Restaurant Algebra, or The Funny Stuff People Do When Splitting a Tab

Some days in the bar are easy. Some days it’s like every high maintenance person in a ten-block radius decided they needed your help and attention all at once. Yesterday was one of those days.

I had a pretty busy happy hour in the bar, which was fine, though a clogged printer in the kitchen meant that a lot of my food came up late, and it all came out at once, which always makes things exciting. And then there were the two ladies at the bar, one of whom wanted to know all about our absinthe selection, and which ones had wormwood, and then what I could make with it, while the other needed to know which menu items were both gluten-free and did not contain sesame (avoiding sesame oil in a Vietnamese restaurant is not as easy as you might think).

But the real cake-takers were the six-top of ladies in the middle of the room.

Now, as a general rule we do not split tabs at the restaurant, but we do run multiple cards. Most of the time when people split tabs that way, the math is relatively simple. Even splits, or this much on this card, this much on that card. Basic arithmetic. These ladies turned it into algebra.

The six of them gave me five cards, and instructions so convoluted I had to go and get pen and paper to keep it all straight. One menu item went on the first card. The second card was for two menu items and a pot of tea. The rest of the bill was to be split into four parts, two parts of which would go on the third card and one part each on the fourth and fifth.

Is your head spinning yet? Mine did, a little. Just glad I was only moderately busy.

Anyway, in the end it was fine, and by an hour later I was loling and telling the story to my co-workers. And hey, being accomodating is part of the job. It’s just funny sometimes, the things people do, and that even after more years in the Industry than I care to recount I can still be surprised by the twists and turns. One of the ladies even wrote me a nice note on her credit card slip, thanking me for the trouble I went to.

Of course, one of the others failed to leave her signed copy, so if she intended to tip me I didn’t get it. But really, what else could I expect?

No, You May Not Use My Image for Commercial Purposes Without Compensating Me

So an interesting thing happened to me when I went into work yesterday at my new job tending bar at Monsoon.

I came in, put away my bag, chatted a bit with the manager, and started doing the things you do to open a bar. I decided a cup of coffee sounded like a good idea, as it often does at the beginning of a shift, so I went over to the dining room, where the coffee is. I saw one of the daytime servers behind the counter, with a weirded-out look on her face, folding napkins and taking direction from a photographer set up in the middle of the dining room. I thought “Hm. Must be some new promo thing for the restaurant,” and I waited respectfully while the photog snapped away (the coffee was at the far end of the counter). When a free moment popped up, I crossed behind the girl folding napkins to get coffee.

“What’s this all about?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“It’s for Discover,” said the man directing the photo shoot, a fifty-something fellow with unruly hair and glasses and, for lack of a better term, kind of a seedy air about him (I hate to judge people on instinct, but it’s a skill I’ve had to develop to survive almost twenty years behind the bar).

“So, are you paying her?” I asked as I passed him by on my way back out to the bar with my coffee.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “You can’t even count the zeroes. There’s a bag full of money outside.” Then he went back to telling the day server, who looked decidedly uncomfortable, what to do, how to hold her head and whatever, and I went back over to the bar. Continue reading “No, You May Not Use My Image for Commercial Purposes Without Compensating Me”

Making Gratuities Gratuitous

Depending on who you ask, tipping as practiced in the contemporary United States is either a crassly exploitative transfer of economic risk from a business to its employees which leaves them vulnerable to wage theft, sexual harassment, and economic uncertainty or a great way to earn a good living working part time for cash in hand — much of which is untaxed — leaving time to pursue any number of artistic or academic endeavors while sleeping in every day and getting paid for being likable.

As someone who spent the bulk of his adult life working front of house in restaurants and bars, I think I can say pretty definitively that both of those things are true. Continue reading “Making Gratuities Gratuitous”

How Good Does a Sandwich Have to Be? Wage Theft, Paseo, and the Industry

The best sandwich I ever had was from Paseo. In fact, every sandwich I ever had from Paseo was the best sandwich I ever had (the fact of it being the sandwich I was eating now giving it the winning edge over sandwiches I had already eaten and could therefore only remember with wistful fondness). I may or may not ever have a sandwich that good again, and I mourn for all the people in the world who will now never get to eat one, or eat one again. If you ever ate at either location, you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t, well, you’ll just have to take my word for it (or, you know, read one of the many valedictions and cris de coeur posted in the last couple of days since the company shuttered both their Fremont and Ballard locations, apparently without even notifying their employees).

