Thursday, October 29, 2009

Server's Dilemma

Time for a little problem I’ve been working on, designed especially for servers.  You may want to have a pencil and paper handy for this exercise.  The problem, known as the Server’s Dilemma, follows:

Two customers are seated at a table.  You remember both of them because of their past tipping habits.  Person A is a consistently good tipper.  Person B is a consistently poor tipper.  The check is never split.  Person A and Person B routinely treat one another, though there is no discernible pattern that would allow you to predict who is going to pick up the tab on any given occasion.  You are in a position of having to provide service, not knowing whether you efforts will be rewarded with an appropriate tip.  How should you act in this situation?

A) Provide good service to both parties--how people tip is their own business and there’s no sense fretting about the thoughtlessness a few customers.

B) Provide neutral service to both parties--do not go out of you way to be either hospitable or rude.

C)  Treat Person A well and Person B poorly.

D)  Treat both Person A and Person B like garbage.

Scroll down below the cartoon for the answer.

How will you act as these men play Russian roulette with your financial security?


Just to be on the safe side, treat both Person A and Person B like garbage.  If Person B pays the bill and leaves a bad tip, your preemptive rudeness will have been perfectly justified.  If Person A pays and leaves a reasonable tip, you will not have spent your limited store of friendliness needlessly.  Besides, does Person A, a person who freely associates with a bad tipper, deserve your kindness anyway?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Blowhard

I think the first thing that stands out, among the numberless unpleasant qualities of the Blowhard, is that within two minutes of sitting down I could hear him compare himself to Larry David.  The Blowhard and company were late arrivals to the sushi bar.  He was accompanied by a middle-aged woman with a poor complexion and two college-aged kids, a boy and a girl.  I’m not entirely sure, but it seems as if the boy was the son and the girl, unfortunate soul, was dating the boy and forced to endure an evening of dining with this insufferable trio.  Why is it that I think that the young woman may have been an outsider?  First of all, she was the only one among them who had the words “please” and “thank you” in her arsenal.  Secondly, an aside directed at the young lady by the Blowhard himself made me think that she may have been a new initiate to their reprehensible way of life:

“The only time you’ll catch us drinking beer at a sushi bar is if they don’t have any sauvignon blanc.”

Well, Blowhard, I’m sorry you had to slum it.  I hope your delicate palate survived the experience of having as something as pedestrian a beer slosh across you precious tongue--the precious tongue that has no doubt given birth to so many of your Larry-David-style witticisms.  If one is not familiar with the work of Larry David, yet knows the Blowhard, one might assume the following:

Larry David is not at all funny.

Larry David is a pompous windbag.

Larry David is a snob.

Larry David is a bully.

Larry David has a shrewish, hateful wife.

Larry David has a grubby, selfish, dirty son with fat, dwarfish arms and legs and a complete lack of decorum while inside a restaurant.

Now, I must say I am familiar with the work of Larry David--I would even go as far as saying that I think Larry David is great.  He has made me laugh countless times.  The Blowhard, not so.  Let’s take a moment to examine an example of the Blowhard as jokesmith.

BLOWHARD (saddened at the lack of sauvignon blanc on the menu of a Japanese restaurant):  We’ll share a large Sapporro.  And we’ll take four waters.

UNFORTUNATELY-COMPLECTED WOMAN: I’ll take mine without ice.

SERVER:  Sure.

BLOWHARD:  Can I get all ice, no water?

The server attempts to smile, but before appropriate time for a reaction has passed, the Blowhard butts in.

BLOWHARD (straightfaced, with a hint of anger):  It was a joke.  It was a joke.

No one laughs.

Ah, yes.  Comedy, thy name is Blowhard.  I guess we can safely assume that he is not like Larry David in the sense that he brings laughter to the world.  Rather, he is like Larry David the character, played by Larry David the comedian, every interaction he takes part in inspires anger.  In Curb Your Enthusiasm, this tension is diffused over and over by comic beats.  In real life, it just builds.  The Blowhard is funny only in his own mind.  His self-righteousness is the ultimate funny-killer . . . A joke from his lips couldn’t do anything but sink.

