Smugglers' Inn started as a theme restaurant in Blaine, Minnesota and has become, if not a legitimate advertising agency, then a viable agency alternative with two dedicated ad employees, Carol Henderson, art director and Jarl Olsen, copywriter. Read the whole saga in these posts or click the pirate to follow the entertaining tweets of our dishwasher, Pongo. Who may or may not be an orangutan.!/PongoTryHard

Monday, December 22, 2014

It's ugly, but you read it.  Like this blog.

Every waiter, waitress, busboy, bartender and seating hostess at Smuggler’s Inn knows about “The Chart”.  The Chart, actually a series of charts illustrating the findings of a 2-year study on the tipping habits of Americans, caused a firestorm when it was published in Restaurant News in 2009.  If you are not familiar with the publication, Restaurant News is a bi-weekly tabloid that reports on the service and hospitality industries.  Despite a decidedly utilitarian aesthetic complimented by a paper stock that recalls the waxy packets drive-in French fries came in, everyone from the Chief Operations Officer of Wynn Hotels down to the Pakistani immigrant restaurateur with dreams of franchising his samosa truck reads RN.  To not do so would be to risk not knowing something invaluable.  For, mediocre though its art department may be, there is nothing second-rate about the content in Restaurant News.  The hefty rates paid by advertisers and a steep, $209 annual subscription price pay for painstakingly researched articles written by reporters who have come over from no less newspapers than the Miami Herald and the Washington Post.  “If you read it, it must be true” probably applies when you’re talking about Restaurant News.  The fact that research largely confirmed what passed for common knowledge among restaurant folk didn’t stop critics from jumping all over Restaurant News for seeming to endorse such controversial statements as Scottish tourists seldom tip like Scotsmen but many Australian tourists refrain from tipping at all.   It wasn’t the Australians who raised a stink, though.  It was the teachers.

In one bar graph showing average gratuities paid by 28 professions, “teachers” placed dead last, behind day laborers and “religious professionals” a category that includes those free-spending sub-groups, nuns and priests.  The teachers cried, “Foul!” and the powerful California Teachers Union issued a written protest denying the article’s finding and containing statements by several of its members, all of whom swore that they tipped 20%.  Restaurant News stuck to its guns.  The numbers didn’t lie, they said; teachers across the country were tipping just under 11%.

Other findings contained in the article seemed questionable, or at least impolitic.  Like that independent business owners didn’t tip any more than their employees or that while gay men are great tippers, gay women tip about average.  There were no statistics based on ethnicity, but if your first language was something other than English, you probably really did think that tipping was a city in China.  In short, there was something to offend everyone.

Everyone, that is, but the waiters, waitresses and, bartenders for whom this article was primarily intended.  Not only did food and hospitality workers top the list of good tippers (no surprise there), but these men and women were able to turn the findings of Restaurant News’ survey into actionable intelligence.  Teachers groups began seeing that parties of five or more had a 15% gratuity automatically added onto their tabs, separate checks or no.  Non-drinkers, never a preferred group because of their smaller bills, might have noticed that they were waiting a bit longer for their food, even as any gay men sharing the dining room with them were enjoying cocktails that were especially frosty.  It would be wrong to say whole segments of restaurant and bar patrons experienced bad service because of this one article, but service jobs are all about time management and since you can’t be in two places at once, why wouldn’t you choose to be in the place that would earn you a 20% tip?

Smugglers’ Inn uses the standard restaurant model for training in new employees, which means that we largely leave that task to our old employees.  A new busboy or bar girl would have heard an oral recitation of “The Chart” right after they’d learned where the Whip-it!© canisters were hidden.  By the time they made bartender or waiter, they would be warning their future replacements about stingy Australians.  “And don’t get me started on teachers.”  It was a quaint tradition.  They all are.

Last month, in the “Coming in your next issue of Restaurant News” segment of that magazine, subscribers saw an item announcing a comprehensive survey of tipping in America, RA’s first in five years.  Much has happened to America in five years.  We have a black president.  Spanish is commonly heard not just in our kitchen, but everywhere else in Minnesota.  The largest company in America is no longer Exxon-Mobile or General Motors.  It is Apple.

