Friday, October 27, 2017

Loudon Wainwright III – "Tip That Waitress" (1993)

She handles her tray with panache and aplomb
Her brother's a Quaker, her dad was in ‘Nam
Tip that waitress!

The first three weeks of my life as a retired guy have been mostly about (1) grandsons, (2) biking, and (3) beer.

The last couple of 2 or 3 lines posts focused exclusively on biking and beer.  This one mixes in some grandson stuff, as well as some incisive social commentary.

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The day after I returned from my Virginia Capital Trail trip, I headed to Capitol Hill to visit my younger grandson, Thomas.

I took the subway to Union Station, where I used my Capital Bikeshare membership to unlock a shared bike to ride to Tommy’s house:

Capital Bikeshare bikes are heavy and clumsy.  You don’t want to ride one very far.  

But there are Capital Bikeshare docking stations all over DC and the surrounding suburbs, and the price to ride them is right – $85 for a year’s membership, which entitles you to an unlimited number of rides as long as they last no longer than 30 minutes.  (I’m not sure what the reason for that annoying policy is.)

I loaded Tommy into his stroller and we headed to Lincoln Park, which is the largest park on Capitol Hill.  It’s a very popular destination for city dwellers looking for some open space for their kids and their dogs to enjoy.  

See the statue behind Tommy and me in this selfie?

Here’s a closeup of it.  It depicts Abraham Lincoln emancipating a slave:

Tommy was seven months old the day I took him to Lincoln Park.  He’s an affable lad, but he's sort of a one-trick pony: he doesn’t do much more than stick stuff into his mouth:

(Nice hat!)

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After returning Tommy to his mother, I checked out another shared bike and rode to a docking station near Public Option, a small brewpub I had heard about only recently.

Unfortunately, that docking station was filled up – there was no room at the inn, so to speak.  So I had to ride to another docking station six blocks away and walk back to Public Option.

A Capital Bikeshare docking station
I called the Capital Bikeshare customer service line and politely expressed my displeasure with their misfeasance and stupidity while walking back to Public Option.  (I don’t know much the guy who answered my call gets paid, but it’s not enough to have to deal with assh*les like me.)

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Public Option is a small, no-frills microbrewery that's about three miles north of Lincoln Park:  

A sign on the door said that Public Option’s maximum capacity was 134 people.  I would have guessed more like 34– seating was limited to a few picnic tables out front, maybe half a dozen small tables inside, and four spots at the bar.

But there were half a dozen Public Option beers on tap and free Cheez-Its:

And the brewery’s owner and the young lady helping him pour pints couldn’t have been friendlier and more welcoming.

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One thing that’s unique about Public Option is its strict “no tips allowed” policy.  Here’s what its website has to say about that policy:


Market-based economies have bestowed innumerable benefits on humanity throughout our history by enforcing a dynamism in the ways we produce and distribute goods and services.  From ancient bazaars to the New York Stock Exchange, markets have flourished under a wide variety of rules. . . .

One established "rule" or norm in restaurants is the practice of tipping.  When I eat out, I normally leave 20%.  I know that the servers can't live on their base pay.  And I assume that they will share some of their tip income with other staff.  But let's take a look at what these assumptions rests on.  If I see that an establishment lists the price of a beer as $6, I know that the actual price is 20% higher, or $7.20.  Further, I assume that the staff at the establishment is not being paid a living wage and that it is up to me as a customer to step in with a subsidy.

You won't find one of
these at Public Option
The tipping system has worked pretty well in restaurants for many years.  But it has its flaws.  Although staff at some restaurants make a very solid living on tips, at other places tip-based income can be unpredictable.  Additionally, gender, age and racial biases can skew outcomes for individuals.  And the dynamic is complicated, with servers relying on their employment at an establishment to give them access to their wages, but relying on individual customers for those wages.  We believe it's time to try some alternatives.

The Public Option pays a starting wage of $15/hour and provides full-time (40 hours/week) work.  We ask customers not to leave tips as our prices provide for living wages for all employees.  If a customer leaves a tip, it will be added to a fund which will be donated to a local non-profit to be decided on by the staff.

Can this work?  Will this model accrue a competitive advantage to The Public Option?  Will we play a part in displacing a flawed incumbent system with something better?  Or will we just crash and burn?  Who knows?  

I don’t have strong feelings about tipping.  I’m a pretty cheap guy, so you would think I be in favor of a no-tipping policy.   But tipping doesn’t really bother me – I understand what the expectations are when it comes to tipping at restaurants and bars, so I factor that into the equation.

Having said that, I’m all in favor of the Public Option trying something different instead of just going along with the crowd.  “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend,” as that dirty Commie Mao Tse-Tung once said.  (Yes, I know it’s spelled “Mao Zedong” nowadays but I grew up spelling it the other way.)

Chairman Mao
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A 2010 article in the International Journal of Hospitality management reported the results of research showing that the lyrical content of songs played in restaurants has a significant effect on tipping behavior.

One would think that every waitress in the country would be pushing her boss to put today’s featured song on the playlist at the restaurant or bar where she works.

“Tip That Waitress” was released on Loudon Wainwright III’s 1993 live album, Career Moves, which was recorded at the Bottom Line in New York City:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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