Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Flirting With Servers

Every job has certain ethical challenges. I find being a waiter has several; one is serving alcohol. Another is honesty when describing (and endorsing food). A third one is my topic for today; flirting.

A couple of months ago I was at work and talking to a fellow waiter (oh, lets call him “Tim”) about the ethics of flirtation. He was serving a table of young and attractive girls and I joked that he should unbutton his shirt to increase his tip. This got us talking about flirting. Is it ethical for a server to flirt with guests? Tim is a married Christian so we were able to talk about it on several levels. It's a good question because many guests come in either hoping or expecting you to flirt with them. It’s not all younger people either. Jobina’s grandfather often flirts with servers (he’s quite smooth, I must say). There is also the undeniable fact that flirting with some guests will increase your tip (for others flirting will harm it).

How exactly do you define flirting? And what does it look like? Some things that people define as flirting as making jokes, complimenting, suggestive talk, touching, smiling, winking, standing close to/leaning over, giggling, brushing up against, making suggestive/flirty statements, etc. The tone of the voice can be important as any verbal innuendo. Dictionary.com defines flirting as “To make playfully romantic or sexual overtures.” Usually, there is no emotional attachment implied. I think there has to be some overtone (however minor) of a romantic or sexual nature - if there isn’t either of these overtones, there isn’t flirting going on.

Tim thinks that a little bit of flirting is OK and wouldn’t mind if his wife (who is also a waitress) flirted a little with a table if it would increase her tip. For myself, I’ve decided that flirting with my guests is just something I won’t do. However, I have noticed that I will lower my voice occasionally (is it to a “flirty” voice?) with some tables so I’m not sure if I am unconsciously flirting or if I just don't want to sound prepubescent.

The other question is, if one flirts (not because one is romantically interested with someone) because one wants a bigger tip, is one guilty of a type of prostitution? This might seem extreme, but a prostitute is one who provides sexual favors/fantasy for money. Isn’t this what a server does who flirts to get a bigger tip?

I’d be interested to see what other people think about flirting with their servers (or other people as well). Is it harmless? Ethical impropriety? Unfaithfulness to your partner? A slippery slope? Or just plain fun? Perhaps you are a server. Do you flirt with guests? And if you are a patron, do you flirt with the server?

May Light increase!


Rayna said...

Because it was before I was married I was actually on the other side usually when I was a server - I would be friendly and all, but if anyone seemed interested or was flirting with me I would get embarrassed. There were times that I would even move my rings to my left ring finger so that men wouldn't try to pick me up. I was a lot more naive and innocent then. :)
As for patrons flirting, Michael flirts with servers all the time. I don't care at all about it, it's less romantic/sexual and more teasing - you know him and what he is like. He also flirts with older women, which I laugh at. That's just him, I used to tease him that he thinks he's God's gift to women. Me, I do not flirt with male servers - if they flirt with me I feel like they are trying to get a better tip. There is a fine line between being nice and friendly and flirting to get a tip. Doesn't really impress me much - I leave the same tip as I would if they didn't. My girlfriends and I are going out tomorrow night, so we'll see if we get a male server and I'll be paying attention if he flirts or not and how I/we respond.

Jay Boaz said...

On the serving alcohol point Mark, I put this to you; is it unethical for Christians to serve alcohol, or is it more beneficial for Christians to serve it and thus control the rate of consumption, having the morals to actually cut off service when the guest is impaired rather than keep serving them to drive up the total bill?

As to the flirting thing, it's not something I ever tried. There are a few ways servers make tips; looking good/flirting, having an accent (ask Paulie about it, he'll tell you the Aussie accent makes money), the pity tip (though long term that's not as effective), or actually giving good service. I, being an unattractive male with no accent or flirting skills, was forced into the "give good service" route. I admit, when I see air-head waitresses who look good making the same or more money than me, I used to be bothered since I actually had to work for it.

As to the ethical implications, if the guests are responding to a flirting server, does that not mean they're enjoying their experience? At the Olive Garden you want 100% Guest Satisfaction, right?

Mind you, at the Olive Garden you're also supposed to be treated like family. So if you're flirting with family, that's actually kind of dirty. :)

Not sure if I answered any of your questions, but I stirred the pot I'm sure. :)


Jay Boaz said...

Oh, and on a side note, my friend Blake was actually paid once to hit on a girl at a table by her uncle (he was their server). We all watched from the bus station and laughed because he didn't do a very good job. :)


Jobina said...

Of course I would never do this now, but as a teenager I loved getting attention from servers. There was one waiter at Earls who always complemented me on my dress. Every Sunday. It seriously made me beg my parents to go there as often as I could!
Now, I would just like a server to be polite, not call my table "you guys" and bring my food in a decent amount of time the way I ordered it. Don't flirt with me (unless it's you Mark, of course) and don't brush up against anyone at the table. My pet peeve...servers who flirt when they are obviously serving a couple! I hate that and it's just plain rude to the other person at the table. It really does not make me want to give them money. "Here, please flirt with my husband, ignore me, and I would love to give you a huge tip!" I think not.

Mark said...

Rayna: It sounds like you and I are on the same page for the most part. I'll have to have a talk with that husband of yours though!
Jay: You make several good points my friend. I think you aren't accurate with your impressions of your attractiveness, but I agree that servers will use whatever is at their disposal to illicit tips. Is this ethical though, especially for Christ followers? That is the question to me.
Jobina: I will flirt with you anytime! Also, we will no longer go to Earls. On a serious note, I have seen waitresses do just as you have described. The reason they think they can get away with it is that they start and 1. They start and if the guy/girl doesn't stop it they will continue and 2. They believe that is the guy who is paying so then they can get away with it. When this works for the waitress several times it becomes a habit.
P.S. I'm sad that no one has touched the prostitution angle yet. . .

jeremy sawatzky said...

mark - i have said for years that waiters/waitresses who flirt for tips are prostitutes. i feel that you have somehow tapped into my brain, stolen the idea, and claimed it as your own.

Mark said...

Jeremy: Hey nice to have you weigh in! Also, it is good to hear someone agrees with my prostitution idea. Did I steal it from you - maybe. But I think that genius is genius, and we are both just amazing. Also, we are humble . . .

jeremy sawatzky said...

we're the most humble two guys in the world.

Jay Boaz said...

Honestly, I think you're pushing it with the prostitution angle. Sorry gents.


Mark said...

Jay: There are two elements which make prostitution what is is. First there is the element of illicit sex (sex outside of God's plan for sex) which is either fornication or adultery (depending on your marital status). The second element is the selling of said "service." Are both necessary to make it prostitution? I suppose so. Does a waiter flirting for cash fulfill both of these? Well they definitely "sell" the service. But are they engaged in an element of illicit sex? Here it's a little grayer. Is flirting an illicit sexual behavior? Is hinting to someone of something of a sexual nature wrong? I'd say it doesn't fit for sure if it's "romantic" flirting. But if it's sexual . . . the argument could be made that they are selling a sexual/fantasy service that is illicit. Thus, flirting with guests is not always prostitution but could be. What do you think?

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