2 rules for good service: Be nice and tip well

Ingrid Case picture

Last month, I wrote about the best ways to resolve complaints with businesses, whether your suit is stained or your steak delivered underdone.

I emphasized the importance of politely sticking to your guns.

In the comments section, several readers mentioned the importance of tipping well when you're happy, not just complaining when you're not happy. Those readers hit on something.

The single best way to get your complaints resolved quickly and happily is to have a relationship with the business in question.

Of course, you're not going to have a relationship with every business you ever visit, particularly if you go infrequently. But there will probably be places you patronize again and again.

At these businesses, there are two ways to get into folks' good graces.

Rule 1: Be nice.

The people who own the local Thai restaurant live in the same neighborhood and have kids around the same age as my son. It's natural to want to chat with them.

We ask how their kids are, where they went on vacation, whether business is thriving. We say hello when we see each other at the grocery store.

The result? One of the owners gave me the recipe for my favorite Thai noodle sauce, and a dessert of sticky rice, bananas and coconut milk makes an occasional, gratis appearance at our table.

And the nearby tea shop is the only place I have found that sells Earl Grey tea with lavender buds, to which both I and my cousin are addicted. So it's probably wise to be on good terms with the shop owner.

Unfortunately, the owner doesn't make this easy. If the sign says the store will open at 10 a.m., the place might actually be ready for business at 10:30 or 11 a.m. Worse, the man who owns the place is a renowned grump, a sort of tea version of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi.

But I have discovered a way to tame the dragon: Ask about his grandchildren. This grouchy guy absolutely melts when I give him an interested audience for stories about the younger members of his family.

Granted, it doesn't get the place open at the advertised time, but it does get me a pleasant experience (and my tea!) once I'm inside. I've even scored a few free samples.

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Rule 2: Tip. Tip well.

There are many reasons to tip. One is that most restaurants pay servers a pittance, much less than minimum wage, and the servers depend on tips to make up the difference.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to tip is that this person will be alone with your food before you eat it.

I tip well because it creates a sense of community and mutual regard.

When you go out, you want good food and pleasant, attentive service. The server wants to work for people who appreciate her hard work and have some respect for her as a human being who has bills to pay.

A generous tip is the lubrication that makes both sides of this wheel go around harmoniously.

I can't remember the last time I didn't leave a tip at a place where tipping is usual. I might leave 10% for lousy service. For good service, I leave somewhere between 20% and 25%.

If I have a coupon or other discount, I find out what the bill would have been without that deduction and tip 20% to 25% on that amount.

At the pub where my husband hosts a monthly event that brings in a lot of business on what would otherwise be a very slow night, the owners comp a substantial portion of the food and drink that my family consumes. I find out what the bill would have been without that discount, and then I leave a ridiculously generous tip — 30% or more.

On a $30 tab, the pub might comp us $20, leaving us with $10 to pay. So I tip the server another $10, knowing the total bill is still a little more than half what we would have paid without the discount.

The result? Our server knows our names, remembers what each of us likes to drink and brings our fussy fifth-grader's hamburger the way he likes it, with extra tomato but no cheese or lettuce.

On the very few occasions that any of these businesses have given us something that wasn't great, they've fixed the issue right away, without argument or fuss.

On both sides of the customer/business coin, it's fun to be generous to people you like.