Serving elaborate meals to the super-rich left me feeling empty.
August 24, 2015 10:32 AM   Subscribe

 
I am so keeping "haunted" as a glib wine descriptor.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:44 AM on August 24, 2015 [12 favorites]


Well yes, serving the ultra rich, who can act extremely entitled and belittling, would get soul crushingly tiring after a bit. It means you're human.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:54 AM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well yes, serving the ultra rich, who can act extremely entitled and belittling, would get soul crushingly tiring after a bit. It means you're human.

This is true of all service positions, really.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:55 AM on August 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


This article pairs nicely with Tanya Gold's recent screed in Harpers.
posted by Fnarf at 10:55 AM on August 24, 2015 [14 favorites]


This piece underlines why I enjoyed the Harper's review-- I didn't read Gold's piece as critiquing the food or fine cuisine as a concept, but as critiquing the inevitable oddities of an industry that depends on the very rich. I can dream of visiting a few fine restaurants on very rare occasions, and that's great, because food is delicious, but the people who can afford these places regularly are the obscenely rich, and so much of the environment in such restaurants is this very specific performance.

Can I check my baby for three hours. Quick, cover up this maybe-corpse with a cart while we wait for the inconvenience of the EMTs to get here. Daughter or Girlfriend. The tasting menu choice will eat into your imminent threesome, you might want to reconsider.

These are the regular customers of fine dining, and just reading about them gives me the heebie-jeebies.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:55 AM on August 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


Bravo. A first-rate piece. Thank you.

Re: "In a playground for the superrich, I was an overpaid chaperone wearing a bespoke suit. Gluttony was common." ...

... The writer is a natural
posted by Schroder at 11:02 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks to the OP for this posting and to Fnarf for the link to Harper's. They make an excellent pairing! I loved this from the Harper's piece: "the food is so overtended and overdressed I am amazed it has not developed the ability to scream in your face, walk off by itself, and sulk in its room."
posted by Bella Donna at 11:04 AM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's interesting that avoiding unpleasant interactions with other people is one of the biggest budget items for rich people. Please, they say with their money, put an obsequious veneer over everything. Not even the smallest thing - "a smudge on the butter, a fingerprint on the fork" - that could make me uncomfortable.

The advertisements for the big lotteries focus on how many peak experiences you'll be able to have with your winnings. But if the rich are just like us, only with more money, you'll probably spend most of that money on smoothing off all the irritating edges of your life. Obsequious lawyers between you and the relatives; obsequious "captains" between you and the kitchen.
posted by clawsoon at 11:05 AM on August 24, 2015 [21 favorites]


> This is true of all service positions, really.

When I met my wife she was working at a lousy coffee shop in Toronto. She told me she felt like a lot of the customers were paying for the opportunity to treat somebody like shit, not for the coffee.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:05 AM on August 24, 2015 [21 favorites]


Worked as a house man for a wealthy woman for a while as I went to school. It was not a good fit for someone with "Obnoxious Punk Rock Asshole" on their resume. As you can guess, it didn't last long. It did lead to my current position however, as a student supervisor in an academic library.
posted by evilDoug at 11:10 AM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not even the smallest thing - "a smudge on the butter, a fingerprint on the fork" - that could make me uncomfortable.
clawsoon

What's wrong with that? We put up with shit generally because we have no choice. If you did have a choice, why not remove the unpleasant and irritating parts of life?
posted by Sangermaine at 11:12 AM on August 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


Thanks to the OP for this posting and to Fnarf for the link to Harper's. They make an excellent pairing!

Now I need a light and airy article to cleanse the palate.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:12 AM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I am so keeping "haunted" as a glib wine descriptor.


No doubt. That feels like a cheat for the contest they were playing; of course, I would go with the haunted wine.

The language used by Frame to describe his feelings about this reminds me of nothing more than higher-end sex workers describing their experiences, which is worth thinking about.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:17 AM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Mostly, when I'm at a restaurant, I just want to be left alone with my dinner companions - not made to feel like some plastic royalty by a veneer of politeness that hides seething class rage. Fine dining seems like an exercise in collective fantasy. Very much an 'emperor has no clothes' thing.

