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.

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