipped and when I dropped an extra $10 on the tabl, he tried to pick it up for himself (he was going to leave $5 and pocket $5). I made sure the $10 never left the table and he almost lost his hand.
    And when my server is an actor I have worked with, if I have it, I will way over tip. When they say something (something like they can’t take a 50-100% on the meal), I just tell them to pass it on to another theatre person when they have it.

  27. introspectre

    The note to the waitress was so cute I have just finished vomiting into my cheerios. No, seriously, very cute.

  28. Richard Mason

    My problem with tipping in restaurants is the way the amount depends more on the menu prices than on the service delivered. Ok, so this sandwich is five dollars and this steak is twenty-five dollars. But the steak isn’t five times heavier and I don’t think the waitress who brings you the steak works five times harder.

    And of course, alcohol is the real profit center. There’s just something weird about how the task of bringing me a glass of beer is so much more highly paid than the task of bringing me a glass of water.

    However, I haven’t figured out a socially-acceptable solution to this problem yet, so I sheepishly go along with the social norm.

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