If I may indulge in a bit of analysis, there is a difference between the type of manner comedy of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and some dude who goes around being an asshole and causes conflict simply for the sake of causing conflict.  In Curb Your Enthusiasm, it’s often Larry David’s attempts to be all inclusive and nice that backfire and get him in hot water.  In The Blowhard Show, the Blowhard is a pompous, unfunny jerk and people dislike him.  There is no punchline, no levity, no pathos.  Larry David is lovable and in the end he pays for all of his social blunders.  He is divested of his power and his anger and it is funny.  He is forced to suck it up or shrug it off.  That’s why we like him.  Blowhard, on the other hand, is a vain, pompous windbag who in the blink of an eye can launch into a long speech designed to instruct his family (and apparently his son has absorbed the teachings well because he is a pig of the vilest stripe).  Yes, Blowhard, I can see the comparison between you, a nobody asshole with a bad tan, and Larry David, a man who’s influence on the world of comedy cannot be measured.

The only way in which the Blowhard has outperformed anyone associated with Seinfeld is in that he somehow manages to dress worse than anybody who has ever appeared in a Larry David venture.  No small feat, considering this roster includes the likes of Jerry Seinfeld himself.  In the nineties these crimes against fashion garnered more than a few snickers (What was the alternative?  Did you want to see Jerry trade in his puffy white sneakers and denim shirt for a pair of Doc Marten’s and a flannel?  Certainly not.)  The Blowhard, for his night on the town, at some point had gone to the closet and voluntarily (VOLUNTARILY!) selected a green bowling shirt with a modified argyle pattern running down the left and right of the buttons.  I wonder if somehow the blowhard had happened upon a yard sale held by Tom Arnold or maybe the dude from Smashmouth in order to score such a fine article of clothing.  Now that I think about it, I think Jeff Garlin may have worn the same shirt in the episode where he admitted to Larry that he had a masturbation fantasy about Larry’s wife.  Appropriate, since the Blowhard has a masturbation fantasy about being Larry David.  It all comes full circle . . .

Before the drinks are on the table, the Blowhard begins talking about the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm that revolves around a Cobb Salad.  This aired in 2001, I believe, and, to my recollection, is far from being the strongest episode in the series.  This episode, I overheard, was recommended by a friend who apparently also saw some Larry David-like qualities in the Blowhard.  Way to be on the cutting edge of entertainment, rehashing an episode of a sitcom that aired nearly a decade ago.  Blowhard, I’ve got a hot tip for you.  You really ought to check out a show called Welcome Back Kotter.  I can already see it--next time he goes out he’ll be comparing himself to Gabe Kaplan.  I can’t make any Gabe Kaplan jokes here because I was never desperate enough to watch that trash.  Well, maybe the Blowhard will grow out his mustache and start picking out his hair . . . But I somehow doubt that he’ll ever gain the good sense to pitch that lame bowling shirt.
For the benefit of the young lady, the Blowhard launches into a long-winded description of the episode, as if he had lived it himself.  The crater-faced harpy at his side chuckled, “It’s so true.  It’s just like what happened.”  What?  Wait.  You mean to tell me they’re saying that this, or something incredibly similar, actually happened to the Blowhard?  Did he get into an argument with someone who claimed to be a descendent of the person who invented the Cobb salad?  The odds of this happening are so slim, dare I say nonexistent, that I can only imagine the liberties that this clown has taken with the story.  Even if we give the Blowhard the benefit of the doubt and assume that even a micron of his story is true--what an incredibly trivial thing to blow out of proportion.  A salad argument!  We shall see, dear readers, that there is nothing too trivial for the Blowhard, and that salads, in fact, are an area of specialization for the Blowhard on his quest to misguidedly follow the lead of his comic hero.
I can see that this entry is going to run long, so I'll break it up into a few parts.  Stay tuned for the continuing saga.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Really?  First time inside a building?  Well, welcome.  Try not to be frightened by the electric lights.  They are not deities demanding worship and blood sacrifice, nor are they miniature suns screaming toward the earth.  They are here simply to keep the darkness away.  Those flattish wooden things arranged about the room are called tables.  We place food and beverages atop them.  And those flattish shorter things around the tables are known as chairs.  You'll be sitting in one of them, that is if you can withstand the arctic gales from the air conditioning.  Perhaps next time you'll remember to bring your saber-toothed tiger pelt for warmth.

Yes, we are aware that it is 110 degrees outside, so the shock you are displaying upon entering the building is not at all empty, THAT IS IF YOU HAVE NEVER IN YOUR LIFE BEEN INSIDE A RESTAURANT, MOVIE THEATER, OR STORE OF ANY KIND.

A new invention known as air conditioning has made it so that when it is 110 degrees outside, it need not be 110 degrees inside.  Perhaps when this modern convenience is around for another fifty years, mankind, especially those susceptible to catching a chill, will gain enough sense to bring a sweater along while dining or seeing a movie in the dead of summer.  Some might even find the temporary respite from the heat to be refreshing.

