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Friday, November 16, 2012

This Story Reminds Me: It's Time to Polish the London Silver

Posted by on Fri, Nov 16, 2012 at 10:21 AM

If my rightwing asshole boss had urged customers to stiff or undertip the wait staff at any restaurant where I ever worked...

While some business owners threaten to cut workers' hours to avoid paying for their health care, a West Palm Beach, Fla., restaurant owner is going even further. John Metz said he will add a 5 percent surcharge to customers' bills to offset what he said are the increased costs of Obamacare, along with reducing his employees' hours. “If I leave the prices the same, but say on the menu that there is a 5 percent surcharge for Obamacare, customers have two choices. They can either pay it and tip 15 or 20 percent, or if they really feel so inclined, they can reduce the amount of tip they give to the server, who is the primary beneficiary of Obamacare,” Metz told The Huffington Post.

...eating in his own restaurant would've been the least of his worries.

While servers might seemingly have little power compared to muckety-mucks in the food service industry, they are frequently in control of the actual food, at least for brief periods of time. I used to be a server back in the day. I’m not proud of it, but I confess I horked a loogie on a plate or two. Always under extreme provocation, mind you. I had server friends who did even worse.... I’m not saying this is right or proper. It’s just the way it is. The “powerless” find ways to strike back. I don’t know whether or not Metz eats at his own restaurants, but he might get more than Moons over his Hammy next time he’s at Denny’s.

No, no, no. Here's how powerless and abused waiters and bussers and cooks struck back at asshole bosses back when I was in the restaurant biz: we ate, we stole, we broke shit. Treat your servers and kitchen staff like shit and they will make sure you feel it. But it's breakage and theft on a massive scale that you need worry about, Mr. Metz, not loogies in your omelette.

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One for You, One for Me
Jams of London in London, England, and the Courier Cafe in Urbana, Illinois
by Dan Savage

I owe Jonathan Waxman an apology.

No, wait: I owe the people who bought Jams of London from Jonathan Waxman an apology. Or two or three thousand dollars—and, hey, does anyone know what the statute of limitations is for grand theft? In the UK?

Jonathan Waxman, says Wikipedia, "is an American chef who was one of the pioneers of California cuisine." He opened a restaurant in New York City called Jams in the early 1980s. It was his second restaurant, and it was a huge success—Jams got name-checked in the 1987 Diane Keaton yuppie/ovary anxiety flick Baby Boom—and a couple years later Waxman opened Jams of London. I moved to London in 1988 and, through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, got a job waiting tables there.

Jams of London was an American-owned, American-style restaurant, but a pricey one, and it featured "American-style service." It was a style of service—four-star but with an air of casual informality—that Brits just couldn't do. Local waiters had two gears: lickspittle servility or barely concealed hostility. Consequently, the waiting jobs at Jams mostly went to American expats.

The clientele was moneyed—film and television stars, business execs, the odd (sometimes very odd) lord or lady—and the money was outstanding: A 15 percent gratuity was added to every check (American food, American service, American tips), and the waiters split the take at the end of the night. Jams of London was a great gig, and everyone who worked there realized how lucky they were and busted their asses for Jams, for Jonathan, for each other.

But like all really good restaurant gigs... it couldn't last. Waxman sold Jams of London to a bounder who owned a rib joint off Trafalgar Square, and the new owner immediately revised the tipping policy: A 15 percent gratuity was still added to every check, but the money was no longer distributed to the waiters. All tips went straight into the pocket of the new owner, a man who had a large estate in the country to look after.

The new owner should've fired the entire staff and started over, but the place would've collapsed. So we were all kept on. Only now, instead of a group of highly motivated American expats who were grateful to the owners and wanted Jams to succeed, Jams of London was staffed by a group of seething, unmotivated angerbombs who hated the new owner and couldn't wait for Jams to fail.

Here's the thing about screwing over your employees: They find ways to screw you right back.

