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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

Of Temps and Tip Jars

’Tis the season

Published: Monday, December 4, 2006 - 22:00

As the holiday season approaches, several inevitable occurrences will try our patience. Along with people jostling in lines, the NASCAR-like jockeying in the parking lots, out-of-stock merchandise and interminably long lines for Santa, we also have to endure the banes of holiday shoppers—temporary help in stores and holiday-decorated “tip jars.”Let’s start with temporary help. Most temps receive only perfunctory training year-round, not only during the holiday rush. Why spend time thoroughly training people who will only be employed for a short time?

In that regard, I’m reminded of a company that won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award several years ago—Pal’s Sudden Service in Tennessee, a fast food chain. The company spends as much time training part time and temporary help as it does permanent employees. When asked “Why?,” the response from president and CEO Thom Crosby was, “We train our temps and part-timers in the same manner as our permanent staff. What if temps and part-timers remain on our payroll due to increased business? We end up with untrained staff, and customer service quickly deteriorates.” That’s one of the reasons their company is an award winner.

As consumers, we expect flawless customer service year-round. During the holidays we are not surprised by lapses in service, but exceptional organizations provide a high level of customer service year-round.

Speaking of customer service, have you noticed a proliferation of “tip jars”? They seem to be surfacing everywhere! In my area, at first these “courtesy canisters” were commonplace only at car washes. Now such jars are fixtures at coffee shops, ice cream parlors, service stations, card shops and delis. For the holidays, these canisters are festooned with bright ribbons and ornaments. The message is clear—“I’ve waited on you for 35 seconds, so I deserve a tip!”

The jar invariably contains an abundance of singles, and maybe even a five spot, which implies that others found the service extraordinary and acted accordingly. It’s just a matter of time before the jars make an appearance in hospital emergency rooms as a way of getting moved to the front of the line!

On a recent trip cross-country we stopped at a rest area in Indiana, and I found a tip jar solidly anchored in the men’s rest room. Now I’ve been in hoity-toity establishments where a rest room attendant hands you a towel, brushes down your suit, gives you a spritz of cologne and holds the door, and thus a tip may be in order. But in a highway rest area? Come on! Is someone changing my oil and rotating my tires while I’m inside?

My message is, “Since when did I become responsible for increasing the minimum wage in your store, and what makes you think that your spending a few seconds with me entitles you to a tip?” This tipping practice is only effective if the clerk sees you depositing money in the jar, and maybe it’s just me, but I have encountered some of the worst service in establishments that display a tip jar.

Tipping is a practice to reward and single out exceptional service. Sometimes I inscribe notes on the bill such as “great food” and “exceptional service.” I then tip accordingly. If I’ve developed a good rapport with the waiter or waitress I’ll ask them to rate their service on a scale of 1 to 10. The feedback is usually priceless. Once I had a waiter who provided extraordinary service, and when asked to quantify his service he stated somewhat facetiously that he had performed poorly and would immediately enroll in a remedial waiter service course. His humor and personality got him a 25-percent tip.

If some of this makes me sound like the Scrooge That Stole Christmas, so be it. On the other hand, I’m still leaving cookies for Santa to ensure that he’ll return each year, so maybe I’ve succumbed to tip jar mania, too. Oh well. In the meantime I hope my butcher isn’t reading this. Otherwise, that special oyster dressing we ordered may contain the shells the oysters came in. Maybe he’ll have a tip jar on the counter, and I can stay in his good graces.


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semi-retired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.