Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why Do We Tip?

Often people believe that we tip servers in order to get excellent service. 

What exactly defines "good service" might seem up for debate, but I say it is not. And here are some of my reasons:

A good employer of a server understands that there is something intangible that occurs between a server and their customer. 

Although customers want efficient and timely service those aren't the only qualities a good server provides. Sometimes one can have a  server who isn't the greatest waiter or bartender at all, but provides that intangible chemistry with their humour or pleasant personality while getting you your orders. A customer needs to feel comfortable in a restaurant or bar especially when it comes to food and atmosphere. The more comfortable one's server is, the more comfortable the customer feels.

A person who owns or runs a restaurant, a club, or is a manger is usually paid by salary and therefore isn't taking a risk week by week in the same way a server takes a risk. A server literally does not know how much money they will make per week. They take a risk every shift. Yet, the secret to their success as a server lies in letting that risk go and being comfortable, sincerely friendly, and personable and efficient. If some degree of these energies is missing in the server....things begin to fall apart for the customer.

The server is there for the customer in a unique manner without being part of the profit of the business or organization. A manager, boss, or owner all have a degree of conflict of interest for the customer. Of course those roles want the best for the customer idealistically but mixed with the pressures of running a food and beverage establishment profitably there is a chance of those ideals being compromised.

Since a server is being paid primarily by a customer through the tipping format, the customer and server have a bond. Some of that bond is understandable, a decent server will guide a patron to avoid weaker menu items, will recommend items and set the tone of a comfortable interesting atmosphere while maintaining quality control.

How this is done by a server is the intangible part. And it's something that only some personalities can perform. Those of us who dine out and enjoy eating and drinking in a  public business know this is worth every dollar of our tipping.

The government and labour laws have forced employers to pay servers a cursory wage. That wage covers the labours of a server filling up salt and pepper shakers, getting their clothes cleaned, doing odd jobs directly related to table service...but the major employer of a server is the customer. And that gives keeps the business customer-friendly. Servers are "front-of'-the-house" workers which means they need their hair and clothing to be fresh and tidy and fairly well-put-together. They don't wash dishes or prepare food because they need to keep their appearance tidy and they handle money. Servers also need to be able to navigate potentially testy  co-workers and staff, and bosses who are worried about profit, while appearing calm and enjoying the social aspect of being in a  public space. Competent servers  work between the front of the house and the management/kitchen  maintaining a pleasant if not super-fun mood for the room.

Any experienced customer who has dined in a  restaurant where the owner or manager has spent too much time at a table visiting and trying to fawn on tables knows they are seeing someone sweat over the bills. A server can alleviate that kind of tension and allow an owner or management to keep watch of the ordering, cooking,  deliveries and bills without scaring off customers and work on the business. Some inexperienced owners, bosses and managers are not aware that they are often off-putting to the customers. Severs never tell the bosses that information, just like any multi-level business no one wants to criticize their administrations. The daily financial risk a server takes while being a source of care-giving is a truly intangible quality. 

Since food and beverages are so primal they trigger many inner feelings for all of us. Having a person we bond with as a server, who has nothing invested in the profit of a business while invested in the overall well-being of a business, helps us reconcile the unconscious positive and negative associations we have with food and community of a public space.

Any one of these factors, however intangible our relationships with servers may be, is worth the tipping. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Landscaping Project Day 1

Today we began landscaping at The Buddhist Temple of Chicago. Two crews, 8 guys, 4 large pizzas, 15,000 pounds of stone. 
Three of us were at the Temple today, and going to be there all week while a rather major landscaping project is executed: a few of us have been planning and meeting and facilitating this project for a few months. I really had a wonderful time today. I love organizing and getting this sort of thing done. I love the Temple which was designed around the Dahrma Wheel. You can see the Dahrma Wheel motif on the from corner of the Temple. Inside the Temple are all walls and furniture and offices that are made on wheels. The garbage pails are even on dolly boards with wheels. Our "bookstore" is on wheels. (I'll try to post a picture of that later).

The Temple was built ten years ago but landscaping was out of the budget until now. We had all these stones surrounding the property. and kids and dogs ran across it. Dog owners would use the stone property to walk their dogs (god knows why they would use such a building to let their dogs shit?) And kids having fun would run around on the gravel sending it out on to the public sidewalk.