However, I have experienced particularly fine service once. A waiter who was pleasant but not overly friend; who was gone for most of our meal, but attentive when we needed him. Less is more. I thanked him for a great meal, and since then, have had an extra shudder for waitstaff who walk by yelling "HOW ARE Y'ALL DOING?" when the first bite has just reached my mouth and then do not stay for the answer.
posted by entropone at 11:20 AM on August 24, 2015 [10 favorites]


since then, have had an extra shudder for waitstaff who walk by yelling "HOW ARE Y'ALL DOING?" when the first bite has just reached my mouth

I've even encountered this bit of anti-service while dining at fast food restaurants (sans table service, naturally), and usually from store management who I imagine are executing bullshit service guidelines imposed by corporate. I pride myself on being super low-maintenance and self-sufficient when dining in public but realize that not all people are thus. In any case, I'd love to know where the notion of randomly pestering your patrons every 3 minutes in the name of Good Service became an unspoken bylaw in the food service industry.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:29 AM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've done a fair amount of retail, albeit mostly books. I didn't feel that way.
posted by theora55 at 11:29 AM on August 24, 2015


Fitzgerald quipped to Hemingway that the rich are not like us. Hemingway said: yes. they have more money. Fitzgerald was right: not only do they have more money but attitude, perspective, plans, routines, and every day is viewed, assumed, protected, promoted, with a vision developed from that world of money.

This article is a very fine piece of writing. The author, willing to give up a very good money-making position, is now in grad school. I trust he has put aside lots of money to be comfortable as he plows ahead in a field more to his liking.

For those of us unable to dine at such places, no big deal. We may count ourselves fortunate if we need not go to fast food places for our dining out, nor work at such places for our livlihood.
posted by Postroad at 11:30 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sangermaine: What's wrong with that? We put up with shit generally because we have no choice. If you did have a choice, why not remove the unpleasant and irritating parts of life?

That's a good question.

I think - and I haven't really thought this through, it's just instinct talking - that it's because removing irritation for me almost always involves removing someone else's humanity. Their genuine, human emotions aren't allowed to matter, because I want my experience to be pleasant. I want to be an aristocrat, and have them as my slaves, if only for a couple of hours at a restaurant. And if I have money, and they don't, I can make that happen. All of my whims must be met immediately; all of their needs must be ignored until I am pleased.

The comments on the article, BTW, are great. Here's one that somehow touches on what I'm trying, without much success, to say:
I was working at another NY steakhouse, this time as a manager, and noticed a lady at a table of five visibly choking. She was well dressed, affluent and at a table of same. The gentleman to her right was gently patting her back as she began to turn blue. I quickly came over, assessed the situation and administered the Heimlich maneuver. She regurgitated the lump of food and took a deep breath. I asked the gentleman for his napkin to wipe the vomit from her mouth. I gave the napkin to a busser and offered her water. A few minutes passed and I returned to check on her. She stated she was fine. I never received a thank you which is fine but the gentleman looked sternly at me and asked in a annoyed tone "Are you going to bring me another napkin!"
Working as a high-end waiter in a high-end restaurant is worlds away from the City of Angels, but there's a set of skills that unites the two, skills which involve wiping out your humanity, being perfectly pleasant, so that you can get a few crumbs off a privileged table. I find something disturbing - and maybe I'm way, way off in making that comparison - but I find something disturbing about using your power and privilege to wipe away someone else's humanity.
posted by clawsoon at 11:37 AM on August 24, 2015 [43 favorites]


I've even encountered this bit of anti-service while dining at fast food restaurants (sans table service, naturally), and usually from store management who I imagine are executing bullshit service guidelines imposed by corporate.

To be fair, that's not so much about service as it is about security - the manager is (not so) subtly reminding you that you are being watched, so don't try any funny business. You see the same dynamic with floor staff in department stores.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:37 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


This article pairs nicely with Tanya Gold's recent screed in Harpers.
posted by Fnarf at 10:55 AM on August 24 [4 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


The two pieces are really excellent end pieces - with stinging points of view from opposites of the dining table. It's funny - there are those like me - who loved the NYT piece by despised the Harper's write up - and vice versa. Very few among my friends like both.

