Buenos Aires isn’t known for having impeccable service in its restaurants. Sure, the top spots have waiters who actually know what they’re doing, but those aren’t the places that one tends to frequent on a regular basis. Besides, if you’re paying AR$200+ per person you better have attentive, stellar service or mama’s not going to be a happy camper.
I’ve given this a lot of thought and I wonder if it has to do with the tipping culture (or lack thereof) here. Unlike in the US, where 20% is expected as standard, most people tip 10%, sometimes less, depending on circumstance. When I first arrived to BA I felt pretty bad for those who spend their days and nights on their feet only to receive some pitiful sum that barely counts as a “tip.” Eventually, my compassion transformed into frustration and semi-rage.
There just isn’t much incentive to go above and beyond for some reason. I’m sure it’s like the US where the base salary is close to nil and the workers depend on tips, but no one seems to be bothered by the fact. One theory of mine is that the waiters are bitter that they aren’t out with their friends like you are, and therefore punish you by providing the worst service you’ve ever experienced. It sounds ridiculous but hey, this is Crazytown.
Let me clarify that this isn’t the case with every restaurant in the city, but I feel it’s something to which most of us can relate; we’ve all had a shitty experience somewhere along the line, right?
A recent example: Saturday night we went to Il Fiume, an Italian restaurant in Puerto Madero that is always full and has pretty delicious food. The portions are generous, there are lovely outdoor tables, and they even offer a 20% discount with Club La Nación. Win! I noticed that the maître d’ and some servers were extremely friendly with other patrons, chatting them up and in general being very attentive. For some reason, we must have given off “ignore us at all cost” vibes because we sat for almost an hour waiting for our food. We even had to ask the waiter what was up with the delay (biggest pet peeve. If there is a delay in the kitchen I’ll forgive you if you anticipate this and give me a heads-up).
When our food finally arrived he didn’t utter so much as an apology for the long wait. At this point I wasn’t even really hungry since I’d had plenty of time to digest my mediocre appetizer. Not long after, we ordered the bill – which also took an eternity to arrive. We ended up leaving a 5% tip, miser-style. At first I felt bad – and I know it’s a pretty dick move to do such a thing – but how on Earth is this guy going to realize that you have to actually make an effort to ensure client satisfaction? I’m sorry but when I spend my hard-earned Pesos on a nice dinner out I want to get my money’s worth.
Sometimes as the patron you feel like it’s the only way you can “defend” yourself. Usually I just make a mental note not to return to that place unless I’ve been smoking crack all day or something. Maybe we can all band together and start some like Campaña Propina – mobilize the troops! Demand better service! We all know it would be a win-win situation.
Photo Credit: Inside Scoop SF