Over the years, I’ve discovered that one can reasonably gauge a stranger’s character by the way they treat –then tip – a server when they’re dining out.
If someone is rude and supercilious with the server, barking demands and bitching if everything isn’t done to their specifications, most likely you’re dealing with an asshole.
And if someone tips poorly—if the service is not atrocious—you’re irrefutably dealing with an asshole.
I’ve always stood in awe of good servers. The ability to multitask combined with the restraint required to be congenial with the public while surly cooks bite off your head involves Zen-like concentration and self-control.
How do I know this? For nearly two months in college, I waited tables, and it was an abject disaster.
This is the tale of Mr. 10 Percent.
I earned my moniker based on my average tip. I was so terrible at serving the public their meals that my shifts were restricted to Wednesday lunches where seniors ate half-price, and my section was limited a pair of two-tops by the kitchen. On occasion, I was assigned a four-top when the manager pitied me, in the way one might pity a three-legged dog.
I mentioned earlier that servers should be tipped well unless the service is atrocious: well, my service was consistently atrocious. When I reflect on my tenure as Mr. 10-Percent, I can attribute this to two reasons.
The first reason is simply that I do not possess the ability to multitask beyond drinking a beer while writing.
While waiting tables, I would often find myself putting in an order to the kitchen, and I’d have so many things going on, I’d get flustered and overwhelmed and forget what I was doing. My solution was always to sit down near the break room and gather myself.
It turned out that wasn’t a good solution for a waiter.
The other reason stemmed from my immutable essence as a human being. You see, I have a tendency toward introversion, and I’m not particularly gregarious around people I don’t know. I didn’t know 98 percent of my customers.
As much as I tried to fake it, I had no real investment in whether or not people enjoyed their meals. I wanted to care and do my job well, but I’m not a convincing actor.
In one memorable encounter—on my best day as Mr. 10 Percent—I waited on a young family, and when I took the credit card slip from the table, the father left me a $50 tip on a $40 bill.
As they were walking out, I stopped and thanked him.
“No problem,” the father said and patted me on the shoulder. “You’re really not good at this job, but I could tell you were trying to fake it.”
An ember sparked on the little lump of coal in my chest, and I gave the family a Forest-Gump-to-Lieutenant-Dan wave from the wait station as they left the restaurant.
“Hey Mr. Percent 10,” a waitress said, walking up behind me. “You forgot to charge them for their desserts.”
Those desserts came out of my tips at the end of my shift, and the law of averages prevailed.
Less than a month later, Mr. 10 Percent was relieved of his duties.
 I had a penchant for dating waitresses in my bachelor days. In fact, my wife was once an astounding waitress and bartender.
 I waited tables at a certain Thanksgiving-themed warehouse in the Lakes Region that is iconic for Granite State locals.
 For anyone who knows me, this will come as no surprise, whatsoever.
 Son of a bitch, will you look at that? I’m doing it right now.