Like I said - the Harper's piece was very well written - but I hated it. It was the worst kind of snobbery - reverse snobbery. The kind of "let's go through the motions of dining but really I am fucking ABOVE ALL OF THIS - and I've written my piece already but I am just gathering details so that it's got 'credibility'". Bah. It's all well when it ends up on a the written page - but I have had dinner with people who decide to mock their meals and servers while we are still dining. It's like sitting with shit bloggers except 1000x's worse.

The NYT piece is to me heartbreaking - the soul crushing balance of theatre and subservience that some of these people who work at super high end restaurants go through. Is it shitty that sometimes customers are mocked? Fuck no. We are are human - and, as the Harper's piece so admirably demonstrates - diners at high end restaurants can be absolute shits. And yet servers at these places are not expected to flinch or register any sort of reaction when crap is thrown at them.

So the net net question to me is - what's the point? Really - what's the fucking point of high end dining when it's a hatefest from two opposing armies. Why get excited over a meal? Why make that reservation and speed call like a crazy person to get that table two months in advance and then blow hundreds (if not more) in travel costs to dine there? Why?

Cause I fucking love the food. I love dining with people who love food as much as I do. Dinner with my friends at the French Laundry or remembering at meal I had with loved ones at Le Bernadin are some of the funnest times I have ever had.

I love love it when conception and execution creates magic. I love when a service team reflects back my food geekiness - and they let the evening unfold in a way that seems tuned to making my experience seem exactly tailored for me. Some of these places you may not want to go to more than once in your lifetime - but man, when you do, it should be super super fun. I hope I've conveyed some of that enthusiasm and joy to the front and back of house restaurant staff who've made it possible.
posted by helmutdog at 11:40 AM on August 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


BTW - I love the artwork accompanying the article so much - I am going to cut it out and try to get it framed.
posted by helmutdog at 11:45 AM on August 24, 2015


What's wrong with that? We put up with shit generally because we have no choice. If you did have a choice, why not remove the unpleasant and irritating parts of life?

Because a goddamn fingerprint on a piece of silverware isn't remotely in the close of unpleasant and irritating parts of life.

Because the level of pettiness and privilege described in the article does literally nothing for the good of humanity on personal or societal level. At best, it's a childish attempt to control the world and give the illusion of power. Choosing to give into that facade speaks to an insufferable arrogance that destroys other people without a care.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:46 AM on August 24, 2015 [20 favorites]


not only do they have more money but attitude, perspective, plans, routines, and every day is viewed, assumed, protected, promoted, with a vision developed from that world of money.

Those are people who either grew up with it or have managed to hold onto it long enough to adapt to it. There's a reason why the term "nouveau riche" is recognized by people who will never touch a fraction of the wealth that the person who they're sneering at has; it designates a normal person who hasn't adapted to their wealth yet, and may yet blow it all, if they don't learn to manage it and put up some of that buffer that clawsoon mentions above. That's just how a normal person reacts to that much money, before they change.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:46 AM on August 24, 2015


The Harper's writer does say he threw up half his meal from Per Se, so that might've coloured his review.
posted by clawsoon at 11:46 AM on August 24, 2015


I find something disturbing about using your power and privilege to wipe away someone else's humanity.

When people (rich or otherwise) go for fine dining or get their car or computer serviced or whatever, they are paying for the service person to operate in a specified role - no more and no less. Is it wiping away someone else's humanity to simply expect a worker to politely deliver the experience that you've paid for?

Of course, in "extreme cases" (deaths in the dining room, etc), the nice veneer gets scratched a little bit. But most of the time, the service people just need to be polite and solicitous.
posted by theorique at 11:47 AM on August 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


I deleted was I was writing because helmutdog said it better. Someone said of high-end dining that the emperor has no clothes but that seems to me to be rather false. Oh, the kabuki theater of subservience is terrible and people who require it make me feel icky. But the actual food is quite often incredible and not comparable to meals at lower-end restaurants. The wine pairings are an experience even separate from the food. And I say that as someone who thinks wine snobbery is absurd and most wine snobs probably don't have a clue what they're talking about, as blind tests demonstrate over and over.
posted by Justinian at 11:48 AM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


What's wrong with that? We put up with shit generally because we have no choice. If you did have a choice, why not remove the unpleasant and irritating parts of life?

