To tip or not to tip, that is the question; Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of being a cheapskate; or bestow a gracious tip when called for. With apologies to the Bard, I want to share with you moments deserving of a generous tip — even beyond the magic 20 percent we see as the highest suggested tip on our bill.
Recently, we returned from another trip to New Orleans. For those of you who “know what it means to miss New Orleans,” you’re probably nodding your head as you read these words. New Orleans is like that.
Our trip began at BWI. It was o’dark-thirty and we were checking our bags with American Airlines. The rep was bright and friendly, teasing me for being a little confused (sleepy) and winked at my wife, “That’s why the woman should be in charge.” Our trip had hardly begun and that rep was like an ice-cold welcome orange juice in the morning. Something good was in store.
At first blush, we were a little disappointed that our
hotel wasn’t right in the French Quarter as in previous stays there. If that disappointment existed, it was then extinguished with the first smile from the folks at the front desk. From the first “hello” to the last “thank you, goodbye,” that hotel’s staff made me feel like I did when I was a little kid and was about to have a sleepover with my best friend. Not once were interactions there forced or phony. They’d remember where we’d planned to go, so our greeting was more like “Did ya have fun at the Gazebo?”
Speaking of the Gazebo — our first stop for daiquiris and to listen to jazz — our waiter was more than a server. He’d do all the normal things attentively, without hovering. And he was a witty tease, anticipating our comments, keeping us laughing and enjoying ourselves. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to New Orleans for the four folks joining us for the first time. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see he was not doting on us, but had several tables he kept in smiles the entire time. Twenty percent for a tip? No, sir, he deserved more. We wanted him to join us for the rest of the day.
Later, one of our group wanted to taste New Orleans’ famous absinthe. Our bartender carefully explained the history of the strong libation and explained each step in its preparation, answering the inevitable questions. She even suggested that we all sip that first offering before each of us ordered one, saving us a significant bar bill. A good idea — at $20 per drink, it adds up. And with its licorice flavor, it may not be to everyone’s palette. But each of us (eight in all) were captivated by the bartender’s service and her personality.
Wherever I travel, I enjoy a little science with my vacation. Because I’d enjoyed it so much a few years before, I talked one couple into joining us at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium on Canal Street. One large exhibit is devoted to how insects are and will become more of a human protein source. There, a “diner” with a “chef” prepares cookies, snacks and even cinnamon buns with insects. It took a bit of friendly coaxing — no surprise in that — to get us to try the chef’s offerings. His charm won me over right away, so I opted for a cookie with a fried cricket in the middle. My pleasant surprise lowered the resistance of my wife and she tried one. Not bad at all! The “chef” encouraged me to try the fried mealworms next, something like a mild Frito. His answers to our questions were informative and laced with humor. Later, when in the Butterfly Garden, he served as the host and explained how we could get the unspeakably colorful butterflies to land on our outstretched arms. His enthusiasm was contagious, pointing out butterflies to observe and obviously anxious that we enjoy ourselves.
We commuted with Lyft. And even in something as banal as a car ride, we were made to feel welcome and more often than not, quite entertained. The drivers were helpful and clearly hoping our experiences would make lasting memories.
Certainly, the service and related industries in the Big Easy understand what it takes to make you feel welcome and thoroughly enjoy your stay. New Orleans wouldn’t have the reputation it has if it were otherwise.
I couldn’t help but think of good service anywhere and how we reward it — or not. The folks I mentioned enhanced a great stay. Yet some claim we ought to do away with tipping. I am not so quick to jump on the bandwagon. I believe in that simple expression of appreciation. Caring for luggage, working at a hotel, waiting tables, tending bar, being a docent or driving a taxi is not easy. Customers are often rude and inconsiderate. Is it really asking so much to show appreciation for a fellow human’s efforts to make us comfortable?
Steve Lloyd writes from Clover Hill. He may be reached at email@example.com.