Clinton Campaign Says It Tipped Maid-Rite Waitress

A waitress causes a stir on the political blogs. The waitress at a Maid-Rite restaurant in Iowa says she did not get a tip after serving presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton, a Democrat from New York. But the Clinton campaign says a $100 tip was left at the diner.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now a follow-up and clarification of a story we aired about an Iowa waitress. In our story we reported on two women and their encounters with presidential candidates on the campaign trail. One, a waitress at a restaurant called Maid-Rite, said that after serving Hillary Clinton on October 8th she got no tip. And that caused a furor in the political blogs. Senator Clinton's campaign contacted NPR to say that in fact they left a sizeable tip at the diner - $100 - the day that Mrs. Clinton visited.

We've brought on NPR's David Greene, who reported the story, to explain why the confusion.

Good morning, David.

DAVID GREENE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: I guess the first question anybody would ask is - was there a tip or wasn't there?

GREENE: Well, Anita Esterday is the woman who served Hillary Clinton at the lunch counter back on October 8th, and she did not get a tip that day. I called her back yesterday to see if we had her story right. And she stressed to me again she's not angry at Hillary Clinton - in fact, she might vote for her, she told me - but she was disappointed that day that she was given no money for her service.

Now, after our story aired, Esterday said that a Clinton campaign staffer went to the restaurant yesterday morning and gave her a $20 bill. The campaign staffer said she was sorry that Esterday was not tipped back in October, but insisted that a tip was left the day that Clinton was at the diner.

And here's a little of what the waitress said about this visit yesterday from the woman from the Clinton campaign.

Ms. ANITA ESTERDAY (Waitress): She told me that they had paid with a credit card and had left a hundred dollar tip to be divided up amongst everybody that was working that day. I explained to her that our credit card machine, you know, doesn't add on the tip. And she says, well, then they left a hundred bill there. And I said, well, it didn't get divided up amongst us because I had gotten nothing.

MONTAGNE: So David, what did you find out? Was anyone tipped by the campaign? Was it divided up?

GREENE: Well, that's a separate question that we're also dealing with. The Clinton campaign told us that the campaign that day paid two tabs, and they actually sent us copies of the credit card receipts. They totaled about $157. And they said that in addition they left cash for tips for the restaurant staff, and they said that amounted to somewhere around a hundred dollars.

Now, we should say that the campaign wouldn't identify anyone for us to talk to who was actually at the diner that day and who could tell about the tip being left.

MONTAGNE: And of course with these things, it wouldn't have been just Hillary Clinton at the counter. Her campaign people would have been taking other tables. Could those waitresses have gotten tips; not just the people serving the senator?

GREENE: I think it's very possible. Clinton was at the lunch counter, and there were a number of other tables all around the restaurant. And as you said, people with the campaign were seated at those tables. And so I've spoken also to the restaurant manager, Brad Crawford, and he says he was not there the day that Clinton visited, but he is satisfied that at least several waitresses did receive their own tips. But he was not sure if anyone reached out to make sure that Anita Esterday got a tip for her service for Hillary Clinton.

And Esterday, the waitress, said that if her coworkers were told to share the tips they got, she's be surprised if they just took the money. And here's a little bit more of what the waitress had to say.

Ms. ESTERDAY: The ladies that were working that day have worked there for years, I mean some of them for 30 years, some of them for 25 years. And I've known a lot of these ladies most of my life living here too, and I can't imagine them pocketing it or not splitting it.

MONTAGNE: So we're left with a little bit of a she said/he said situation here. David, would some of these have been avoided if you had taken it to the campaign beforehand, this question about the tip; I mean wouldn't that be a pretty basic thing to do?

GREENE: Yeah. And since Anita Esterday had said on our air that nobody got tipped that day, which is different than saying just she did not get tipped - she said no one was tipped - I should have asked the campaign before the story aired if they could say if anyone was tipped and how exactly that happened. That would have made the tip, I think, a lot more of a focus of our story than I had intended. But it's clear I should have gotten their reaction upfront. That's way it's done.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks.

GREENE: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's David Greene.

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Editor's Note: The Tale of the Tip

Where It Started...

It started as an aside in a longer interview, but it became an Internet sensation within hours.