It was hard to find, even if you knew where it was, unless you went there at lunchtime, when you could spot it from blocks away thanks to the line out the door, rain or shine. It was not uncommon for the place to close before dinner because they had run out of food.

But man oh man, when your wait was done and the plate with your name on it came up, what heaven awaited: tender, slow-roasted pork on the most perfect sandwich bread (crusty enough to hold together, mostly, but doughy enough to sop up all that juicy flavor) topped with just enough cilantro, peppers, and onions to give it a slight vegetal crunch. It was enough to send your umami circuits into sustained platform orgasm, the flavor lingering on your palate like the taste of a lover’s sweat.

Now it’s gone, I regret not eating there more often in recent years (I worked as a bartender in Fremont for six years; since I’ve moved (and moved on), I don’t get down to Fremont much). Given those lines out the door (and the $1.5-2 million a year in sales), I figured it would be there forever, and was as surprised and dismayed as anyone by the news of its sudden closing.

I was not surprised (though I was dismayed) to read about the lawsuit by four former employees alleging discrimination and wage theft.

*Before continuing, a disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and even if I was, the trial has yet to begin (it’s scheduled for next October). I did, for what it’s worth, spend twenty-six years working in bars and restaurants.* Continue reading “How Good Does a Sandwich Have to Be? Wage Theft, Paseo, and the Industry”

Things I Learned on the Internet This Week 8/8/14

Another week gone, and the internet (and the world it reflects, or possibly refracts) continues to fascinate. So, in my continuing efforts to excuse to myself the embarrassing amount of time I spend surfing the internet, here is a selection of highlights from my procrastinations this week:

Warren Layre, 61, told The Inquirer in an interview last year that the officers beat him with a steel bar and kicked in his teeth during a warrantless raid on his machine shop on West Sedgwick Street in June 2011. Speaking to a reporter two years later, he pulled back his lip to show the gaps in his teeth that remained.

According to Wednesday’s indictment, Liciardello reported less than $7,000 of the $41,158 they seized from Layre’s shop.

Truth really is stranger than fiction, as this story of six corrupt cops up on racketeering charges in Philadelphia attests. For ten years, these guys ran rampant through the city, shaking people down and sending people to jail on trumped-up charges and basically running a standover operation, and the only thing that stopped them was that one of them finally got caught and turned stool pigeon. If this was on TV, it’d be a huge hit, and I expect some day it will be. In fact, I think these guys are a natural extension of the portrayal of law enforcement in our entertainment culture, which I think has a lot of similarities to what happened (and continues to happen) between Hollywood and the Mafia.

Moving on to American law enforcement at the institutional level, we learn from the Washington Post that

Nearly every criminal case reviewed by the FBI and the Justice Department as part of a massive investigation started in 2012 of problems at the FBI lab has included flawed forensic testimony from the agency, government officials said.

For years, even decades, a team in the FBI crime lab misrepresented its results in order to secure convictions. Not unlike the situation in Philadelphia, the problem was known but institutional inertia prevented it from being attended to until outed by investigative reporter Spencer Hsu.

The review comes after The Washington Post reported in April that Justice Department officials had known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people but had not performed a thorough review of the cases. In addition, prosecutors did not notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.

Worst of all, innocent people may have been executed. The first article in the series sums it all up pretty well, I think.

Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials.

In addition, the Justice Department reviewed only a limited number of cases and focused on the work of one scientist at the FBI lab, despite warnings that problems were far more widespread and could affect potentially thousands of cases in federal, state and local courts.

As a result, hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects.

And, just in case you weren’t yet fully convinced of the dysfunction in US law enforcement culture, here’s one more slug to the guts.

“I felt so vulnerable being laid out on a table, with all my clothes off and in a bag and all the swabs and brushes and combs,” she recalled. But at least, she figured, the police would use the swabs and hair samples to help catch the rapist.

They did not. Like hundreds of thousands of other rape kits across the country containing evidence gathered from victims, that of Ms. Ybos lay untested for years on a storeroom shelf.

(hat tip to Charles P. Pierce, one of my favorite writers, period, for this post, where I found most of the above)

Having gotten through all that, I think we could all use a break. Here’s a picture of the sunset at Second Beach, where I went camping with my girl and just the loveliest bunch of people you could ever want to hang out with last weekend. Continue reading “Things I Learned on the Internet This Week 8/8/14”