Do you see those red fabric doodads sitting on the tables?  Those are cloth napkins.  They have been carefully folded into a shape known as a bishop's miter.  Cloth napkins are one indication of an upscale restaurant.  Perhaps one of the reasons you are cold is that you arrived wearing a tank top, cut-off shorts, and flip-flops.  Perhaps if you could up your game enough to meet the minimal requirements for proper dress in a restaurant with cloth napkins you would not be so cold.

The waiter and chefs did hear you utter your nonsense syllable.   Brrrrr!  They are fully aware that you want the air conditioning to be turned down.  Feigning ignorance of subtext, they will pretend to not get the message.  They are waiting for you to come out and ask outright and they are hoping you will not have the audacity to do so.  These men and women are working, and it is uncomfortable to work in hot conditions.  There is raw fish on every table in the room and you want it warmer.   Why should the workers and the other diners with the good sense to dress appropriately sweat and suffer for your stupidity?  Perhaps you like your food only when it has been doused in the perspiration of overheated workers.

Bring a sweater.  This is not the dining master class.  This is 101.  As in P.S. 101.  I can't believe I even have to bring this up.  The utter resistance to learning you display time and time again display does not bode well for the human race.

Don't expect any sympathy from me.  Between you and me, the air conditioner humming away inside me feels better than a magic fingers bed.  And it keeps me nice and cool.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Weird Tipping Beliefs

Please don't practice weird tipping.  Tip on the total of the bill.  Include the tax, drinks, and desserts.  Twenty percent is the standard, folks, but feel free to up it.  The server doesn't know what's going on inside that twisted mind of yours.  Your dysfunctional beliefs might make perfect sense to you, but to the rational mind you come off as a cheapskate.  Servers are not mind-readers.  If they were, they surely would never be foolish enough to get within your arm's reach.



Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bar People: The Streamliner

A sure-fire warning sign that a customer may be difficult is the desire to be seated at the sushi bar rather than at a table.  I dare say that this is the greatest predictor for difficulty.  Exceptions do exist but they are rare.  There is something about the desire to sit at a sushi bar that sets the diner apart from the casual horde that wants simply to fill their bellies.  Bar People, devils one and all, arrive at a restaurant with a hidden agenda.

If it is a male/female couple, the session at the bar will invariably begin with a suggestion by the woman.  "Oooh," she will say.  "Do you want to sit at the bar?  That way we can watch them make our food."  The man will grumble and be dragged by the arm to his place at the bar.  The irony is that, at my particular sushi bar, the bar is elevated and the seats are low, so that the customer is treated not to a front row seat of the chef's work, but a face full of fish in the refrigerator.  Now Lord and Lady are deprived of the special delight they derive from watching another human being--underpaid without a doubt--sweat and grumble as he toils over their order.  They are then forced to occupy themselves with the task of annoying the chef by putting an index finger to the glass and playing the game of questions and answers known as "what kind of fish is that?"

Of all the types of bar people the above are perhaps the most harmless.  We now move forward into darker territory, into the world of those who seek a seat at the bar in order to fill some aching void in their lives.  To take a glimpse of this world is to bear witness to the staggering number of walking the streets with undiagnosed psychological disorders, ready to foist a bit of their madness on the first captive audience they come across.  For them the chef, chained behind the bar by the fetters of duty, is the perfect target.


This is a type of person rather than one particular individual.  Though, unfortunately, the traits of the Streamliner can be found in many customers.  The Streamliner is a rather forward-thinking individual who has, in his own mind, solved some of the problems inherent in the restaurant system.

The Streamliner (ironic that his name so infrequently reflects the character of his physique) takes a seat at the bar because he feels that the direct route is the best route.  He thinks, because he can speak directly to the chef, that he has solved the problem of dealing with severs.  Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.  The server is still in charge of bringing drinks, soup, edamame, and clean plates for sharing, as well as refilling drinks, clearing dirty dishes, keeping track of and adding the bill, taking the payment, busing, cleaning, and setting up the space at the bar for the next customers.  The only duty that the server is spared is bringing the food from the chef to the table--a convenience which, in a small restaurant such as myself, saves the server a journey of four or five feet.

It is upon this small convenience paid the server that The Streamliner bases the justification for his abhorrent behavior.  Blind to all that goes on around him, The Streamliner believes himself to be the champion of a new era.