So we needed to have a salvaging service remove the stones. Then a landscaping company is paving, and digging down 8 inches and removing gravel littered earth. Then pouring new soil in it's place. Then we are planting some small trees and flowers. 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Even In Death There Is Life, Even In Life There Is Death

"I GET IT!" Stagg and I finally did it. We watched THE SOPRANOS. Neither of us had even seen five minutes of the series, ever. We went in totally not knowing what to expect other than it being a goodfellas premise. Holy shit!!!! It's not unusual for me to watch a tv series years after it has been popular. It's kind of how I watched tv all my life. I watched Hill Street Blues, Rockford Files, Barny Miller, NYPD Blue all years after they had originally aired as reruns.  Stagg and I already knew we would like this show... it was just a matter of getting time to watch it and getting our hands on all the seasons. This summer we began. We started out slowly in July. Taking a break and then binging like crazy the last two weeks. This really just might be the greatest tv show ever made. No wonder people obsessed over it. For me....every day I have been thinking about the episodes. Part of my waking state has been like a dream thinking about the actors body language, looking over my shoulder with paranoia. Filled with dread and laughing and laughing. I also cried a lot during the show. It is really one of the most saddest and profoundly life-affirming experiences.. At one point I had to stop and go research the writer. A some point during the seasons it becomes apparent that whoever conceived the show is a deeply thoughtful, wise person who has suffered...? And research about David Chase confirmed this feeling. The show is about the voice. I mean duh, right? "the sopranos". ha ha ha.  It's about vows of silence, codes of speaking and not speaking. Decorum of words, rolling rules, breaking these rules. It's about "talk therapy" and keeping quiet. It's about the human act of speaking revealing who we are. All hyper infused with life and death. People live and die by what they say or don't say. A subtle comparison between the code of doctors, therapists is mirrored to the code of old world Omerata which existed because social structures and people in power were corrupt so ...the little guy made their own codes and laws. As we learn from the play Hamlet that humans know who we are by talking and listening and reflecting...The Sopranos portrays this all the way. There wasn't anything that wasn't pushed to the limit and explored completely artistically and professionally and spiritually. The last thing I expected was the show being a spiritual narrative (much like like David Lynch's body of work). So cleverly disguised as a crime drama. The series was totally self-aware of itself...down to characters almost saying they knew they were superstars and cult heroes. The characters endlessly watched movies and tv shows and referenced gangster stories and anti-heroic figures. Like us, they found themselves in art and in speaking and repeating and cycling...they replayed their lives and memories and grudges over and over like home movies or classic movies. In fact, the series has about 30 actors from "Goodfellas"'s that self aware. (and there are only just so many Italian American actors out there). Over the years of the show James Gandolfini changed physically morphing more and more into a likeness of Buddha. In some scenes he sat in Buddha poses.  When James Gandolfini died last year, I knew we had lost a great actor. I had no idea we had lost a soul mate.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Grammar, Glamour, Spell, Spelling

“Like it or not, there is a deep psychic importance to that whole set of rules and conventions for writing which we tend to sum up loosely as grammar. Grammar is glamour. They are the same word. Like channel/canal or guard/ward or porridge/pottage, the two words just started out as two pronunciations of the same word — a mere matter of regional accent. For grammar was glamour. If you knew grammar you were special. You had prestige, power, access to magic; you understood a mystery; you were like a nuclear physicist.” 

Peter Elbow in Writing With Power

“In classical Greek and Latin the word [grammatica] denoted the methodical study of literature (= ‘philology’ in the widest modern sense, including textual and ├Žsthetic criticism, investigation of literary history and antiquities, explanation of allusions, etc., besides the study of the Greek and Latin languages. Post-classically, grammatica came to be restricted to the linguistic portion of this discipline, and eventually to ‘grammar’ in the modern sense. In the Middle Ages, grammatica and its Romance forms chiefly meant the knowledge or study of Latin, and were hence often used as synonymous with learning in general, the knowledge peculiar to the learned class. As this was popularly supposed to include magic and astrology, the Old French gramaire was sometimes used as a name for these occult sciences. In these applications it still survives in certain corrupt forms, French grimoire, English GLAMOUR n., GRAMARYE n.” 

from OED