Wait a Minute

Hard Times Bring Changes &
Crazy Ideas to Eating Places

Restaurants are like churches, someone already said: they exist solely to cater to the hungry, and yet they often leave them with an even bigger gap inside.
The other day, we caught an interesting and very useful take on restaurants fulfilling yet another function in our convoluted social relations: our home office.
The online discussion was about the benefits of becoming a regular at your favorite eatery, so to use it as a place to conduct your personal business too, along with eating and meeting people socially.
The idea, of course, is not new. But the article was instructive because of the author’s detailed strategy pursuing his dream of having an extended home office away from home.
So, there was the advantage of be known by the staff, of having a place to meet and recommend to others, of getting there for a business meeting “unflustered,” since it’s a place that you’re familiar with.
In all, becoming a restaurant regular was a shrewd business move, he concluded. The only detail he left out, though, is something unthinkable for someone who lives in the U.S.: the complicated art of tipping the staff, which comes way before becoming a regular.
In fact, in the U.S., not tipping the staff is a non-starter and the subject of unappetizing and unending post-dinner and online discussions. And we’re not even getting into the “how much” of it; merely the, “you got to” of it.
So you may be nice to the staff, you may pay your bill and never complain about it. Or you may complain about everything and bad-mouth the place as much as you like. It won’t matter.You just won’t get anywhere if you’re not a good tipper.
Then again, tipping won’t assure you’ll become a regular. And the owner, of course, would be glad not get involved, as long as you pay the check.
So it’s up to the server to make sure that you tip. And honestly, if you don’t, your patronage will never be welcomed anywhere.
We thought about that when reading about the Fireside Restaurant in Chicago, which has a sophisticated bartering for payment system we hadn’t heard of in a very long time. Another sign of recession, we know.
But it’s not the old, “eat a meal and wash dishes to pay for it” way, mind you. That won’t fly as it did in the 1930s. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
Fireside uses bartering Websites, where business can trade in services, you can bid your unique skills or someone may have an unused airline ticket, and the restaurant decides whether the offer is worth to be exchanged for food.
Each era gets the ideas it deserves, it seems. We can imagine several variations of the same theme, and a whole nightmare of regulations needed to keep it fair. Would that be all?

Not really. Recession may be also behind the changes the hospitality business as a whole is going through. Take the U.S.’s oldest public park, for example, Boston Common, and the Pink Palace, a fancy name for its public toilet.
Soon that rest station will give way to a take-out outlet of the Florida-based Earl of Sandwich chain. Not to worry, though: it hasn’t been used since the 1970s, and no germ is known to live that long, unless fossilized in amber or something.
Unlike what some of you may have thought, though, the name Pink Palace predates the sexual liberation of the 1970s by at least a few hundred years: Boston Common was set aside as a public land in 1640.
Talking about take out, there’s Domino Pizza, that not so good but ubiquitous brand of pie preferred by cash strapped college students.
In an attempt to get back at competitor Pizza Hut, who did delivered the first pizza to space 10 years ago, the Japanese branch of Domino said it plans to open a restaurant on the moon.
It may sound far away, or rather, farfetched, but at least is not as far as Douglas Adams’s fabled Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
But if you do think the publicity stunt is too out there in this Space Shuttle-short era, wait until you learn about its estimated costs: $21 billion.
Even for well-heeled educational institutions such as NYU, it’d take a few years to come up with that sort of funding.
Or not, if it finally decides to sell those ugly buildings it owns in the Village, giving the locals a much-deserved relief in the process.
But we do digress. Even before leaving earth, it’d probably cost even more to improve on the taste and texture of the Domino pizza. And can you imagine how much you’d have to tip the wait staff?

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