"It builds character!" As my parents would say.

But hey, maybe it won't be all bad. Maybe we'll end up with a rich kid who's isolated from all pain and suffering, out of his parents fear that he might reject his destiny as an elite. Then one day he sneaks out, and sees a sick person, a poor person, and a corpse...
posted by happyroach at 11:54 AM on August 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


The twist at the end (spoiler alert!) reminds me of the night our wedding band did a gig on a top-floor downtown restaurant space and one of the bride's uncles had a heart attack while dancing (to a song he had requested). He died. They took him away. After a while, the decision was made not to let the "accident" spoil the party, so we hopped back on the bandstand and played "Proud Mary" and "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party." (Just kidding about that last one. And, as far as I can remember, we didn't play the dreaded "Chicken Dance.")
posted by kozad at 11:56 AM on August 24, 2015


I find something disturbing about using your power and privilege to wipe away someone else's humanity.

I guess it's different when we go to McDonald's or hail a taxi eh
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:56 AM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Because a goddamn fingerprint on a piece of silverware isn't remotely in the close of unpleasant and irritating parts of life.

These sorts of comments are really odd. Of course it's not the end of the world, but if could have perfectly clean silverware, why not? What exactly is the proper state of silverware cleanliness to expect, beyond which you're an asshole?

We're not talking about issues of life and death, just that if you had the ability to make things easier for yourself, have things perfectly clean without worrying about it, etc, why not? It's weird that apparently the very idea of wanting smudge-free silverware is anathema.

I don't need flowers in my home every day, but if I could afford them I would like that.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:58 AM on August 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


theorique: Is it wiping away someone else's humanity to simply expect a worker to politely deliver the experience that you've paid for?

It... umm. Hmm. Yes, I think it is.

...most of the time, the service people just need to be polite and solicitous.

You probably don't mean to sound horrible, and you're probably not a horrible person, but what you're saying sounds horrible. I am probably completely misreading you.

If you're recognizing their common humanity and being polite and solicitous to them, too, then no problem. But if you're thinking of them as "the service people", people who you are using your money to slot into "a specified role - no more and no less" - I dunno, it makes me shudder.

Again, I am probably completely misreading you.

feckless fecal fear mongering: I guess it's different when we go to McDonald's or hail a taxi eh

No, not really. I don't think it is.

And I'm as much a hypocrite on this as anyone.
posted by clawsoon at 12:00 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't need flowers in my home every day, but if I could afford them I would like that.

Presumably when you don't have the flowers in your home, you don't act like a self entitled asshole and abuse another human being, just because your sense of what's right and proper hasn't been met.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:06 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sangermaine: " What exactly is the proper state of silverware cleanliness to expect, beyond which you're an asshole?"

Is there food on it? That is the line.
Is there personal effluvia on it? That is also the line.
posted by boo_radley at 12:07 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's also that thing where details matter, and the more you're paying, the more details matter. Bourdain, famously, goes to the washroom first thing when he goes to a new restaurant. Why? Because they show you the washrooms, and if they're foul, wtf does the kitchen look like?

Smudges on silverware are the same thing. How much attention is being paid to important details when your glassware is spotted (poor polishing and/or poorly maintained dishwasher), your silverware is smudged (ditto), etc?

I mean yeah fuck the rich and entitled bullshit, fine. It would just be super nice to see one of these articles get posted without the usual kneejerkery and consider that maybe just maybe there might actually be a point to some of these things.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:12 PM on August 24, 2015 [18 favorites]


The market makes assholes of us all, by insulating us.

You want flowers? You can bet that, somewhere down the flower supply chain, somebody is getting abused. But when you have your pleasant transaction with your florist and walk cheerfully home and enjoy how much they brighten up your room, you don't have to think about that.

(Not to pick on flowers specifically. Everything is like that. It's what makes capitalism great.)
posted by clawsoon at 12:12 PM on August 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


Is it wiping away someone else's humanity to simply expect a worker to politely deliver the experience that you've paid for?