Anita Esterday, a waitress at the Maid-Rite in Toledo, Iowa, told NPR's David Greene in a report that aired on Morning Edition Thursday that "nobody got left a tip" on Oct. 8, when Clinton sat at the lunch counter and ordered up the restaurant's famous loose-meat sandwich.

Esterday served Clinton, chatted with her and later ended up as an example of a hard-working single mom in Clinton's stump speech. She told NPR she's considering voting for Clinton, but was disappointed the senator and her staff didn't make sure she got a tip for her labor.

The tip issue was a small part of an eight-minute piece about how everyday people get caught up in political campaigns. Half the story was about an incident in which another presidential candidate, Barack Obama, failed to follow up on a letter he said he might send to a supporter he met at a rally. The Obama campaign Thursday said they fired off a letter to the supporter after the story aired. But that part of the story received little mention in the blogosphere after airing Thursday.

Not so the reference to Hillary Clinton and the tip. As soon as that story aired in the 5 o'clock hour Eastern Time, it was picked up by a number of political blogs. And the Clinton campaign immediately contacted news organizations to tell its side of the story. Clinton spokesman Phil Singer wrote to NPR in an e-mail: "The campaign spent $157 and left a $100 tip at the Maid-Rite Restaurant. Wish you had checked in with us beforehand."

Esterday said "nobody got tipped that day," and NPR should have checked with the Clinton campaign before the story aired to see if any tip was left and how it was done. We regret that this was not done. On Thursday, Esterday was sticking by her story.

"Why would I lie about not getting a tip?" she told NPR. She also maintained that her co-workers at the restaurant had not received tips.

A Clinton campaign staffer called on Esterday at the restaurant Thursday after the story aired. The staff member apologized to her and gave her a $20 bill, according to Esterday. The Clinton campaign confirmed that visit. The campaign also produced photocopies of receipts showing $157.46 was paid to Maid-Rite on a VISA card on Oct. 8 for meals consumed by the candidate's entourage. The tip was supposed to have been paid in cash, and the campaign insisted such a payment was made but has declined to make available a staff member who was present at Maid-Rite and left tip money.

Maid-Rite's manager, Brad Crawford, said Thursday that while he was not present at the restaurant on Oct. 8, he knew that a bill was paid by the campaign that day. He also said that he believed three of six servers working that day received tips from people he thought were working for or affiliated with the Clinton campaign.

Crawford said he didn't know if campaign staffers meant "for their tips to be distributed to everybody" or whether they were meant only for individual servers.

The manager said he can't say for sure if Esterday was tipped for serving Clinton and her guests, Christie Vilsack and Ruth Harkin. (Vilsack is the wife of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Harkin is the wife of Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin). But Crawford said he believes Esterday's account that she received no tip.

"Where Hillary was sitting, there was no tip left," Crawford said.

The restaurant has a lunch counter, where Clinton and her guests were seated. Esterday and several other servers were working behind that counter. There are a dozen or so other booths and tables around the restaurant, and other servers were helping diners seated there.

Esterday, speaking to NPR from home later Thursday, said the Clinton campaign staffer who visited the diner apologized to her and said a $100 tip was left on a credit card the day of Clinton's visit. Esterday said the staff member said the money was meant to be shared.

"I explained to her that our credit card machine, you know, doesn't add on the tip," Esterday said. "And she said, 'Well, then, they left a $100 bill there.' And I said, 'Well, it didn't get divided up amongst us, because I had gotten nothing.'

"She just said, 'Well, there was one left,'" Esterday said. "She just kept repeating, 'There was one left.'

After the campaign staffer stopped at the diner Thursday, Esterday said, the $100 tip was a hot topic.

"Two others that had worked with me that day turned around and said, 'We didn't know about any $100 tip,' because they both turned around and said 'We didn't get a part of it.' And they didn't. So, it's like 'OK, where did it go?' That's the mystery question: Where did it go?"

Esterday said it would surprise her if money that was intended to be split among the staff was never shared.

"The ladies that were working that day have been working there for years — some of them for 30 years, some of them for 25 years," Esterday said. "And I've known a lot of these ladies most of my life living here, too. And I can't imagine them pocketing it."

The campaign has made the the tip question the top feature on a new Web site it has created called "Fact Hub." Campaign spokesman Phil Singer said in a statement: "In the minute-to-minute media cycle we live in, we believe it is critical to correct the record in real time."

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