Which brings me to the flatware at Jams of London. The place had amazing silver—Christofle? Have you heard of it?—and before every shift, we waiters would sit and polish each spoon, soup spoon, fork, salad fork, knife, and bread knife. One day, while I sat with another waiter in the dining room before the dinner shift, I polished one fork for Jams, one for myself, one knife for Jams, one for myself, dropping each piece of silverware I polished for myself into a backpack at my feet. I left Jams that day with 12 settings—72 pieces of silver—which I still have and haul out (and polish!) at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Just the spoons—in the pattern Jams had and I have—cost $118 a piece. I discovered that a few years ago when I decided to replace one of the spoons, which I'd lost in a move, and Googled "Christofle."

$118. For a spoon.

Jams wasn't long for London, and neither was I. Three months after making off with thousands of dollars' worth of silverware—I was looting in London before looting in London was cool—I was back in the United States, and on to my next restaurant gig: making milk shakes for sorority girls at the Courier Cafe in Urbana, Illinois.

 

Comments (27) RSS

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aureolaborealis 1
Life rule: Never, NEVER antagonize the people serving the food.
Posted by aureolaborealis on November 16, 2012 at 10:42 AM · Report this
MacCrocodile 2
Dan, that link goes to a story about a Denny's. You said something about a restaurant?
Posted by MacCrocodile http://maccrocodile.com/ on November 16, 2012 at 10:44 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 3
This is what I'd be doing if I worked for the Rmoney's. "Would you like extra boogers on your omelet, sir?"
Posted by Pope Peabrain on November 16, 2012 at 10:46 AM · Report this
Sir Vic 4
@1 "Don't shit where you eat" is the colloquialism.
Posted by Sir Vic on November 16, 2012 at 10:55 AM · Report this
dangerousgift 5
Sabotage gets the goods!
Posted by dangerousgift on November 16, 2012 at 11:00 AM · Report this
6
The best way of doing this at Denny's would be pouring soda down the drain. Restaurants make most of their profit on beverages, because the cheap meals are usually loss leaders to entice people paying for food to spend $2.00 on a soda that costs 15 cents. Throwing soda down the drain wouldn't look like it costs a lot, but would certainly result in massive amounts of lost revenue.
Posted by mikeyg on November 16, 2012 at 11:07 AM · Report this
7
@6: Not the soda - the syrup from which you make the soda.

Although pouring prepared soda down the drain would be easier than making disappear the syrup canisters or bags (whatever they keep the syrup in fast food restaurants these days....).
Posted by palamedes on November 16, 2012 at 11:35 AM · Report this
8
I don't mind this at all. I think people seeing that providing workers with health insurance costs a whooping 5% will do more to raise support for Obamacare. Same with pizza. Please do raise the price 14 cents and fucking bold it on the receipt. Completely puts to lie the nonsense that we cannot afford to cover everyone with health insurance. We can and the cost is pretty low.

@6 You have it backwards. If drinks are are most profitable that means their cost to the restaurant is low. If you want to do the most damage you have to waste the things that cost the restaurant the most.
Posted by giffy on November 16, 2012 at 11:36 AM · Report this
scary tyler moore 9
i picture the bounder with a rib join off trafalgar square as looking like ray winstone.
Posted by scary tyler moore http://pushymcshove.blogspot.com/ on November 16, 2012 at 11:41 AM · Report this
Bonefish 10
Why should we revere these people as "job creators" when they seemingly do everything they can to make those jobs as worthless and non-beneficial (to the job-DOer, at least) as they can get away with?

Every time I look into one of these tantrums thrown by business owners (eg, Papa Johns increasing his pizza prices), their claims of how much Obamacare will cost them always turn out to be way higher than what it'll actually cost them. So they're increasing their prices, and their own profits, at their workers' expense over something that's really little more than the Obama administration's refusal to verbally fellate these assholes at every speech.

