Of Bars, Booze, and Bartending - Proving "Coughlin's Law" Invalid Since Feb '05

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Steven A. Shaw is a Snooty Foodie.

He's also a complete jackass. A noxious weed, if you will. And, likely, a crap tipper.

Warning: I'm sore, and I'm about to rant my ass off.

Yesterday's New York Times Op/Ed page had a ridiculous entry from said Mr. Shaw on the "controversial" topic of tipping that you should read if you're interested in this topic, which you probably are, since you're reading this blog, where I mostly bitch (and sometimes rave) about tipping.

Tipped Off

Essentially, snooty foodie Shaw enjoys the fine dining establishments of Europe, and their practice of paying the servers some kind of decent wage (which he conveniently never defines) and sticking the customer with a mandatory service charge in lieu of tipping. He argues that some irrelevant study showed that customers base their tips not on the actual service rendered, but on how nice or talkative a server is, or if he crouches at your table, or how many times he touches your shoulder or something(creepy).

Now, sure, attractive, friendly waiters probably make more in tips than sweaty, slothy ones. I guess you have to be an Op/Ed writer at the New York Times, or some brilliant Cornell professor in charge of a waste-of-time study, to reach such logical and obvious conclusions. Mr. Shaw, I've never experienced a server who fondled me, thankfully, but I have no appreciation for waiters who crouch at my table. It's so T.G.I. Friday's, somehow. Stand up and give me the specials like a man, please.

He also mentions Pool Houses, the kind of restaurants that pool the tips and divvy them up among the wait staff. He claims that they're rather commonplace, which couldn't be further from the truth, in my corner of the world, at least. Wait staff rebelled against that bullshit years ago. The really good servers and bartenders would never, ever work in a Pool House, so when we all left en masse, we essentially buried that stupid-ass, corporate-boardroom-conceived concept forever. Pool Houses are the main reason I'll never work for a corporate establishment again. I'm mom-and-pop all the way.

Finally, on the upselling issue... I'm really not into it, myself. You can read a menu, and if you want the $24 Pinot Gris or the $90 Amarone, I imagine you'll order it. I'm pleased to educate you about our fine selection of wines, since I've drunk most of them liberally. I don't consider that upselling, but if you think I'm hustling you, feel free to pull back some of that tip. At least this way, the choice is yours. Jerk.

Look, Mr. Shaw, it's painfully obvious that you've never worked in a restaurant, and that you do a lot of talking out of your ass, so I'll try to slow it down for you... Y o u a r e a f o o l. F o r p u n i s h m e n t, y o u s h o u l d b e s e n t e n c e d t o t h e o v e r n i g h t s h i f t a t W h i t e C a s t l e.

Hey, I'd love to have health insurance and a 401(k) and paid vacation as much as the next bartender or waiter, but not if that trade-off means I'm making $10.00 an hour. What good would the benefits do me when I can't pay my mortgage on some low wage that Mr. "I'm Smug, And I Can Afford Four-Star Restaurants" Shaw would probably consider generous? After the insurance and 401(k) and tax deductions, that generous hourly wage probably turns into, I dunno, four bucks. Besides, don't Europeans get national health insurance and loads of vacation time? Lucky bastards. Yeh, yeh, I know they pay a lot in taxes for these services, but I really am jealous about that vacation time thing.

(I'll admit to wishing more restaurant owners offered their employees the option of purchasing cheaper, group health insurance, and I think it's atrocious that they don't, but I'll save that rant for another time.)

See, Mr. Shaw? Everyone's happy because it's a damned good system, and it isn't broken. I realize I'm an independent contractor, I've realized it for years, and I'm grown-up enough to not require your gentle assistance at making my life better. Tipping assists a real relationship between the customer and bartender/waiter, especially if the customer plans to return often. Take the tip out of it, and you pretty much removed my motivation to say, "Hey, Skippy!" when you walk in the bar and I begin preparing your Chivas Rob Roy before you've settled in your barstool. Take the tip out of it, and you just became Joe Anonymous to me. Take the tip out of it, and you just killed the American Bar Experience for millions of bar regulars. Congratulations, Buzzkill.

His concept would drive the lion's share of servers to the unemployment line, while replacing them with mere employees who think $10 an hour would be pretty sweet, considering they make less than that at Chipotle or Subway.

It's downright un-American, what you're proposing, Mr. Shaw. And yes, I enjoy traveling to the beautiful and magical continent of Europe. Something I'll never afford again, if your idea is successful and my wage is cut by, essentially, two-thirds. If you think a restaurant owner is going to replace my tipped income dollar for dollar, please share with me the Chronic you're smoking.

Now, Mr. Shaw, do enjoy your next snooty, tipless meal at some four-star French or Belgian restaurant. I hope you run into Eddie. You guys would like each other.

For more on this topic, please visit Waiter Rant, who sees it much the same way, but spells it out more eloquently, and with less profanity, and far fewer words, than I.

A bottle of red
A bottle of white
Whatever kind of mood you're in tonight
I'll meet you anytime you want
In our snooty European overpriced non-tipping ambivalently-staffed high-turnover restaurant

- Billy Joel, "Italian Restaurant" (kind of.)