Help Squad: Help is on the way

There’s nothing I despise more than sitting on hold for a customer service representative, trying to correct a mistake on a bill, get a refund or cancel an account. 

I’m one of those people who screams at the top of my lungs at the automated directory assistance voice that can never seem to give me the correct phone number.

That’s why I am really excited to launch the Help Squad consumer advocacy column.

For the past year, I have been a “Business Spotlight” reporter for Sun-Times Media Local. I visit all kinds of businesses, interviewing owners and managers, talking to their customers and then writing an article that aims to accurately portray what the business does and why.

Not only has it been fun and interesting, but business features reporting has given me a solid foundation in the business world. I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to run a business, unexpected problems that can arise, the necessary drive and passion needed to make a company successful. Most important, I know the value of keeping customers happy and coming back.

So, I’ll be your mediator, your advocate. 

Did a utilities company overcharge you? Did a boutique deny your request for a return? Are you the victim of fraudulent business practices? Is someone just exhibiting bad business behavior? 

I will make the call for you. I will sit on hold, and I will help you get a fair result. 

Additionally, I might offer help in other ways, such as saving strategies, smart consumer practices, and consumer tips.

So send your letters, your complaints, your injustices and your story ideas to and we will be happy to help you.

Here’s a tip

Not too long ago, I was out for lunch with a large group of women. When the check arrived, a 20 percent tip had been added onto the bill, and everyone started asking if we should leave an additional tip. 

One of the women turned to me and said, “You should write an article on tipping, and what’s acceptable. I’m always so confused.” 

Well, I talked to several North Shore business owners and employees, all of whom receive tips in their businesses, and here is what they had to say:

• Neel Sharma, owner and dog walker at North Shore Dog Walk, in Glenview: “Tipping is probably done 30 percent of the time. Usually, the tip is about $5 or less and clients tip if they think you are going above and beyond what they are requesting.” 

• Danette Mark, server at Hemmingway’s Bistro, in Oak Park: “Typically at the restaurant it’s 20 percent, but I usually see 25 and 30 percent because I’ve been here awhile and I have a lot of regular customers. I’m very grateful for that.”

• Ehko Lkam, co-owner of UB Spa Nails, in Glenview and Lake Forest: “We usually get 15-20 percent of the service, but if they’ve been coming here for awhile and they know us well, we have created these bonds and so they tip us more.” 

• John Christensen, manager of Lake Car Wash, in Highland Park: “I’d say 95 percent of our customers give our guys a tip, and they usually give $2 or $3.” 

• Teddy Spears, owner of TeddyFabz, in Deerfield: “Our restaurant is fast, (and) casual, which means you order at the counter. There is no wait staff, but there is someone who brings your food to the table, and I’d guess 25-30 percent of customers tip that person anywhere from a couple bucks, or if it’s a large table, they leave $5 or $10.” 

• Brittany Shorette, receptionist at Zazu Salon and Day Spa, in Hinsdale: “We usually get around 20 percent, sometimes with color they might tip more because it takes more time. Nails are around 18-20 percent. The assistants usually get $3 to $5, sometimes even $10.”

• Andreas Hogue, owner of Andreas Hogue Salon, in Northbrook: “Most stylists usually receive 20 percent of the bill as a tip. Salon associates (people who wash your hair) get $2-$5 on average. As far as me being the owner, most people tip me, I don’t expect it but they do.”

• Jim Blomberg, co-owner of The Avenue restaurant, in Wilmette: “Our customers are extremely generous, and usually leave 20 percent or more. We are very appreciative of that generosity.”

• Cole Messutta, register, line server and delivery employee at Jimmy John’s in Wilmette: “People tip around $2-3 per delivery, and if we get there really quickly, it can be a little higher. If it’s over $50, the tip is usually $7-12.” 

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