Individually? Absolutely not. In sum total? Absolutely yes--because the customer (or end user, or whatever word applies to that person in your field) is just as likely to be rude, or demanding, or careless, or unreasonable, as not. Over time, remaining perfectly polite and correct and proper to a broad spectrum of personalities which does not totally avoid the uncharitable and bad-faith will indeed wipe away your humanity in some way or other.
posted by Phyltre at 12:14 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks for two great articles, Elementary Penguin and Fnarf.

There is no need to defend the super-rich, but I will defend the humanity of some of them. My favorite restaurant is priced just above chain-restaurant level. I can afford to go there once or twice a month, and I do. As do the super-rich. The food isn't special, it's good, made from scratch and filling, but the staff is incredible: nice and real and sometimes hungover and sometimes joking and sometimes making tiny mistakes, but really there. Some super-rich people seem to appreciate this very much, but management hasn't used this to up-scale the restaurant, and the badly dressed tourist gets the same welcome as the elite. It's just so good to be there, I am reluctant to go anywhere else.

Recently, one of my daughter's best friends started as a waiter there - which obviously hasn't dampened our enthusiasm. She and my daughter have a shared savings account, where they save up to go to the top restaurants and have the tasting menus. They started this at an age (14) where they had non-alcholic drinks menus instead of wine. They both love food so much, that they prioritize that way. They are not rich - as I wrote, the friend is a waiter, my daughter is a clerk in a furniture store. It's been fascinating to hear their accounts of going to Michelin restaurants: it seems to me as if the staff genuinely enjoys the two junior foodies and respect the fact that they have saved up for the event.

Oh, and yes: that favorite restaurant is a place one would like to be as a waiter (only pros hired), because the tips are extravagant.
posted by mumimor at 12:17 PM on August 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


The market makes assholes of us all, by insulating us.

My reaction to these threads recently has been that this is absolutely true, which makes it weird that they take on this Anthropology of the Super Rich tone on Metafilter. The dehumanization you're talking about happens just as much at Chili's as it does wherever this guy worked, only this guy actually got paid a decent amount to do it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:23 PM on August 24, 2015 [18 favorites]


...but the staff is incredible: nice and real and sometimes hungover and sometimes joking and sometimes making tiny mistakes, but really there.

From the article:
I imagine pick-up artists experience something similar. You learn what people want from you, and, for a while, you get a high making all the right gestures: the perfectly timed joke, the wry smile. But, deep down, you feel nothing.
Maybe they're really there. Or maybe they're not. If they're good, there's no way you can tell.
posted by clawsoon at 12:24 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


It would just be super nice to see one of these articles get posted without the usual kneejerkery and consider that maybe just maybe there might actually be a point to some of these things.

It's pretty clear that the point is to pay a lot of money for a certain experience and if said experience isn't to one's liking, no matter how small the detail, then the fact that someone paid a lot of money seems to give the idea they can abuse other people.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:24 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Then maybe save your ire for the people being abusive and not for the people working fucking hard for not much money compared to the effort to try and create something.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:26 PM on August 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


Maybe they're really there. Or maybe they're not. If they're good, there's no way you can tell.
Which was true until the kid I've known since she was a baby started working there..
posted by mumimor at 12:27 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Then maybe save your ire for the people being abusive and not for the people working fucking hard for not much money compared to the effort to try and create something.

Yeah, that's pretty much what's been happening with my comments.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:33 PM on August 24, 2015


Then clearly I wasn't talking about your comments eh
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:34 PM on August 24, 2015


feckless fecal fear mongering: It would just be super nice to see one of these articles get posted without the usual kneejerkery and consider that maybe just maybe there might actually be a point to some of these things.

Fair point. I respect putting in the work to create something beautiful. And that's maybe something I don't appreciate or focus on enough when these articles come up.
posted by clawsoon at 12:46 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Then maybe save your ire for the people being abusive and not for the people working fucking hard for not much money compared to the effort to try and create something.

fffm, I know this is your field and you feel like people are disrespecting it, but it seems like this thread is pretty solidly of the camp of "people drunk on power are weird wtf," not "haute cuisine is pointless". The criticisms here seem to be largely about customers.

