auto-grat gone wild.

For years, servers and other service-industry personnel have generously benefitted from my fundamental lack of arithmetic skills.

Until very recently, I rarely-if-ever did actual math when calculating how much I should leave as a tip – at restaurants, at the salon,* at the bar… Instead, I just arbitrarily picked a number in my head that seemed “right” and, usually fearing I was undercutting the recipient, added a dollar or so.

But it was only when I began working in a “real” restaurant (and started seeing firsthand the importance of leaving a fair tip!) that I took the time to think about the amount I was leaving behind. I pulled out some old receipts and a calculator to see how I’d been doing, and was surprised at what I discovered.

First off, the pizza delivery folks must freaking love to come to my house. I mean: seriously. Holy hell. Because we’re generally not ordering fourteen pizzas and ninety orders of breadsticks, our total is usually pretty small: one pizza, and if we’re feeling especially wild, add on some breadsticks. Total: under 15 bucks, and generally less because I am a coupon addict / hoarder. Let’s just say that Delivery Person walks away happy. I about swallowed my tongue when I actually calculated out how much I tipped the last guy.

Second, I’ve not come across a receipt (where I used my “mental dartboard” method of calculating gratuity) that didn’t have a fair (at least 15%) tip. I guess this means that I’m doing something right, but still: the possibility for error exists, and I’d feel pretty terrible if it turns out I tipped a server 8% on accident. I give my parents endless grief about relying on the “tip calculator” function on their cell phones when it comes to settling a bill. I mean, they went for decades and decades without doing it; I don’t know why they think their mental faculties have spontaneously deteriorated to the point where they’re mathematically helpless without their cells. Decades and decades, I might add, of fair-to-generous tipping.

…okay, okay. I’ve since become a Tip Calculator Convert, tacky as it seems (to me, at least). I still refuse to leave change on a credit card tip (i.e. leaving $4.87 instead of $5.00). Don’t ask me why. The numbers just aren’t pleasing to me, I guess.

It all comes down to this: I just don’t have a brain for numbers. Somewhere along the way, those neurons just didn’t get connected up there and when it comes to rationalizing these sorts of things, I get tripped up every single time. I can only think of quantities of things in the abstract – ask me to estimate how many people are in a crowd, or how much something weighs, or how big a room is, and I am baffled. Because I never developed the mechanism to properly estimate these sorts of things, I’ve come up with other (read: arbitrary) methods of guesstimation. To articulate the mental process I go through is basically impossible, and I couldn’t really explain it without using phrases like “what feels right” anyway.

I’ll close with this, one of my favorite clips from Third Rock From The Sun:

* “at the salon” ! Ha! What I meant to say was “At the place in the Wal-Mart next to the payday loans kiosk.”

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