Being barely adequate at your job is a kind of personal strike. Why not support it? Photo: Sasha/Getty
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Why I still tip a surly waitress after bad service

Refusal to massage every customer with niceness is, perhaps, a sort of personal strike. Why not support them by still giving a tip?

“Enjoy your evening,” says the checkout woman, as she slides a sweaty kilo of gummy bears in my direction.

In all her fluorescent-lit glory, she’s almost chirpy enough to convince me that I might. But I’m in America, that place where, famously, service comes with a smile wider than a trucker called Sugartits Thad.

This evening, my server-cum-well-wisher may not know that I’m going to take those gelatinous bad boys home with me and inhale them in front of a Holocaust documentary, while feeling nauseously guilty about how inappropriate I’m being. But she must have figured out that I’m not going to “enjoy” my evening. Not in the traditional sense, at least. I’m a grown woman who just bought a bumper bag of confectionary on a Friday night. The more I analyse it, the more passive aggressive that “enjoy your evening” becomes.

In all honesty, I may be niceness’s biggest fan. But, as a true affability wonk, I know that it should never be born out of orders from management. It’s hardly surprising that the average waiter makes minimum wage. What is surprising, perhaps, is that we require these people to smile at us. It’s not enough that so many in the service industry work hard for wages that barely keep them in white shirts, and are stung by unfair zero hours contracts. No; expect a tip? You’d better reassure me of my pointless existence by asking me how my day is going. And don’t forget to curtsey.

Admittedly, my own experience as a server is limited. There was the burlesque themed cocktail bar where I worked two solid shifts. My uniform was a corset and stockings. There was banter. Christ was there banter. As soon as the management realised that I had the charm and ability to remember orders of a beached sea cucumber, I was sent down to the basement to crush ice. I remember being down there long enough for my pupils to turn to slits in the dark, and to come to resent the Above People. When it turned out I was too damned maladroit to carry out even the most menial of tasks, I was compassionately “let go”. My short string of subsequent bar jobs were all terminated for similar reasons. I smiled throughout, but inside I was pummelling every single customer, with a sack of insufficiently crushed ice.

This is why I appreciate rude service. I don’t actively seek it out, only eating in restaurants with Yelp comments like, “waiter called me a noisome disfigurement on the face of mankind”; but when it comes my way, I’ll still tip.

There’s plenty of room for servers who take pride in their work and whose amiability comes from a genuine and deeply rooted belief that humans are OK. It’s just that, when anyone who makes my coffee wants to let me know that I’m a heinous bourgeois parasite, I’m fine with that. After all, no one likes that turd Ferrari sitting in Starbucks, tweeting a picture of a cup with his name misspelled across it, as if spelling “Zachary” with a K is equivalent to the barista having spunked in his coffee.

As Homer Simpson said, “If you don’t like your job, you don’t strike: you just go in every day and do it really half assed.” Refusal to massage every customer with niceness is, perhaps, a sort of personal strike. So, next time you’re served by a surly waitress, consider supporting strike action and tipping her anyway.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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New Digital Editor: Serena Kutchinsky

The New Statesman appoints Serena Kutchinsky as Digital Editor.

Serena Kutchinsky is to join the New Statesman as digital editor in September. She will lead the expansion of the New Statesman across a variety of digital platforms.

Serena has over a decade of experience working in digital media and is currently the digital editor of Newsweek Europe. Since she joined the title, traffic to the website has increased by almost 250 per cent. Previously, Serena was the digital editor of Prospect magazine and also the assistant digital editor of the Sunday Times - part of the team which launched the Sunday Times website and tablet editions.

Jason Cowley, New Statesman editor, said: “Serena joins us at a great time for the New Statesman, and, building on the excellent work of recent years, she has just the skills and experience we need to help lead the next stage of our expansion as a print-digital hybrid.”

Serena Kutchinsky said: “I am delighted to be joining the New Statesman team and to have the opportunity to drive forward its digital strategy. The website is already established as the home of free-thinking journalism online in the UK and I look forward to leading our expansion and growing the global readership of this historic title.

In June, the New Statesman website recorded record traffic figures when more than four million unique users read more than 27 million pages. The circulation of the weekly magazine is growing steadily and now stands at 33,400, the highest it has been since the early 1980s.