here a tip, there a tip…everywhere a tip tip

Since my days waiting tables in college, I’ve been a heartfelt tipper. If you’re reading this, waiters…should you do nothing more then master my ice to liquid beverage demands, I’m giving you 15%. If you can make my drink and pasta e fagioli to perfection, 20%. And if you can do all that AND make me guffaw at least once during my visit, you’re going to walk away with 30-50% (depending on the ticket total and length of guffaw). And if a server gets a shameful 10% from the group I’m with, I’ll come back after the offending parties leave with an Andrew Jackson just for them. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s a touching moment shared between waiter and me. We run towards each other in slow motion, arms open wide, Muzak playing in the background.

And then there’s the Korean Body Scrub Messiah, Miss Cindy, who gets a $25 tip every single spa visit. What she deserves is the title to my car. But I’ve got to pay that off first.

So, it’s not like I’m the anti-tipper.

But now you can’t go into a car wash, coffee house, or carry-out without being accosted by a tip jar. So I’m left to scramble for some arbitrary offering of cash above and beyond the fee I’m already paying for any given good or service. And it’s not like you can just divert someone’s attention with “Look, there’s Matthew Perry!” while running out the door. No. Now, you must specify “tip or no tip” on your credit card receipt. IN WRITING. As you stand 24 inches from the person. With a glaring line or a big fat zero, you are now forced to publicly declare to the face behind the Domino’s window that you will indeed not be tipping them for handing you your pizza pie. Without, by the way, even a half-hearted smile or attempt at “Have a nice pizza” from their side of the counter.

Permit me to take you on a journey, if you will, deep in the heart of Texas. To the birthplace of Buddy Holly, Prairie Dog Town, Texas Tech University, E.J. Jones…and United Supermarkets.

Those two words are grossly inadequate to describe the sacred space within. Imagine James Earl Jones saying it…”United Supermarkets.”

Much better.

Across the street from my mom is a United Market Street. Imagine a grocery store the size of a high school football field and a parking lot twice that size. Inside are immaculately clean polished concrete floors and aisles so big you could do a full cartwheel from shelf to shelf (hypothetically, of course). There’s a coffee shop (complete with leather sofas and big screen TV), restaurant, bakery, deli, gift shop, florist, concierge (yes, concierge) and, during holiday seasons, a piano player. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, just ask any employee in the immediate area and they will walk you, not point you, to it’s exact location. I’m convinced they’re using some form of echolocation, as they always go right to my impossibly obscure grocery item.

And here’s what happens when you round the last aisle to head for the checkout stand…a “checker” meets you halfway to take your cart. Unloading your own groceries onto the conveyer belt? Never! Your United checker greets you with a warm smile and an actual “How are you today? Did you find everything alright?” as they unload your wares. And (here’s the part you may find hard to believe)…there is a sacker to sack your groceries at every.single.check out. They inquire as to your bagging preference – paper or plastic – and actually wait for your response before proceeding. Then, they personally carry your groceries to the car. There’s no question about it…it’s automatically done. Unless you can outrun them. I tried that once, but they’re pretty fast. On the way to your awaiting chariot, you engage in delightful conversation with your personal and quite personable United sacker. And as they load every last bag into your hatchback and bid you adieu, you can’t help but feel a pang of regret that they’re leaving and your grocery shopping experience has officially come to an end. Luckily, you live just across the street and can come back 17 times tomorrow.

PS…a United sacker cannot and WILL NOT accept tips.

You might think that, for this kind of service, you’d have to sell a kidney or lock of Justin Bieber’s hair. Keep the hair. You can still buy a box of cereal here for $2.50.

You might think the employees are secretly plotting a coup in the break room. I don’t think so. I’ve never seen a friendlier, happier concentration of people more willing to dress up in costume for International Foods Day in my life. It’s a business model unequal to any I’ve seen, and one every business in America should be scrambling to understand and emulate. If you ever find yourself driving through Lubbock, Texas, it is a place you MUST visit. The Buddy Holly Museum, Prairie Dog Town, Texas Tech University, Orlando’s Italian Restaurant. And United Market Street. Ask for Cirby Gill (pronounced Kirby), the store’s service manager, to carry out your groceries…and you’ll spend two minutes with the most endearing man you’ve ever met. A local treasure. A man who would strap on a pair of snow boots to carry you and your groceries across a parking lot in a snowstorm. And who doesn’t accept tips. Definitely get a lock of his hair, if you can do it on the DL.

And while I AM available for hire as the Token Obnoxious Texan at your next event, party, shower, or Bar/Bat Mitzvah…I am the first to concede that exceptional service is not a uniquely Southern invention. Case in point: The Container Store. Have you ever seen a cranky Container Store employee? Or one that wouldn’t go out of their way to find the last gray Cable Turtle in the store for you?

The Container Store is celebrating its 12th year on FORTUNE magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.” The company’s CEO describes it as “a company full of heart and soul with what I like to call our “yummy” culture. We put our employees first, strive for excellence every day; we want to be special, to be different, and most importantly, we want to provide for our customers a retail experience unlike any other.” And although the company first opened its doors in Dallas, Texas, I have found the same delightful service in every Container Store in every state I’ve been to. And not a tip jar in sight.

So, to the people out there who want something for nothing…as long as there are United Supermarkets and Container Stores in the world, I’m not paying you in cash. Or hair.

{ 1 comment... read it below or add one }

  1. Allison
    1

    I’m with you on the whole tipping thing, EJ! Especially at places like Panera where you’re now asked to bus your own tables and get your own cutlery….really?! I have to either write in your tip on the bottom of my receipt when you’ve just put my order in the computer or get the look of disdain if I put a zero down? Really? I feel strongly about this and I’ve even worked there taking orders. But seriously, if you’re not schlepping the food back and forth, making people guffaw, or going above and beyond, your company shouldn’t be printing a tip line on the receipts that creates awkwardness.

    Wait, can we take a field trip to United Supermarkets? I would LOVE to see that level of customer service!

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