Look at all I've accomplished, The Streamliner thinks.  The direct channel I have opened between diner and chef is a new dawn for mankind.  Notice how obsolete I have rendered the server.  Surely, once the table-sitting monkeys follow my lead, serving as a profession will not be around even as early as this time next year.  Accordingly, I will commence to treat the server like garbage.  Every polite inquiry made to ensure that my time spent at this establishment is pleasant and enjoyable and that all my needs are met will be treated as a vulgar interruption and be met with open disdain.

Continuing on in my own limited way, I think that I will tip the CHEF instead of the server.  Ha!  How do you like that?  Tipping the chef and stiffing the server!  Get a load of me!  I am quite the hot-shot, am I not?  I'm not afraid to step on a few toes--I know how things really work.  I am a champion of justice, and champions of justice are not known for winning popularity contests.  I mean, the chef's the guy that's making the food, right?  Why would I tip the server, whose hourly pay is less than minimum wage, when I could tip the chef, a fully-salaried employee who's vitality does not depend on how busy the restaurant is on any given night?  The chef has a skill: making food.  The server, who has to deal over and over again with stunted animals such as myself . . .  well, dealing with difficult people couldn't really be considered a skill, now could it?  Certainly not something that a person should ever be PAID do do.  True, I fumble through life in a kind of short-sighted, blundering way so I don't even know that the chef is already getting a percentage of the server's tips.  Nevertheless, even if I did know that I would not care.  Because I would like to see the chef, this noble soul preparing the feast upon which I will sup, dressed in the finest silks and furs, wandering the spacious halls of a stately golden castle.  Conversely, these servers, loathsome breed that they are, belong in in the shadow of this castle, huddled together for warmth.  Let them be dressed in filthy rags and their blood be the nourishment for lice, ticks, and other vermin that science has yet to discover.

Maybe next time I eat in a restaurant that does not have a bar, I will follow my enlightened philosophy anyway.  I will march past the server and right into the kitchen and shower the chef with handfuls of cash from my pocket.  Why should it be any different if I do not actually see the chef?  He makes the food and food is visible.  Service, which is invisible, does not really exist.  As a result it should not be rewarded.  Gee, I'm on a roll here.  I'm feeling pretty expansive.  Is this the kind of feeling that those poets were always talking about?  Perhaps they are not flakes I had thought them to be.  Perhaps I am dishing out hate as arbitrarily that I dish out love?  Why do I put the chefs above the servers?  Or the servers above the dishwashers?  Or any person above anyone else, for that matter?  Are we not all equal?  Do we not have the same desires, the same hopes and dreams?  Deep down don't we all just want to be loved?

Wait, the chef is handing a plate over the bar.  My food is on it.  The food he made for me.  As I take the plate from his skilled hands he nods sternly.  It is a nod of understanding.  A message is communicated.  He knows how much I appreciate him.  And now I know that he knows it.  We have entered a secret pact, the chef and I.  The server is the enemy.  He stands between us.  He must be done away with.  Not today, necessarily, but soon.  I've got it!  I will tip only the chef and not the server.  It is a gesture of my understanding of the situation.  The server is superfluous and I will stiff him.  I could do much more but this is something.  This is something.  A start.

Friday, October 2, 2009

On the Hydra-Headed Nature of Bad Customers

One might be tempted to think that Kanpyo's banishment would be cause for universal celebration, but the wiser among us know not to don the party hat just yet.  Kanpyo was a pain in the ass of the vilest stripe, but doubtlessly, greater pains-in-the-ass are out there, waiting for their seat at the bar (and some of these offenders have been written about in this very blog).

Every time employees, having divested themselves of one creep or another, breathe a collective sigh of relief, disappointment is sure to follow.  Either some long-absent jackass will reappear, bringing with him all the weight of unhappy memories, or a new threat will emerge, having made a new discovery of the restaurant and together, staff and customer alike will embark upon a journey of unfortunate discoveries.

At first, this might seem like a good thing . . .

It is like out government's dilemma with terrorism.  Even if you kill an important leader, there are countless others ready to step up and take his place.  A restaurant is really no different.  In each and every one takes place a war of ideologies that cannot be won simply by weeding out one obnoxious customer here or there.  Even if this were possible to execute on a large scale, it would be a losing battle.  It is not the customer himself that is to blame, but the ideology of a culture that allows (and even encourages) poor behavior in restaurants.  Besides, bad customers are a resilient breed; for every one fallen, two spring up to take his place.

One week later.