Sunday, June 10, 2018

Peter Gabriel – "Big Time" (1986)

Big time
I'm on my way, I’m making it
Big time

Washington restaurateur Aaron Silverman operates three very popular eateries.

The most formal of his trio of restaurants, Pineapple and Pearls, offers a 12-course tasting menu.  (As I understand it, you don’t know what you’re getting to eat until it is served to you.)

A Pineapple and Pearls meal used to go for $280, which included the wines and other beverages paired to each course, tax, and tip.  Silverman raised the price to $325 in April.

The way Silverman sees it, you should thank him for upping the cost of eating at Pineapple and Pearls.  From the Washington Post:

“There were a lot of things that we wanted to do to improve our food, our service, our employees’ lives, our guest experience as a whole,” Silverman said.  “We wanted to raise it as little as possible so the value's still there. . . . We've always tried to charge the least amount we can.”

Aaron Silverman is awesome!
The price hike will go toward a number of improvements, Silverman said.  It will ensure that he can have an additional person at the front desk to welcome guests and “make sure everyone has a welcome drink in their hand as soon as they arrive.”  It will also enable them to buy higher-quality ingredients for guests.

“It's little things. It's not like when you walk in there's going to be a tower of champagne and caviar waiting for you,” Silverman said. “It allows us to get slightly nicer or more expensive fish, or serve an extra slice of truffle.”

No more having to wait for my welcome drink plus an extra slice of truffle for only $45 more?  Thanks, Aaron!  You’re a prince of a fellow!

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Pineapple and Pearls asks for a credit card number when you make a reservation.  Half of the $325 dinner “ticket” is charged to your card when you book the reservation.  The remainder is charged to your card the morning of your reservation.

Here's one-twelfth of your $325 dinner
I’ve never been asked to pay for a restaurant dinner in advance, but most restaurateurs aren’t as thoughtful as Mr. Silverman.  From Washingtonian magazine:

“A huge part of this concept is making fine dining really fun yet still elegant and refined,” Silverman says.  “That means getting rid of anything that takes away from pleasure – it sucks to pay that big bill at the end.”

I’ve got news for you, Aaron.  I don’t care whether I get the check before or after I eat.  It sucks to pay $325 for dinner period.

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Once a dedicated foodie scores a Pineapple and Pearls reservation, he or she will do just about anything to avoid having to cancel it.  But as the poet said, the best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley.

In other words, sh*t happens.

If you can’t use your reservation, Pineapple and Pearls is happy to refund your deposit if you cancel at least five days in advance.  

The Pineapple and Pearls home page
But if you cancel more than 24 hours but less than five days in advance of your reservation, you forfeit half of your deposit.

And if you cancel less than 24 hours in advance, you are S.O.L. – you can kiss your $162.50-per-diner deposit good-bye.

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Last fall, someone who had to cancel a Pineapple and Pearls reservation at the last minute due to an emergency wrote Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema when the restaurant refused to refund her deposit:

I reserved dinner at Pineapple and Pearls for my husband and myself in July.  My husband, who's an active duty military officer stationed overseas, was flying in for a few days, and I booked us for the night he was scheduled to arrive.  He arrived on time . . . and went straight to the emergency room with hallucinations and a 106-degree fever that developed on the flight from something he'd had contact with before departure for the U.S.  Very scary.  

I called the restaurant, repeatedly, as I was driving to the hospital to advise that we wouldn't be coming; no one picked up, and voicemail wasn't offered.  So I sent an email.  My husband spent the night in the hospital but recovered fairly rapidly after a generous dose of Cipro.  

I heard from the restaurant the next day: they very kindly inquired about my husband's welfare (good) but explained that they did not make exceptions to their cancellation policy and would not offer either a refund or a credit (wow).  

So, a public service announcement for those booking at Pineapple & Pearls: No refunds/no exceptions.  Period.  Full stop.  If your dining companion dies, you'll still have to pay for his or her meal. 

Here’s how Aaron Silverman responded: 

When competing in a market such as ours (fine dining) it is becoming necessary and often common practice to treat the experience like that of a sporting event or a concert/show; treating it like the sale of a “ticket.”  Just like a concert or show, when one gets sick or has to cancel for any last minute reason, you unfortunately forfeit the ticket.  With that said, we only apply this policy for cancellations within 24 hours of the experience.  Cancellations made prior to 24 hours are issued refunds of varying amounts depending on the timing of the cancellation (5 days, 3 days, etc).  This type of policy is something we have to stick to in order to provide the experience we do at the price point we offer. . . .

For us, the only fair way to handle these situations is to firmly hold to our policy because otherwise we would then be in the business of quantifying hardship, which is an inconceivable practice.  In our ideal world, circumstances would be different but we strive to do the best we can with what we are given.