I mean, one reason I liked this article is because this dude really liked his job, for awhile! He found a deep satisfaction in polishing the silverware and looking the part and acting the part and participating in the theater of fine dining. Hidden hand gestures for types of water! That's amazing. Cozy family dinner in the kitchen before service starts and then lights camera appetizer in the dining room. He's not denigrating any of that.

He describes the elements that sapped his enjoyment of it, though, and they have nothing to do with the food, or the attempt to give people a memorable experience. One percenters chanting about being one percenters whle getting trashed at the bar are not there to enjoy an impeccable dining experience. Meanwhile, the people who view a man collapsing in the dining room as gauche or inconvenient have fetishized the dining experience to a point where they would literally let a man die on the floor rather than let their pleasures be altered or delayed, and the restaurant's management tacitly agrees with that view.

I will admire expert knifework all day. But the fact that so many expert chiffonades are being done for the sake of "I need to check my baby" people is the thing that creeps me out.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:51 PM on August 24, 2015 [13 favorites]


I act as a server occasionally, although not for the super rich. Mostly for the simply rich. People who can afford to donate money, expect fine dining, but who still do some sort of white collar job for their 9 to 5. I work catering, and don't really do table service, so the experience is different. I find that the experience is less dehumanizing than what's described in this article, but not without its alienating aspects. Ironically, the simply rich tend to be very poor tippers. He has a point though - for the most part all food and service is theater, and the servers are probably talking about your behind your back.

That gets me to something I've noticed recently in politics surrounding class in America. The super rich don't seem content with just having a lot of money - they also want to be loved. It's why people who are doing very well for themselves write opinion pieces talking about how they're still human too, because they have to cut back on vacations in order to send their kids to the right private school. Most of the insanely wealthy likely have some modicum of awareness about how their wealth is perceived, and the great amount of resentment among the less wealthy. Instead of trying to square themselves to having vast wealth in the face of great poverty, they instead demand to be loved regardless. I would imagine that's part of the appeal of fine dining: being able to get a bespoke service and have the servicer tell you how wonderful you are at the same time. The next time you see a right wing billionaire red-faced and pouting about how unfair 'class warfare' is, just imagine them as a three star restaurant patron crying that they haven't gotten good enough service.
posted by codacorolla at 1:17 PM on August 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


The Rich Eat.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:34 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


We're all drunk on power to some extent. The diet and retail lifestyle that people in western nations exist in is so resource-consuming that there aren't enough resources for everyone in the world to practice it. We are able to have more, because others have less. It's not right, but it's still true. It's true even in little things. Is your pet's food made overseas? Then it was probably manufactured by a slave. You may not have seen the slave, but he's still there. And as someone has pointed out, it's just as bad, if not worse, to work at Chilis as it is in an expensive restaurant.


As to the pickiness of the rich, a lot of that, I suspect, is to hide from themselves the fact they're not really having a good time. People used to say that money can't buy happiness. Psychologists have discovered that that's half true. Studies on salary increases in jobs led to the conclusion that the effect of money isn't as linear as you would think. Simply put, being poor can make you miserable, and a certain amount of money will keep you from being unhappy by reducing stress and worry, but after you have a certain amount of money it stops being the biggest factor in happiness.
posted by unreason at 1:36 PM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, I'm guessing the eventual replacement of wait staff (and most other service positions) by robots with machine-perfect obsequiousness will be welcomed by the super rich.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:38 PM on August 24, 2015


Also, I'm guessing the eventual replacement of wait staff (and most other service positions) by robots with machine-perfect obsequiousness will be welcomed by the super rich.

I'd bet on the exact opposite. Any prole can walk into a McDonalds or sit down at a Chilli's and order off a touchscreen menu. Takes real money to afford a small army of peons who must obey your every whim.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:45 PM on August 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


Not to pick on flowers specifically. Everything is like that. It's what makes capitalism great.

That's not capitalism. That is merely power. Server, service, servitude. Sir, madam (ma dame, "my lady") --- the language of politeness hearkens back to systems far older than capitalism.

I respect your discomfort with power, and the machinery of class. I have often felt it. But if you're saying l literally shouldn't stop and smell the roses without feeling a surge of guilt for the likely scratched hands of the gardener, I say fuck that. Life is short and if I have to wait until all the world's miseries are wiped away before I ought to enjoy any of its glories I may as well kill myself now and spare us all trouble.