Smug’s employees waited with bated breath (that’s how it’s spelled; I looked it up) to discover just who was tipping what in our brave new world.  Yesterday, the wait was over.

“A demographic survey of gratuities paid by Americans in 2013-14 based on independent data” contained 14 new job descriptions, plus new categories including several deliberately frivolous one, like dog and cat owners and Survivor vs. Game of Thrones viewers.  No need to irritate anyone this time; let’s all just keep it light, shall we?

As the Smug’s copy of RN made its way from one pair of hands to the next, you could hear, “Hah!” “Yes!” “Andele!” 
Almost every stat contained in the previous, five-year-old survey had changed, if not been turned on its head.  Every stat, save the one we all went to immediately.  The cheapest people in America were…STILL TEACHERS!  The mood at Smugglers’ Inn that day was downright celebratory.  Once you’ve directed all of your enmity against a group of people, the last thing any of us wants to hear is some reason to stop hating.

There’s a holiday message in there somewhere, but I’m damned if I can find it.   From all of us at Smugglers’ Inn to anyone reading this, “Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Joyous Kwanzaa.” 

Unless you’re a teacher.  In which case, “Why don’t you get run over by a sleigh?”   Cheapskate.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy. We don't serve cowboys.

Ever wonder what people from other countries think when they see images of invariably mustachioed or goateed white American citizens prancing about in in faux-military gear, waving assault rifles and screaming about their Christian god who, apparently, wants every man, woman and child strapped?  Well, wonder no more.
     “Hey!  There’s some assholes with guns in our parking lot," said Jorge III, Smugglers’ Inn’s landscaper and a citizen of Mexico.  Jorge had just stepped into our westerly bus station from the door that leads to the outside.  All of Smug’s employees are compelled to use this side entrance when the restaurant is not officially open.  “They’re in the front. Check it out!”
I did.  Sure enough, about 50 feet from our front door three heavyset men were leaning against an older white pickup truck that had a Minnesota Vikings pennant tied to its antenna.  Each man had conspicuously strapped a black firearm to his thigh and an assault rifle lay across the pickup’s hood, as if on display.
 “Thanks. I’ll let Northtown security know,” I told Jorge III. “For now, let’s not worry about ‘em.”
  A few minutes later, I heard, “Hey, ‘choo know there are some douche bags with guns and a flag hanging out in our parking lot?”   The flag was a new addition.
  “American flag?” I asked Ramón, our bartender who claims to be Cubano-American from Florida, but who sends money back home to his family in Quito, Ecuador. 
  “No, man, a snake.  Eet look like a little kid drew it.  Had some messed up words on it.”
  “Don’t tread on me?” I ventured.
  “I din’ read eet,” Ramón said (Although couldn’t read it may have been more accurate).  “You want Jorge and me tell ‘em to leave?”
  “Naw, they’re gun nuts.  Don’t antagonize ‘em or we’ll never get rid of ‘em.”
  “Gun nuts?  Like the douche bags in Texas?” If you haven’t guessed, “douche bag” is Ramón’s favorite expression.
  “Unfortunately, they’re everywhere.  Hey, Jorge needs help moving the broiler.  Can you…?”
  “I’m on it, boss!”
  Well, the fact that our guests had Betsy Ross’d their own flag was encouraging; they probably weren’t affiliated with the NRA or any national gun organization.  Most likely, they were three guys who had met at Weight Watchers or the Herpes Connect dating site and discovered they shared a fetish for firearms.  No doubt they’d watched the confrontations between “open carry” advocates and police on YouTube and thought that the whole thing looked like fun.  Why did they pick Smugglers’ Inn to make their stand, though?  The idea behind forcing these confrontations is to show how Americans who choose to brandish lethal weapons in public are routinely deprived of their right, guaranteed by the 2nd amendment, to scare the shit out of anyone with a triple digit IQ.  The goal is to get media attention, preferably television.  Why, then, had these men chosen to brandish firepower at a freestanding restaurant on the edge of a shopping center parking lot on a Tuesday afternoon?  It made no sense.
  Erin, who was acting as our seating hostess for three weeks while her roommate, Cat, was backpacking in Yosemite, had decided to show up early, for once.  She’s may not Smugglers’ hardest-working employee, but she charms everyone with her lilting Irish brogue. 
  “Pardon me, but is anyone else a bit concerned that there are three fat bastards camped outside the front door wavin’ fookin’ goons about?”
  “Erin!  We have the situation’s under control,” I lied.
  “You called the army, then?”
  “Northtown security.”