I hope every last one of them goes out of business to make way for competent entrepreneurs who can make a profit AND provide for their employees, regardless of whether or not the black man hurts their wittle fee-fees.
Posted by Bonefish http://5bmisc.blogspot.com/ on November 16, 2012 at 11:44 AM · Report this
11
I worked for nearly twenty years in the restaurant industry, and never saw any bodily fluids going on to plates. Not even the plates of real assholes.

Theft, breakage, and deliberately sabotaging your business if you are an asshole boss, though? Absolutely. No way to stop it.
Posted by agony on November 16, 2012 at 11:48 AM · Report this
12
@8 - most times, the things that cost the restaurant the most are sold as loss leaders. This means they sell them, and lose money on the sale, but make up for it with concurrent sales of other items, like soda. Throwing away beef that they plan to sell at a 0% margin is tough, but when you're throwing away things that sell at a 200+% margin.

Also, as a liquid, soda is freaky easy to disappear - easier, some say, than a Chilean dissenter in the late 1970's.

@7 - Beverage-grade CO2, which carbonates the soda, is a SIGNIFICANT expense in the lifecycle of a restaurant.
Posted by mikeyg on November 16, 2012 at 11:54 AM · Report this
13
@12 No. Sales are not determined by the supply of inventory but by demand. So unless you throw away all the soda or enough that they run out, you have not cost them the profits, only the cost of the inventory they have to replace. And if you did that you would be pretty quickly caught.

But dropping a couple steaks on the ground or overcooking them? That you could get away with.

100 gallons of soda is not worth its retail price to a restaurant. It is only worth its wholesale cost.

Posted by giffy on November 16, 2012 at 12:04 PM · Report this
14
Dan - What pattern is the Christofle flatware?
Posted by Mr John on November 16, 2012 at 12:12 PM · Report this
15
I'm confused. I thought Obamacare would be publicly funded, and not be a direct burden on employers. I thought that part of the point was to reduce the burden on employers. What am I not understanding?
Posted by Drusilla on November 16, 2012 at 12:44 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 16
@15,

Obamacare is not publicly funded. There are price supports for people who have to buy their own insurance and income qualify, but most of the law focuses on getting people to buy their own insurance or to get their employers to provide it.

Mid-size and large employers are required to provide insurance to their employees, starting in 2014. If they don't, they're subject to similar tax penalties as individuals who fail to insure themselves.
Posted by keshmeshi on November 16, 2012 at 1:40 PM · Report this
17
This is so true! I worked in restaurants for 20-some years and stole from every terrible boss I had until I could move on and find a better person to work for. Once when I was a bartender, a guy I cut off threatened to come back and rape me (among a host of other violent, pathological acts). Well, lo and behold, the same guy shows up 5 or 6 years later at a new restaurant where I was waitressing. I told the entire staff the story (I was shaking and refused to wait on him) and you can be sure he got more than mayonnaise on his burger that night.
Posted by mitten on November 16, 2012 at 1:59 PM · Report this
18
Cutting workers' hours to avoid paying their health insurance does not make me think Obamacare is bad. It makes me think the business owner is an asshole.
Posted by milkshake on November 16, 2012 at 4:02 PM · Report this
19
Dan
Can you post contact info for the hateful John Metz so we can tell him why we won't ever ever ever go there again, even if we are really drunk at 3am.
Posted by Kathy23 on November 16, 2012 at 5:45 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 20
Hotels aren't much better. Working at the Courtyard Inn I was a night auditor and have enjoyed many of the sheets, towels and several rather nice meals I ....took in compensation for shitty cut hours and cut wages

And that's nothing compared to the housekeepers.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on November 16, 2012 at 6:25 PM · Report this
21
Hmph. What you did wasn't looting Dan.

What the new owner did was looting. You can bet your ass his entire business plan was to sponge off the restaurant's good name for as long as the public could stand, and the moment the books turned red, shut the place down and sell the furniture. He was probably coercing the female staff into sex while he was at it, too.