Treat people with respect, accept that everything has its price, including small slivers of your soul, and smell some roses. Eat, drink and be merry --- the soldier's toast has the right of it.
posted by Diablevert at 1:47 PM on August 24, 2015 [13 favorites]


Table service by robots is even further off than universal driverless cars. Robots only work with defined inputs--make this burger exactly this way. They're not good enough yet, and won't be for a very long time, to deal with human interaction, explaining dishes, answering questions... this is not a thing to be worried about.

McDonalds, though? Yeah, BOH being automated there isn't probably very far away.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:48 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


These are all great points - dehumanizing people who working their collectively asses off. It's why I really disliked the Harper's piece.

The secondary waiter is simply a human trolley with a rectangular face and obedient eyebrows; he holds the things for the first waiter to place on the table and rushes away on his feet/wheels.

Really? Can you not lampoon fine dining with out making fun of the people working there?
posted by helmutdog at 1:51 PM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


McDonalds, though? Yeah, BOH being automated there isn't probably very far away.

I wonder why automats haven't made a comeback. With modern tech it seems like an obvious idea. Not to replace fine dining, but they would be great for work lunches.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:02 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


My guess? Optics. Imagine if McDs announced they were replacing their entire kitchen workforce with robots. The public outcry would be enormous until prices went down. (Spoiler: they wouldn't.)

As for the self-serve automat thing, I think it's because we expect/like a certain amount of human connection. Automats died for a reason.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:04 PM on August 24, 2015


McD's is currently getting its ass handed to it by fast casual restaurants. Panera et al. get their cache from two things: at least the illusion of fresh ingredients, and customization of orders. Think about the burrito line at Chipotle. Automats, unless they get a lot better, are going in the direct opposite direction of both. Fast casual is like a complimentary middle class fantasy to high class dining, with a focus on freedom of choice and thrifty healthiness.
posted by codacorolla at 2:18 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


But most of the time, the service people just need to be polite and solicitous.

I think they actually need to be subservient, if not most of the time, then a lot of the time. It's not an equal relationship. It's possible in that profession to carry yourself with some authority and control the situation up to a point, especially if you are as expert at that writer sounds like he was. But the transaction is not one of simply delivering goods to a satisfactory level. It's all about giving the customer a certain kind of experience, and the article makes it clear what kind of experience a lot of customers at that level expect.

I wonder if things will change if more restaurants move away from the tipping system.
posted by BibiRose at 2:19 PM on August 24, 2015


Panera is putting in kiosks for customers to place their order. I haven't seen them up and running yet, but they're getting installed. At least that level of automation is coming there, too.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:22 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dinner and Deception, next.. on Sick Sad World!
posted by signsofrain at 2:41 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I recently saw an article, maybe here, where someone was able to track where people spent money versus where they live. They specifically looked at expensive restaurants in Manhattan. What they found was that the super rich don't eat at these theme park eateries as featured in the Harpers article. Instead they go to very expensive places that feature no show biz food but instead just expensive mediocre food. The reasoning is that people will save money to take their friends to an expensive trendy popular place to show off. Really rich people want to eat only amongst themselves.
posted by njohnson23 at 3:02 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Table service by robots is even further off than universal driverless cars. Robots only work with defined inputs--make this burger exactly this way. They're not good enough yet, and won't be for a very long time, to deal with human interaction, explaining dishes, answering questions... this is not a thing to be worried about.

Vis-a-vis the automation vs. personalization issue, a German roboticist thinks he's found a way to square that circle, right in your very own home: A pair of robot hands that will make a meal not only according to the recipe, but using the very technique, of the celebrity chef of your choosing. Fire up your machine learning algorithm, hook up a couple a vision sensors, some EA style motion capture, and bish bash bosh.

Dig beneath the surface on this thing and there's some obvious problems that may well make it too far ahead of its time --- you have to do most of the robot's mise en place for it, for now --- but apparently the lobster bisque was quite good.

I have seen the order kiosks up and running in Paneras in NYC. I think fffm's right as far as fine dining goes, however --- in haute cuisine as in haute coutuer, it'll be the ultra high end where the human touch survives well after mass production makes it to the masses.

