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?

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”