It’s a busy late Saturday morning. A party of eight is seated in my station. I greet them with a smile and realize immediately that only one guest, a college-age girl, speaks English. No worries as I have no problem with foreigners and I really need to practice my idioms.

It takes about twenty minutes to take their order, as the girl has to go around and ask everybody about their side choices and preferences, but in the end we get it done. I punch the order in the computer as fast as I can, but it still takes a few minutes. Then, with a sense of trepidation, I continue to check on my other tables – after all, I was absent for more than twenty minutes, which will definitely affect my tips.

One of the party-of-eight spills a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, and I bring a bunch of napkins and a fresh glass of juice. All of their steaks are extra well done and I know it will take a while for their order to be cooked, so I bring pancakes ahead of time to stave off their hunger.

The food arrives and everything is perfect; I hover and smile to make them feel connected, as we cannot really communicate well due to the language barrier.

Their bill is $187.00. They pay with two hundred dollar bills and leave me $3.00… A two dollar bill and a George Washington… And I am devastated. Not because I feel devalued, or unappreciated. Just because I have to come to work every day and depend on handouts. My worth is not the standard. My performance is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the state of mind of my customers and their willingness to part with a few dollars towards my tip. And it’s beyond humiliating.

No matter how nice you are or how well you perform or how wide your smile is, you can go home making less money than you have to claim for your taxes – at least in this diner where we are not allowed to put “suggested gratuity” on any number of guests.

Some days we have to claim more taxable money than we receive, as the taxes are based on our sales, not on actual tips. The IRS assumes that most people tip 15%, which is what we have to claim. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

On one occasion I had a whole middle-school soccer team and their parents, coaches, teachers, and supporters in the diner. The tab was over $450.00. I made $25.00. I worked over four hours. Boo-hoo for me!

I know our tipping system is not perfect, but your wait staff depends on your good will to make their rent, to buy groceries, to pay for their kids’ daycare. And we are not all “wenches” not capable of doing other work…

And I understand that American restaurants are frequented by many foreigners enjoying their vacations. All I can say is “When in Rome…” It’s not that hard to get familiar with local customs, especially with internet.

All we need is a modicum of respect and we are happy…