Entry 753: The No Tipping Point

My wife Barbara recently dined at a restaurant called Blue Hill. It’s not the type of place she’d usually go to, at least not with me, because she knows how I feel about foo foo food. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, so do you.

She went to Blue Hill with a friend who had won a dinner there in a raffle for which she didn’t even have to buy a ticket. And the meal sounds like it was worth every penny. Barbara described it as a literal tasting menu, with portions large enough for a single taste of each course. And a lot of it didn’t even taste that good.

Blue Hill is one of those trendy “farm-to-table” restaurants, serving dishes created with what is in season from local sources, which is a fancy way of saying “whatever we have laying around.” In January, for instance, they had “baby oak lettuce heads, mokum carrots, claytonia, celtuce, scarlet frills mustard greens, hakurei turnips, swiss chard, pea sprouts, leek sprouts, chrysanthemum sprouts, parsnips, winter kale and ice spinach, some of which I’ve never heard of (isn’t “claytonia” the animation method behind Gumby?), and all of which I assume I would hate, especially the winter kale, because I firmly believe that any season of kale is a practical joke on people aspiring to be healthy.

Blue Hill is not a vegan restaurant, though. They also, according to my wife, serve a nice, fresh, locally “harvested” quail, which they insist on introducing to her at her table in its recently deceased, but otherwise intact form before cooking it up in the kitchen.

Barbara did not fully appreciate having to look her dinner in the eye. But at least they didn’t call it by name, which is what they did do when introducing the cow from which they’d “harvested” the milk into which they had churned that evening’s butter. I mean, they didn’t actually bring “Maisie” to the table, but the staff told Barbara that they had visited Maisie at her home, and described Maisie’s posh Westchester living quarters and such. I got the distinct impression, listening to Barbara relate the experience, that my wife was not exactly fascinated with this or any other udder butter tale.

This post, however is not specifically about Blue Hill, or even about food. It’s about tipping.

Barbara found the note at right on her table at Blue Hill. She brought it home and insisted that I read it. “Does this make any sense to you?” she asked.

“A note on tipping,” the elegant vellum notecard said, “we recently did away with the practice of tipping, ensuring that our entire team is compensated more equitably. Instead, a 20% administrative fee will be added to your bill. This fee is not a gratuity nor is it distributed to the service staff.”

I read it twice and replied, “No. No it doesn’t.”

If I’m reading it correctly, which is to say assigning accepted meanings to English words, Blue Hill is increasing your bill by 20% and then, in an effort to more fairly compensate its staff, not giving any of the money to them.

What the hell is an “administrative fee?” It sounds like they’re adding a shipping and handling charge to your order.

This no-tipping thing was started by restauranteur Danny Meyer, who owns a number of upscale eateries and Shake Shack, where you may still tip the staff for having correctly buzzed your pager when your burger is ready for pick up. “Tipping is one of the biggest hoaxes pulled on an entire culture,” Meyer has said. He believes that tipping was established in order to not pay workers after slavery was abolished. Meyer has a different way to avoid paying workers: eliminating them. Shake Shack is testing cashless locations where the order-takers have been replaced by kiosks.

Getting back to tipping, there are conflicting reports–and at least one lawsuit–about no tipping policies. Some sources think it works out well for all parties involved; others–especially the plaintiffs in the lawsuit–think one or more parties gets short-changed. The one thing everybody seems to agree on is that the restaurants somehow come out ahead.

But here’s the thing: I don’t know or care if tipping harkens back to slavery, and I don’t care who profits from eliminating it. Because while I am usually guilty of automatically doubling the first number or two of the bill to get to (around) 20%, I like having the option of rewarding exceptional service or punishing horrible service.

I realize that many people treat tipping as obligatory, except, apparently, certain celebrities like Jeremy Piven, who once dined at Nobu and left as a tip a signed DVD of Entourage: Season 1. But I don’t want restaurants tipping their staffs on my behalf, or keeping the food prices the same and adding “administrative fees” so that the $268 tasting menu at Blue Hill is really a $294.80 tasting menu (unless you’ve won a raffle).

And I certainly don’t want them offering meet-and-greets with my future steak.

See you soon.

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One Response to Entry 753: The No Tipping Point

  1. Pingback: Entry 774: Bait and Switch | The Upsizers

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