CONCORD, NH—After receiving "subpar" service and experiencing an unusually long wait for his $4.75 lunch at a local Beefside Family Restaurant Monday, customer Gus O'Connor opted to give waitress Carla Hyams a reduced 10 percent tip in an attempt to communicate his dissatisfaction and raise awareness of the areas in which he felt her performance was lacking.
Hyams, 49, who has been serving tables at the popular eatery for 13 years, expressed enthusiastic gratitude for the "immense personal growth" the gesture will afford her, adding that, in the long run, the experience will make her a better waitress.
"Maybe I was a little short with him when I told him to 'hold on a sec,' but in the future, I'll do my best to ensure a situation like that never, ever happens again," said Hyams, who put O'Connor's order slip in as the understaffed cooks dealt with a large, complicated meal for a busload of senior-citizen tourists. "It's days like this that I thank God I get paid less than minimum wage and can rely on a built-in economic incentive to keep me motivated during those 16-hour double shifts."
Hyams added that she now knows she should always bring a glass of water without any ice cubes every time someone orders a Diet Coke, and that the phrase 'when you get a minute' is in fact a polite way of indicating that the customer wants his request filled in under one minute.
"If he hadn't withheld that 50 cents, I'd make these same mistakes over and over for the rest of my career," she said. "Even at my age, it's amazing to think you can still learn something new about a low-paying, menial-labor job."
Hyams added that the next time she sees O'Connor she will remember that he undertipped her and strive to serve him better to avoid any further disappointment.
"He may not realize it, but his actions today will not only improve my work ethic, but will directly benefit him, as well, in that I will gain economic and personal rewards by treating him with the tremendous respect and unfailing attention he deserves," Hyams said. "So really, if you think about it, that 10 percent tip is a win-win situation for both of us."
O'Connor said he felt he needed to get through to the waitress, and did so the best way he knew how.
"By giving her less than the universally agreed-upon minimum, I sent a clear, unmistakable yet constructive message," said O'Connor, who claimed that he hoped the smaller tip would be a "wake-up call" for Hyams. "I was just trying to help push Carla along the path to achieving her full potential as an employee."
"It was the absolute least I could do," he added.
O'Connor said he first considered reducing his usual 15 percent tip for the waitress when Hyams failed to replace the cream packets for his coffee while he looked over the restaurant's extensive list of lunch specials. But it wasn't until Hyams neglected to ask if he needed extra ketchup that O'Connor made the decision to let his "money do the talking."
"In the competitive service industry, there is a mechanism to effect change," he said. "I know this will be an invaluable lesson she won't soon forget, but I just did what any decent human being in my position would have done. And that feels good."
O'Connor said his overall goal was not only to receive better service, but to help Hyams become a role model for her two teenage children, Tyler and Michael.
"I know as well as anyone how hard it is for a single mother with a limited income to raise kids on her own," he said. "But this way they learn the value of money and the satisfaction of a job well done."
In the end, Hyams said, she could not agree more.
"My boys have had a few run-ins with the law, and they could certainly use some good advice," she said. "I can't wait for them, and maybe a couple of their friends, to meet Mr. O'Connor firsthand. I think they'd get a lot out of it."