Service with a smile

Today’s “feminism vs capitalism” moment is brought to you by the middle-aged male customer who answered “Would you like anything else?” with “A smile,” and by me, who gave him that smile and got tipped extra for it.

It’s actually kind of amazing how tawdry that feels.

Point the first: Tipping is a pretty messed up economic system for a lot of reasons, and we should get the hell away from it by legislating a higher minimum wage and/or a line-item service charge at dining establishments. I point you towards Jay Porter’s excellent and thorough “Observations From A Tipless Restaurant” series.

Point the second: if you are at an establishment that allows tips, you should tip food service workers. Period. If you are able to throw a dollar in a jar, please do; we’re relying on it. I understand that in some cities, food truck workers don’t do tips, but in Seattle we’re all making minimum wage and your tips are enormously appreciated. It’s a crappy system, but for those of us in it, not getting tipped makes it that much crappier.

Point the third: if, however, you decide how much to tip based on whether your server is aesthetically pleasing, or request that they treat you with greater familiarity in order to earn their tip, you’re incredibly gross.

The whole exchange with this creep went like this:

Me: Would you like anything else?

Him: A smile.

Me: *confused smile?*

Him: *grins*

Me: Okay, that’s $8 out of $10–

Him: Keep the change.

That guy paid me extra to provide an aesthetic/emotional service for him. I can 100% guarantee he would not have asked that of my male co-workers. He paid me not for getting him his food efficiently, but because I gave him a smile.

And the worst part is that I did give him a smile, and it was so — it felt like a service in the worst possible way. Like, look, when I’m serving people I smile a lot, and I try to be pleasant and bantery, because I genuinely enjoy it. I like interacting with people and I like my job and I like making someone’s day better by giving them some delicious food and a good experience. I would have smiled at this guy just because he was there and he had an Australian accent.

But he ordered a smile from me. There is no clearer, creepier way this could have gone down. He ordered his food, and then he ordered a smile, and I delivered them both to him. The smile I gave him felt fake. It wasn’t an expression of emotion, it was a product. It was the kind of deliberate draw-the-corners-of-your-mouth-back smile you might give if someone pointed a camera in your face unexpectedly.

The whole exchange was startling, and shockingly discomfiting. On Tuesday (for the first time I can remember!) a guy on the street told me as I walked past “You’re very beautiful, you should smile” — but I was able to dismiss that, because I didn’t smile at him because he was just being a jerk on the street. This creep today told me to smile and I did and he gave me money for it; the correlation between “A smile” and “Keep the change” was so glaringly obvious that I felt unclean.

Ugh. It just cast a pall over the entire rest of the afternoon.

Do you want to add something, Anne Hathway?

I'm sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants.

(Click for video.)

Damn straight, Anne.

3 thoughts on “Service with a smile

  1. Holy fuck – that would feel incredibly unsettling. I know I would be furious with myself that I didn’t tell him to go fuck himself. I’d probably do something similar – feel suddenly uncomfortable, slightly threatened, smile awkwardly and then be made to feel like I participated in my own dehumanization.

    I’m sorry that happened.

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