Monday, August 10, 2015

Book Review - Keep the Change by Steve Dublanica

  I got the book ‘Keep The Change’ a month ago at the Goodwill store in Marshalltown, IA for $1.69 and just finished it. I never heard of the writer Steve Dublanica or his blog or his bestselling book ‘Waiter Rant’. The cover proclaims the book to be ‘A Clueless Tipper’s Quest to Become the Guru of Gratuity’ which didn’t interest me in the slightest. So what possessed me to buy this book much less read it when I have boxes and boxes of books I've paid for and haven’t read?

  As a born and bred New Jerseyan I could relate to the author when I happened to open the book to Chapter four and read about how the author got a flat tire driving through a seedy New Jersey neighborhood and limped along one more mile to a nicer neighborhood where he felt comfortable abandoning his car for the night. The next morning he brought the car to his regular mechanic and got the car fixed right away even though there was a long line of cars ahead of him. What was Steve Dublanica’s secret? Did he bribe the mechanic? No. He regularly tipped him $10 and $20 at Christmas. Dublanica called this an advance bribe. The thought occurred to me that maybe the reason I get such awful car service is that I’ve never tipped the mechanics or service advisors and that convinced me to look a little more into the book.

  I skipped to Chapter 8 where our author is in Las Vegas playing Blackjack. I’ve been to Las Vegas once for a job and spent the one off night we had playing blackjack when I wasn’t having a gun pointed at me on a bus. That’s a story for another time but I wanted to point out that my blackjack foray was quite profitable. The dealer kept on showing a low card which caused the table to mostly hold and the dealer would oblige our conservatism by busting and making us winners. I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the table but whenever I won two or three hands in a row I gave the dealer a dollar chip (we were at a $2 minimum table). I ended the session far north of a $100 profit not including the $20+ I tipped the dealer. As I was skimming the chapter there was an interview with a Las Vegas blackjack dealer who mentioned that he would rather the customer made a bet for him instead of giving him a tip. I wouldn’t have spent the time or money on the book if it was a tipping guide but a book of interviews with people who get tips piqued my interest.

  In the introduction Dublanica says the book is a journal of his quest to become an expert on tipping and he is embarrassed that as a former waiter who has written a best seller and been on Oprah he doesn’t know more about tipping. He spends a couple of chapters going over the history of tipping and how it is a fairly American custom that was encouraged by cheap employers to avoid paying a fair wage. There have been movements in the past to abolish tipping but currently it is estimated that over 60 billion dollars are given out as tips in America every year.

  Dublanica interviews doormen, coffee baristas, Las Vegas dealers, furniture movers, cab drivers, parking attendants, sex workers, strippers, and even bathroom attendants to get their take on tips. I was almost insulted that there weren’t any newspaper delivery people in the book. I had a paper route with the Newark Star-Ledger for a year when I was younger. I bought the papers from the Star-Ledger and collected the money from the customers so I was sort of an independent contractor. This worked out pretty good for the Star-Ledger. I was told I had to order two extra papers in case a customer claimed they didn’t get a paper which boosted the Star Ledger’s profits out of my pocket. The Star Ledger also had a convenient supply of rubber bands and plastic bags for me to purchase and I’m sure I wasn’t getting them at cost. The paper cost 10 cents a day except for Sunday when the paper was 15 cents. I made 3 cents profit on a daily paper and 5 cents on a Sunday paper. I had 40 daily and 60 Sunday papers so this amounted to about $12 dollars a week for at least 14 hours of work and that was only if no one stiffed me and doesn’t account for the extra papers and supplies I was encouraged to purchase.

  When I collected my 75 cents a week from the people I delivered to most would give me a dollar and tell me to keep the change. This boosted my earnings considerably until the Star-Ledger raised the price of the Sunday paper to 25 cents (I still only made a nickel on each Sunday paper I delivered). When I went to collect the 85 cents from my customers they would still give me the same dollar and tell me to keep the change which was now 15 cents instead of 25 cents. It seemed like the Star-Ledger’s 10 cent price boost for the Sunday paper came straight out of my pocket. I made it a few more months after the price change so I could get the Christmas tips (at least $5 a house) and left the paper route business for the fast food world and their guaranteed hourly wage albeit no tips. Since then I've received the occasional present or gift card at my programming jobs and lots of gift cards and presents from the St. Francis Chess Club parents. I even received a couple of tips from my chess students this summer. There are all appreciated but I never considered them as essential as when I was delivering newspapers. I program and teach chess at an agreed upon price while delivering newspaper for three cents a day to a subscriber who paid the same amount as they would at the newsstand seems to scream 'GIVE THE PAPER BOY A TIP!'.

  I’m not much of a tipper. I gave Clayton the paper delivery person a Jackson in December and I’ll leave a five on the table when we eat at the Chinese Buffet and maybe if I'm in a fantastic mood I'll drop my spare change in the tip jar that seems to be at the counter of every store. I did give Mikey at Cylinder's 'Rack Shack' and Deb at the Waffle House near Kansas City large tips which were so out of character I wrote about giving them. Other than that I rarely go anywhere that I’m expected to tip. At least that’s what I thought before I read this book. Now I think that maybe I'm supposed to tip at a lot more places than I thought. Apparently when I stay in a hotel I should be tipping everyone from the front desk to the housekeepers a dollar or two. I haven’t paid for a haircut in years but I’m supposed to tip the stylist and the receptionist. When I go to the airport and take the shuttle a buck or two for the driver is something that is possibly expected. And maybe I need to have a few extra bucks on hand when I take my car in for servicing.

  All the interviews with all the service people made one big point to me: most people who get tips are treated very poorly by their employers. According to federal law, the minimum wage for any employee that customarily receives more than $30 is $2.13 an hour! That is a staggeringly low number. How would you like to make $2.50 an hour waiting tables or working as a bathroom attendant and not get any tips? Even if a waitress or casino dealer provides superior service and gets a large tip it is normally shared with everyone that is working the shift and sometimes pooled for an entire week and shared with hard workers and slackers alike.

  Apartment building doormen and hotel concierge seem to do the best of all the people in book (the sex workers and strippers seem to make the most money but the word 'better' may be dependent on the readers’ morality). It seems that many concierge and doormen get kickbacks from the grateful vendors they guide business to. One Las Vegas cab drivers told a similar tale of kickbacks from nightclubs and sex workers. On the flip side there are plenty of tipped workers that have to pay kickbacks to get assigned the best tables, customers, or shifts. The only tip workers that had the benefits of a real wage and tips were the baristas in the Portland, Oregon coffee shop that Dublanica worked in see in action how and why baristas get tipped.

  I didn’t care too much for the ‘history of tipping’ part of the book and thankfully it was short and hardly revisited after the introduction. The book was more about the people who survive on their tips as opposed to Dublanica's 'quest' to me a master tipper. I really liked how Dublanica tells the stories of the different tip workers. It gave me a good feeling for how their work lives and their tips (or lack thereof) fit in. There were plenty of funny stories with the parking and bathroom attendants tales of poor tippers being my favorites. I give ‘Keep The Change’ high marks as a funny and informative book and will get ‘Waiter Rant’ without waiting for it to show up at Goodwill or The Salvation Army.