Also, @18:

You spelled "capitalist" wrong. Or maybe you spelled it right. Whatever.
Posted by gromm on November 16, 2012 at 7:12 PM · Report this
22
Now, what real grownups do is they go on strike. Stealing is bad and illegal. Going on strike is legal and ensures that your employer loses a whole shitload more than $3000 in sliverware.

Don't have a union? If you've just convinced all (or hell, even some) of your coworkers that this is a good idea, you've just made one.
Posted by gromm on November 16, 2012 at 7:17 PM · Report this
23
I felt that I was on the verge of tainting food for this one guy when he, the worst regular customer I ever had, brought two friends in.

They shared three bottles of champagne and it turns out he can't hold his liquor.
He got loud, maudlin, and obscene. We had (just then) devised a way to deprive him of an otherwise permanent discount card. He drove home (to a nearby town, I think) while his friends waited around only to discover that there was no cab service in Morro Bay.

I might have offered to take them the nine miles to their hotel. I considered it, since just as they left I was getting off work and I was in a pretty good mood from watching the asshole go down in flames, but of course: they were the asshole's friends, so as I went to my car they were trying to hire a limo from yet a third town (about nine miles in the other direction) to come and rescue them.

I suppose they could afford that kind of mistake more than they could afford to share a ride back to the hotel with their nearly incoherent friend, but the upside was that we never saw the pompous, demanding, demeaning ten percent tipping piece of shit again.
Posted by SifuMark on November 16, 2012 at 7:45 PM · Report this
24
I believe I worked for John Metz's father about seven years ago. If it's the guy I have in mind, he owns a food service business and several franchises, including a dozen TGI Friday's in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. I worked in the corporate offices, and I think I met the son once. He was just starting up his franchises in the South at the time. Both father and son seemed like personable enough guys, but were definitely very hardline business conservatives. I was hired as a temp (to replace a permanent employee who had just left), and after I'd been there a month or two, the head of HR told me that they wanted to hire me on as a permanent employee, but there were a few things they needed to clear up first. I was just moving out of my mother's house and getting set up in my first apartment. I asked the head of HR if the permanent-hire thing was definitely happening, and she assured me it was, so I signed the lease. I'm sure you can see where this is going. Out of the blue, I got a phone call at 8 p.m. on a Friday night from the temp agency, informing me that the assignment had ended. They assured me that the company had nothing but positive things to say about me, but that there "wasn't enough work." I was firmly instructed not to call the company, and that the agency would contact them about any personal items I had left at the office. A few months later, still unemployed, I e-mailed the head of HR about a permanent position they had advertised. (The blackout period for hiring former temps directly had long since expired.) Surprise, surprise, I never even got so much as a "Thanks for your interest, nice to hear from you, we'll keep your resume on file," despite the fact that I'd worked very closely with the head of HR during my three-month tenure at the company. If this is the way the father does business, it doesn't surprise me one bit about the son.
More...
Posted by Snoopy The Cat on November 16, 2012 at 10:41 PM · Report this
25
As a restaurant and grocery store patron, there's nothing I find more reassuring than the prospect of eating food prepared and handled by people who don't have excellent health insurance and paid sick leave...
Posted by PCM on November 17, 2012 at 10:42 AM · Report this
26
It seems to me that if the GOP were anything but spineless, miserly, conniving hypocrites, they'd be out there fighting for a higher minimum wage. You want people to be able to raise themselves out of poverty? You want people to be able to open their own businesses? Then they are going to need money, and jobs that don't keep them going paycheck-to-paycheck. It works in Nairobi and it should work here.
Posted by zygose on November 19, 2012 at 8:47 AM · Report this
27
Courier cafe milk shakes ..... yum, yum.
Posted by cherble on December 29, 2012 at 6:25 PM · Report this

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