  “Mall cops?  Fer fook’s sake, they don’t even have whistles.”
  “It’s protocol.  You said there are four of them?”
  “Three great fat bastards dressed up to look like Rambo and one little John Wayne.
  “Boom!  Boom!  Boom!” 
   Someone was pounding to get in.  As much a decoration as a functioning portal, Smugglers’ Inn’s massive front door is made from sandblasted wood and is crisscrossed with Spanish-looking beaten metal bands.  It looks like a door to keep out pirates, but it’s easily damaged.  Half of the metal bits are held on with hot glue.
  “Boom!  Boom! Boom!”
  “Fer fook’s sake, you’re not going to open it?””
  “Erin, please, just go get changed.  Unless you plan on seating my customers in jeans that smell like cigarettes and beer, in which case, we’ll need to talk.
  “You’re such a cunt,” Erin said, not offending me in the least.
  “Thank you!” I replied and went to see who was pounding on my door. 
  It was, indeed, the gang from the parking lot.  Apparently, they had just been waiting for their fourth.
  “Can I help you gentleman?” 
  One of the “gentlemen” had what I think was an AK-47 lashed to his back.  All of them had side arms in holsters.  The man in the cowboy hat must have been the brains of the outfit, for it was he who addressed me while the others stood with feet wide apart and hands clasped behind their backs.  I remember going to a Public Enemy concert in 1993 and seeing members of Chuck D’s entourage assume this same “parade rest” stance.  I snickered then, too.
  “We demand that you let us into this establishment,” said the Cowboy.
  “I’m very sorry, sir, but I cannot let you come in like that.”
  “The laws of the state of Minnesota and the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution of the United States says we have the right to keep and bear arms,” said the Cowboy.  “We are here today to exercise our rights.”
  “Our right and our freedom!” barked the guy with the AK, who looked sillier, even, than one of Public Enemy’s “soldiers”.  At least those guys could stick their chests out beyond their stomachs.
  I looked back at the leader.  And his hat.
  “I believe we’ve met before.  I believe…” I made a show of looking the Cowboy up and down. “…I asked you to remove your hat on one occasion and on that occasion you refused.”
  “Is that what this about?” yelled one of the Cowboy’s companions, who immediately dropped any pretense of a military bearing and assumed the “disappointed guy with bonehead friend” slouch.  “You and that stupid hat of yours?”
  “This is about our constitutional rights, which Obama and the liberals are prying away from us day-by-day.”  The Cowboy must have prepared this, for he said it with a straight face.  And used the word “prying”.
  “Whatever you gotta say, you can say it to security,” I said, “but Smugglers’ Inn has always had a “no hats” policy.”  I leaned in to the most pissed-off of the play soldiers ant said in a confidential tone, “It keeps out the pimps.”
  The pissed-off guy walked away.  He flipped the bird, but whether the gesture was directed at me or to his comrades, I could not say.  His buddy with the assault rifle shouted after him that he still had his gun case in his truck, but the guy just flipped the bird again.
  “In any case,” I continued, “we don’t open for another 20 minutes.  Security’s slow, but they shouldn’t take that long.”
  “Take your hat off, Jerry,” said the guy with the AK.  “If I get arrested, I don’t want them to say it was over some dress code violation.”
  “Me, neither,” said the remaining soldier, who had pulled out an iPhone. “Take it off and I’ll tape us having our rights violated.”
  “I take this hat off for no man!” said Cowboy Jerry.  
  They were squabbling outside our door when Lisa and Paul, the Northtown Security force, showed up in their little, black Rav4.  While they only pack flashlights and zip tie handcuffs, Lisa is a part-time personal trainer with a neck like a fullback while Paul has the ramrod-straight posture and “jarhead” haircut of a marine, a look made more credible by the fact that he has a bulldog and “USMC” tattooed on one hand and his other hand is a stump.
  Since our open carry patriots could hardly post video of themselves standing up to an unarmed woman and a wounded warrior with a humiliating job, the three martyrs for freedom got back in the cowboy’s BMW X5 and drove away, but not before Paul confiscated the one guy’s assault rifle. 
  “Man! Did you see that?” Jorge shouted.  By now, everyone had congregated by the front door and nobody was getting ready to open in five minutes. “He gave up his rifle like a little bitch.”
  “You know he’s only gon’ get it back,” said Ramón, adding, “douche bag.”   Ramón turned to Erin.  “What ‘choo think?  They gon’ give him hees gun back?” 
  Erin seemed to ponder the question before responding, “I tink they should make him ask for it back from someone who’s child’s been killed by one ‘o the fooking tings.”