Aaron Silverman delivering a TED talk
The Post’s Sietsema took Silverman’s side:

While I'm sympathetic to both the would-be guest and Pineapple and Pearls, after hearing from Mr. Silverman, I'm inclined to side with the restaurant.  Dining establishments operate on very slim margins.  The comparison to concerts and sporting events is a good one.  And I appreciate a staff that's sincerely bothered by having to say "no" to would-be diners . . . . But as the chef pointed out, who wants to be in the business of quantifying hardships?

“I appreciate a staff that's sincerely bothered by having to say ‘no’ to would-be diners”?  Gag me with a spoon, Mr. Sietsema.  It’s easy to be “sincerely bothered” when you’ve just robbed someone of $325.

I don’t believe for a minute that a restaurant that charges as much for dinner as Pineapple and Pearls does is operating “on very slim margins.”

Also, Silverman’s comparison of a dinner out to a ticket for a sporting event or concert sounds reasonable at first.  But the analogy isn’t perfect.  Silverman says it is a “common practice” for restaurants to handle no-shows like he does, but I’m not aware of any other Washington restaurant that has such a policy.  If other restaurants manage to survive last-minute cancellations without charging diners a nonrefundable three-figure deposit upfront, why can’t Silverman?

As for not wanting to be “in the business of quantifying hardship,” give me a f*cking break!  I understand that customers lie to businesses all the time, and I’m sure it’s frustrating for restaurants when diners cancel at the last minute on the basis of some bullsh*t excuse.  But I would be willing to bet that this customer was telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about her husband’s medical emergency.

If you ask me, a businessman isn’t justified in screwing one customer because another customer has screwed him or her.

Of course, Aaron Silverman seems to have a never-ending supply of customers eager to pay whatever price he charges.  And local restaurant reviewers kiss his ass regardless of how he treats them.  It’s no wonder he doesn’t feel the need to give his customers the benefit of the doubt.

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Let me make another point.

Pineapple and Pearls doesn’t take walk-in customers who don’t have an advance reservation.  But its website encourages you to check the restaurant’s Instagram account to see if there are tables available on any given evening due to last-minute cancellations.

Chowing down at Pineapple and Pearls
I’m guessing that Pineapple and Pearls is almost always able to fill tables that open up when a reservation is cancelled because there seem to be plenty of narcissistic foodies in Your Nation’s Capital who are willing to fork up $325 for the privilege of chowing down at Pineapple and Pearls and telling tout le monde that the experience was to die for.  

If my supposition is correct, those forfeited deposits are pure profit for Mr. Silverman.

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Please note also that the woman who missed out on Pineapple and Pearls because she had to rush her husband to the hospital called the restaurant as soon as possible to let them know about her emergency.  

I don’t think I would have been worrying about cancelling a restaurant reservation if I had been the one taking a hallucinating family member with an 106-degree temperature to the ER.  

But no one picked up the phone when she called Pineapple and Pearls, and there was no way for her to leave a voicemail.  (I guess that additional front-desk person Silverman said he was going to hire everyone was too busy serving welcome drinks to answer the phone.)

*     *     *     *     *

I wonder if the woman was correct when she said, “If your dining companion dies, you'll still have to pay for his or her meal.”  All I know is that Aaron Silverman didn’t deny it.

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Maybe I’m not being fair to Mr. Silverman.  But there are plenty  of restaurants in the Washington area that wouldn’t think of banging your credit card if you have to bail out on a dinner reservation because of a medical emergency.  I think I’ll eat at those restaurants and take a pass on Silverman’s joints.  

I’m guessing his restaurants will survive quite nicely without me.  But I know I can survive quite nicely without his restaurants.

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Peter Gabriel’s fifth solo album, So, was released in 1986.  (His first four albums all had the same title – Peter Gabriel – which is a bit confusing.)

So was a big seller – it went quintuple platinum in the U.S. – and was nominated for the “Album of the Year” Grammy.  “Sledgehammer,” the album’s lead single was a huge hit, and the “Sledgehammer” music video is said to be the most-played music video in the history of MTV.

Another song from that album, “In Your Eyes,” was featured in the 1989 film, Say Anything.  (Surely you remember the scene where John Cusack demonstrates his undying love for Ione Skye by standing in her front yard holding a boombox that’s playing “In Your Eyes.”)

So today’s featured song isn’t the best-known track from So.  It isn’t even the second-best-known track from that album.  But it’s a pretty good song nonetheless.

Click here to watch the music video for “Big Time.”  (It’s mostly claymation – can you dig it?)

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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