Here’s a Tip….

Okay, I know this is going to be read and interpreted as a type of bashing or complaining about my business. I assure you it is absolutely not what you think. Please open your mind and accept this little dissertation in the vein in which it is intended. That is to say, my intentions are simply to broaden the scope of understanding regarding the way in which we in the restaurant industry perceive you as our guest. Please take notice of the fact that I did indeed refer to the restaurant business and NOT the hospitality industry. Why? Because the latter is a bullshit industry term that was manufactured to lure the general public into our carefully constructed and overly manipulated dens of “wallet rape”. (your stellar author’s restaurant excluded of course) I will also challenge you to, for a moment, be quite unreasonable. Unreasonable in the sense that you put aside your instant and primal defensive response to perceived criticism. Allow what you are about to read to wash over you as a sort of campy, humorous yet completely factual depiction of everyday life in the dining room of a restaurant on the North Shore of Chicago.

Quite a scene this restaurant is. A scene in which the perception is as different as night and day depending on who it is that is sizing you up. First off myself, the proud Chef/Proprietor of the establishment who welcomes you and your dining dollars. I am always on alert and see everything before you do. This sounds like a line of shit but I promise you, it is not. I see everything. This is not boasting on my part, in fact, if someone reading this knows of a way for me to be relieved of this affliction, please, for the love of God, Share it with me!

I see things I shouldn’t see, I see things nobody wants to see. I see things you would not notice even if I didn’t catch them before you arrived. I assure you, this is both a blessing and a curse. My head at times, is on a swivel and poised to spin-off of my fucking neck at any moment. I am the master of your experience at Restaurant Michael, a responsibility I do not take lightly. Next is the Maitre d’, my first and most polished line of defense against the terrors and possible disaster that lurks around every corner of the restaurant in regards to dealing with a guest. Dan, my Maitre’d is one of the last of the old guard. He has a lovely way of making you feel both welcomed and intrusive  and both in the same breath. This is a very important and sought after quality in a Maitre d’. It may sound odd to read that thought out of context but truth be told, if the guest is made to feel in complete control of the restaurant and their experience in said restaurant, it would be akin to handing the keys for the asylum to the fucking patients.

We all need to be led, to a certain extent, through the experience in a restaurant so that the perception meets the expectations, myself included. Any restaurant owner that tells you that they are not scalping ideas and concepts when they dine out is full of shit! Dismiss this asshole out of hand and move on before they rob your house and steal your daughter’s heart. Make no mistake, we are ALL poaching ideas and concepts from each other at all times. It’s a constant, unspoken exchange of thoughts and ideas that makes the industry turn and somehow not spin-off its axis.

Dan is, in fact, a master at what I just described, and also quite gifted in the art of playing to his audience. He sizes you up upon hearing the first word you utter on the phone when taking your reservation and he has carefully laid out and precise descriptions of you, your family, your upbringing and your likes/dislikes in writing for the staff to read and digest days before you arrive.  This is no free fall my friends. We know what you want before you do and rest assured we will plant that seed the moment you walk in the door. We must do this in order to establish dominance. If we don’t, nine out of ten guests will roam freely around the dining room in an attempt to choose which table they would prefer. After careful selection of that prime and envied table, they will then demand to be relocated no less than three times to an even “better” table before deciding their original choice of tables best suited them and they simply must have the current occupants of THEIR table removed. Of course the table must be reset and spun 20 degrees to the left so as to avoid unfavorable lighting…….Listen closely……..SIT…YOUR…HAPPY…ASS… DOWN!

We have chosen the seating arrangements for you for one reason and one reason only. Ready? TO MAKE MONEY!!!  We need to maximize the space we have and allow the restaurant to seat the maximum number of guests comfortably and with as little interference as possible with the smooth running of the evening’s service. This is not a negotiation, we are not in the middle of a fucking open air market in Morocco. Each table in the restaurant is adorned with the same linen, china, flatware and stemware. What does this guest I just described hope to accomplish? There is no table next to the bathroom that we are saving for the difficult people who were here last week and must be punished. That is television sitcom crap and it simply does not exist anymore. So, sit where we ask and trust that we want you to enjoy yourself. How else do you think we could expect to get you to spend a little coin?

Now the waiters. The captains of the room and the liaison between you the guest and the kitchen/Chef/Me. These gentlemen are the ambassadors of the menu. It is their business to know its contents and origin and most importantly, its limitations. At this point you are likely scratching your head and asking, limitations? Why whatever do you mean? Come on folks, you don’t walk into a sushi bar and ask for a cheeseburger. Why in the hell would you think it even remotely appropriate to come into a restaurant known for French cooking and ask for a vegan menu. Did you bump your head upon arrival? Did you bang your head on a low hanging beam of which I am unaware which caused some sort of temporary departure from reality as you enter the restaurant?  What the hell makes someone think this is a valid and feasible request? Please understand, I am capable and very much willing to take on the challenge of creating a vegan tasting menu for any guest that asks. and, I will make it sing with flavor and harmony… But I need a couple of hours man! I am not Merlin the fucking magician! I am unable to, by some miracle of modern cooking, turn beef tenderloin into a locally grown, sustainably farmed, antibiotic free, hydroponic, organic fungus that vaguely resembles a meat-like product with a moments notice.

