07 October 2013

How Restaurant Management Explains the Republican Party

The New York Times has a rather interesting article on restaurants moving away from tips in 2008.

I don't mean a service charge with an option to tip, I mean a full service restaurant that has a service charge, but does not accept tips at all, the Linkery, which operated for 8 years* in the San Diego.

Its proprietor closed up shop and moved to the Bay Area this Summer, he's starting a new restaurant shortly, and he penned took the free time to pen a fascinating series on his experiences with his experiment. (It's a long read that I highly recommend but the nickel tour is that he sees it as an unalloyed success.)

What is interesting about all this is his observation that there are some (mostly unlamentedly former) customers who were in an absolute rage about the fact that they no longer can tip. (Part 5 of his series)

This is where it gets interesting to me:
“This isn’t about money,” the man would say.  [Almost always a man — MGS]

He’d be the one person in a thousand, or in ten thousand, who’d get angry about our fixed service charge. Angry about his lack of control over the price, angry about not being the final arbiter of our service. You could count on him being male, at least when we’re talking about public scenes. (I’ve heard of a few women who got pretty mad about it in private.)

And his go-to line was so predictable, we would wait for it, anticipate it. “I always tip way more than twenty percent!”

If that was the case, why were these guys so mad about paying only 18%, far less than they otherwise would? What was it about not choosing the amount they tipped, that infuriated them, even when they were getting a discount?

It had to be at least partially about lack of control. Or, more accurately, lack of imagined control. This guy thought that, in a tipped environment, his server would perform better in order to get more of his money. That idea is false, as shown both by repeated studies and common sense, but that was irrelevant. His anger could not be redeemed by mere facts.

Then what was this rage so primal that no exposure to reality could relieve it?
It turns out, rather unsurprisingly, that there is a certain sort of person who demands control in the restaurant relationship.

In postscript 1, we have a restaurant reviewer who got a wet behind the ears waiter, and decides to call the waiter out by name:
What blew my mind was that she called him out using his real name (which I’ve redacted here), even though she was writing from behind a shield of anonymity. It was, in my opinion, bad enough for the worker to have made a mistake at his job; even worse that he has to find out his mistake was to a reviewer; but now he’s been ridiculed by name in the paper, in an attempt to have his parents, siblings and friends all shame him, as well.

Of course, the server was a really great guy, a college student with minimal serving background, who we were trying to train on the job. He was doing his best, and whatever errors he made were my fault, for putting him a difficult position without giving him the tools for success. I knew that, and I expected that a professional reviewer would have, too.

I emailed the writer.

I wrote something along the lines of, hey, I get that you had a bad experience, but that was out of line to call the server out by his real name. You could have easily made the same point while using a different name for him.

She wrote back along the lines of, I write my experiences; just because you have good intentions I’m not going to hold back my criticism. It’s your fault for not having trained him properly.

I responded, I agree that the bad service is my fault. I’m saying you should have ripped on me and not him. I’ve apologized to him for putting him in that position, but it is still not right of you, writing under a pseudonym, to publicly embarrass him using his actual name.

And she came back with the clincher: Well, with your fixed service charge you didn’t give my any choice. I couldn’t give him a lower tip. How else could I punish him for his mistakes?

That made it all clear. She, like some other patrons, felt the burden of having to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. Obviously, some people like that role, and some people don’t, but at the very least our culture has trained diners that it is their job. When you go to restaurants, you are responsible for rewarding and punishing your server.
(emphasis original)

From a cultural perspective, it is fascinating, but it also says a lot more about our society and our politics, asaimai at No More Mister Nice Blog observes that this explains Republicans as well:
Why are Federal Workers a special case and a problem for Republicans?  In the case of Federal Workers I'd argue that its not merely that  they are workers (who are always despised) its because they are workers who for the most part don't conform to Republican ideas of the right boundaries for workers. The right boundaries for workers are that they know their place, that they can be fired capriciously, and that they exist primarily to make the employer feel good about himself  and, further, that like waiters in a restaurant and prostitutes with their johns their job is also to make the employer believe that he is receiving an extra good form of treatment not accorded to others diners or johns.

Federal workers violate those central principles because they can't be fired directly by "the employer" because the individual Republican tax payer isn't the direct employer. They also can't be humiliated and made to feel vulnerable because of civil service protections and unionization. And in the matter of interactions, one on one, the taxpayer can't command good treatment by offering money (bribes) and thus often feels vulnerable and weak because there is no way to play the "do you know who I am" card which (like tipping) is an attempt to force a generic servant to give non generic attention and service to one class of people. So Federal Employees create an extra level of status anxiety for Republicans when they come in contact with these "employees" who can't be fired or rewarded and therefore are not obligated to be extra nice to the individual Republican.

Of course there are lots of kinds of Federal Employees, some more obvious than others, and many of whom don't come into contact with ordinary citizens very often (Scientists at the CDC vs. Park Rangers, for example). I'd argue that the antipathy I've described goes for both the kinds of Federal Employees that ordinary citizens encounter--and this is at the root of the really quite bizarre attacks by Republican Congressmen on individual Federal Employees like the now infamous attack on the the Park Ranger by the Texas Congressman. He explicitly challenges her and accuses her of failing to give special consideration to (some) clients (tourists/vets) when she is, of course, contractually obligated to treat all persons identically and has been ordered to shut down the monument. We've also seen this hostility directed by individual Republican Congressmen at high level Federal Employees during committee hearings. These attempts to create a hierarchical relationship which puts the "employee" below the "employer" even when the employee has specialized knowledge and skills that the employer does not are too numerous to mention.

I'd even argue that Reince Priebus's absurd "offer" to pay for a few employees to keep the military site open for the honor flight vets was an example of a perfectly logical extension of the tipping principle: that people with money should get better treatment than ordinary customers. That the government's attempt to treat everyone uniformly in both the Sequester and the Shut Down is, to the Republican way of thinking, a greater affront than almost anything else. It flies in the face of the "do you know who I am?" principle which underlies Republican thinking about the nature of the world.

So what can we do about this? Nothing, alas. Republicans will continue to see the Government, and experiences of Government work and workers, as a drama in which the employer must punish the employed in order to enjoy his superior status, and the rest of us will have to suffer as they choose to act out their petty desires by shutting down the government and refusing to "tip" our Federal Workers by, you know, actually paying them for work performed. ………
(emphasis original)

This explains a lot.

The only question is how corrosive this is to society as a whole, and how we minimize the impact of these attitudes on the rest of us.

*It's like 80 years in restaurant years, as most restaurants do not make it 2 years.
Like I said, not a short read, but well worth it.


Post a Comment