We can only hope.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Winter of 2014

*This month’s blog entry comes from Smugglers’ Inn’s seating hostess and recent University of Minnesota J-school grad, Catherine “Cat” Pike.

To winter, whose name is Sebastian:

How do I know your name is Sebastian?  Because everyday that I wake up and look around, I see that you’ve left something else for me to pick up.  We hadn’t heard too much of you these last three years, Sebastian—not that anyone was concerned.  Maybe it was too much to expect you to fade away entirely, but now you’re back in my life and worse than ever.  I expected you to split before Valentine’s Day, if only to avoid buying me a present.  Well, February 14 came and went and I didn’t get crap.  It was nine below and snowing this Valentine’s Day at the airport.  I don’t know why Minnesotans measure temperatures at the airport, unless it’s entertaining to watch the reactions of people who’ve disembarked from planes originating in cities in Florida and Texas step from baggage claim into a breeze that freezes their eyelids open.  You’re so cruel; I can’t believe I ever liked you.  It was only because you showed up right as I was discovering snowboarding.  I confused the endorphin high I'd earned from conquering my fear of the half-pipe with falling in love.

Looking back, I must have been mad.  What else could explain how I, practically a college graduate, moved in with you three weeks after buying my first pair of mittens?  Alarm bells should have gone off when you couldn’t cover your half of the damage deposit.  You told me that that you were waiting on a $5,500 check for having worked that fall on domestic caviar farm.  Shoot me, but when you talked about how you raised sturgeon from tiny minnows into giant adults with individual names and personalities, I believed you.  How you must have laughed telling your friends about the idiot meal ticket you’d lucked upon.  Wait!  I forgot; you don’t have friends.

Why am I going on?  Sebastian or winter or whatever you’re calling yourself these days, you should never have come back.  Remember how I put your crap out in the yard and then it immediately rained?  I don’t believe that was an accident.  I think God saw it there and said, “Hey, this is that D-bag,  Sebastain's,  crap.  I recognize it from all the horrible charcoal drawings.  Didn’t he cheat on that nice girl who still talks to me whenever she’s sad and alone?  What was her name?  Cat!  Yes, Sebastian cheated on Cat.  With her best friend’s little sister, no less.  My self! Is that the entire Twilight collection in paperback?  I’m gonna dump, like, two Sea World aquariums on that.”

You have 72 hours, Sebastian.  If, by March, I cannot tell that the lawn is made of grass (albeit grass littered with fast food containers and dissolving piles of dog poo), I’m playing the god card.  I’m not really ready for the Rapture, but if it takes the end of life as we know it to be able to go outside without a parka and a snow shovel, so be it.

Caviar farm!  Right.  Why don’t you take your act back there, Sebastian?  The world needs sturgeon fish sticks.  Like it needs you.