Here’s an example to better illustrate the dilemma you create with such a ridiculous and diabolical request. You take the better part of the spring season to ready the soil in your yard to receive the most gorgeous and exotic plants that can sustain life in your growing region. You spend countless hours and dollars to ensure they are well fed, maintained and tended to in every way. You then send out an invitation to “Modern Garden Magazine” to do a photo shoot of this rare and exotic foliage that only you have had the good fortune to obtain and allow to flourish. You wait with anticipation for months until the day of the photo shoot is upon you. The editor and the photographer arrive, you lead them proudly to your great accomplishment expecting tears of joy and praise over your prized ability to present such perfect specimens and…….with hardly a breath being wasted or a shread of respect for your home and labor…..the editor exclaims “ya know what? I think we will change the format of the story and just shoot silk and plastic this month….. got any?”   What the fuck!??! How could this be? Well boys and girls, multiply this little fictional scenario by 10 or 12 times a night, six days a week, every week of the year and you have the very reason why a waiter not only expects but damn well deserves not only your tip but more importantly, your attention and your respect.

This all leads me to the crux of the waiter dilemma. Tipping. Perhaps the biggest taboo in the dynamic between restaurant and guest. If you don’t respect brutal truth and don’t appreciate unfiltered honesty then I implore you, read no more. If these are qualities you revere and crave in a blog entry then come along with me……

Waiters work for $4.95 per hour. I know the common thought is as follows, “This server had better dazzle me with their brilliance or their tip will surely suffer.” Tell me I’m wrong. Go ahead, tell me, that’s what I thought. Every customer that walks in the door has the same chip on their shoulder. That’s not to say they are not wonderful giving and caring people. Most are exactly that. Some not so much but that’s not the point. This is not about personalities nor is it about unreasonable expectations. This is about doing the right thing. Waiters are saddled with the responsibility of nearly 100% of your experience yet in a cruel and ironic twist they actually have control over about 10% of said experience. It is one of the cosmic goofs of all time. A waiter puts themselves out there as the face of the restaurant experience and while doing so, they put themselves in a position where they are literally poised for failure at every turn.

Menus are presented slowly, the Maitre d’ likely over seated them and they are just as likely overwhelmed. Drink is weak, the bartender poured it. Service is slow, guess what, the kitchen cooks and sends the food not the waiter. Check takes forever to arrive, well, there are three waiters stacked up at one terminal trying to accomplish the same goal, getting you your check quickly. There are so many scenarios in which the waiter has zero control I would hesitate to go into much more detail as it will only serve to appear as repetitive. Suffice it to say, it’s simply not always the waiter’s fault. Yet they are the lone wolf, left to be devoured by angry guests that simply cannot wait to get the bill and tally up the total number of fuck-ups that will have the ultimate result of diminishing their tip to a fraction of what it actually should be.

Now on the flip side, sometimes it is totally the waiter’s fault. Especially if arrogance or bravado comes into play. If a waiter struts through the dining room and up to your table as if they were doing you a favor than yes, begin to tally the tip reduction as a matter of sport. If this is the opening attitude then batten down the hatches, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. These balloon-headed freaks usually have the audacity to fall back on the recently written bullshit reviews the new “wunderkind” Chef dickhead just received in the newly launched, publication, “life in the fast lane magazine”. In reality, these silly reviews carry little weight nowadays with anyone other than “Chef dickhead” and his or her faithful flock of zombie-like yes men. The dining public are a much smarter and well-informed machine today VS 10 or 15 years ago. They are also armed with instant messaging devices that will photograph the dish and upload it to a foodie chatroom before the first bite is consummed….YIKES! So all that being said, how smart does the arrogant ass-kisser waiter with the cocky smirk and Supercuts hair cut appear now? These are the ding-a-lings that deserve your disdain not the vast majority of hard-working folks that strive to make your experience memorable in the best way possible. As for the other goofballs I just described, go get em!!!

Now being an industry person, I always tip way over 25%, it’s kind of inside professional courtesy type of deal. It is also unspoken and implied amongst our families and friends as a means of extending that very same courtesy. Clearly that courtesy is lost on my fucking Father. Shocking, yes, unexpected, no. He has known much of my dining room team for a long time as many of them have been with me for years. This does not excuse his behavior on a recent visit to the restaurant. Let me first say that my family in general does not make a habit of coming to the restaurant to eat for free. In fact, quite the contrary. Most often I have to beg them to come because they are smart and caring enough to realize that they don’t want to take up valuable space that could be sold to paying guests.

That concept goes out the window evidently, when the faux check arrives at my Fathers table. For some strange reason, he feels it’s acceptable to leave a standard $20 per couple regardless of consumption. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to feed my family and many close friends on the cuff. I mean they have always supported me and I absolutely love having my nieces and nephews in–they are my favorite people to cook for now. It warms my heart to see their faces light up when they taste something for the very first time. The look of awe when they realize they like something they never tasted before elicits a powerful and wonderful feeling as their Uncle Michael “The Chef” beams with pride. All that being said, Pop’s, you’re going to have to step up on future visits regarding the gratuity. If not the balance due will have to be taken out in the form of a swift kick in the ass on the way out the door for your seventh cigarette break in two courses…….. Ya fuckin’ SAVAGE!!!  LOL! That’s okay Dad, the boys all understand. They acknowledge the fact that long before they had to deal with my manic, borderline psychotic behavior, there was you and Mom on the front lines of the battle to build a restaurateur. Well you did your job well. I’m here, I’m successful and I’m bitching at you for leaving a shitty tip in the blog entry regarding the act of proper tipping!!!!   Kind of cool huh?