My thoughts are mostly in line with cmpm's. However, I am irritated like Josh by the whole thing, I just don't necessarily act on it. I feel it's too complex of an issue for me to really act on. The servers really don't get paid anything; their income is reliant on the tips, which is a shame. So I have sympathy for them. Still, I won't tip them if they treated me like in your story, no way. But overall, I have sympathy, so I'll give the 15% even though I don't really want to. It is lame. It's not comfortable on a psychological level because it makes it harder to predict how much your meal is going to cost. To figure it out, you have to add all the listed prices of the items you ordered, then add tax, then add tip...it's too many steps just to estimate how much you owe.
It's the same shit the cell phone companies do. They break down their service into so many categories to keep you from truly knowing the bottom line cost, which is all anyone is after. I often ask people (as a little test) how much their cell phone bill is. Almost ALWAYS, they say it this way:
"Well, my basic plan is $50."
me: "Oh! That's pretty good. I though it would be more."
"Well, I also get the data plan."
me: "How much is that?"
"Well, we actually get a family plan, but it's like $30 extra."
me: "How much is it per person?"
"No, actually, it's just $30 for each phone a month."
You get the idea. After a while, I'm just like, "Would you just tell me how much the fu--ing TOTAL monthly bill is?"
I mean, sheesh. All this breaking down of costs is another tactic to keep you from figuring out the total. I'm glad ebay started listing total prices in their searches instead of leaving the shipping out. People were really making a racket off of that by keeping it somewhat hidden from the listed price.
On another note, when i was in London a couple of years ago, I noticed how much more rude the servers there were. They don't get tipped. So, they lose a little bit of that incentive to be nicer. So it's a give and take. Haha, I still remember when I asked for ice for my soda (they drink everything room temp, which is fine for Newcastle, bad for Coke), the waiter reached around the counter, grabbed a fistful of ice and plopped it in my cup of soda. Wow.