Although I dunno, I wonder how many chefs might be tempted by the possibility of an army of line cooks that could be guaranteed to make a dish exactly as they made it, night after night without break or variation or complaint. Couple more years of moore's law and better motion sensors and maybe they get there. There's already a too many chefs, not enough cooks problem in the industry, due to falling illegal immigration and everybody and their mother wanting to open their own place rather than slave on the line.
posted by Diablevert at 3:06 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Automation still isn't going to happen in serious kitchens though, because automation can't deal with "oh shit chef I forgot to punch in an octo on table 17 can you rush that?" yet, or for a very long time.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:09 PM on August 24, 2015


Oh, for sure, but it doesn't have to be a one-for-one replacement to have impact. Just having a bot that would effectively do Michelin-level prep I'd think would change the game in terms of how many people you'd need back of the house. They already have "collaborative robots" that can work safely around humans and be programmed via tablet to perform new tasks. Right now I don't think anything exists that has the dexterity and adaptability to deal with your average sack of potatoes, but I wouldn't say we're that far off. Or things like the very task he mentions in the piece -- buffing smudges off of silverware and glasses --- that's exactly the kind of mindless repetitive stuff that's ripe for machines to take over, once you've got one that can turn a glass around in its hand without breaking it.
posted by Diablevert at 3:23 PM on August 24, 2015


One of the things that Alton Brown gets right, though, is how useless unitaskers are. Sure, it'd be great to have a robot that can brunoise shallots all day. And that robot is useless when you have enough shallots and the stock needs to be strained, or a delivery showed up unexpectedly so it's all hands on deck to unload, or whatever. The utility of humans in kitchens is that hands can do anything while robots can only do what they're programmed to do. So at the McDonalds (or, frankly, Applebees) level it might work because there's so little variation day-to-day. At a Michelin-starred place, especially one that does evolving tasting menus? Not going to work at all.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:44 PM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


that said if I could have a shallot brunoise robot I would be SO HAPPY
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:44 PM on August 24, 2015


What an interesting moment - reality (in the form of illness) intrudes into a perfect show, revealing the in-authenticity at play.

I got a chance to go to a five star restaurant a few times and we were thorough barbarians (I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to make rounds of bread plates so everyone gets to try everything, but that is a solid family tradition and everything was delicious) but they treated us like we were royalty. It's fascinating to get a glimpse at the other side of that transaction. I like to think that in that situation I would be less heartless to someone who nearly died, but I've no idea what effect having life's little bumps and difficulties smoothed out would have on me...
posted by Deoridhe at 3:47 PM on August 24, 2015


Cause I fucking love the food. I love dining with people who love food as much as I do. Dinner with my friends at the French Laundry or remembering at meal I had with loved ones at Le Bernadin are some of the funnest times I have ever had.

Tell me more! I've always wanted to go to both places, though I think the latter closed already. I love food, though, and the choices made in teeny tiny haute couture food fucking fascinates me. Bring on the tiny potstickers made of flower petals, and the chips & guacamole somehow transformed into tube form! What did you like best? What do you still remember?

I had lobster and caviar in a pillar, with these delicate wings of crinkled cracker at cross purposes all the way up - and I never understood why caviar until that meal (the salty is perfect!). And I'll never forget the dessert, which was various mousses and chocolate designed to look like a bed. There's something so striking about food that no longer looks like food but is somehow the ideal of food. Eyes and tongue both. And the tiny glass with it's perfect sorbet, tart and icy. It was one of the first times I recognized how important how things are laid out is - how the box and wrapper contribute to the gift.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:02 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sure, it'd be great to have a robot that can brunoise shallots all day. And that robot is useless when you have enough shallots and the stock needs to be strained, or a delivery showed up unexpectedly so it's all hands on deck to unload, or whatever.

No, that's what I'm saying: Collaborative robots already exist which can easily to do a variety of tasks, with the factory workers themselves doing the reprogramming by example. So you can take your bot and have him packing boxes in the morning and sorting parts in the afternoon and drilling holes the next day. They cost about $30,000 - $50,000.

It will require another several years of advancement, probably, before you can have a bot that's straining stock and trimming carrots and then breaking down mushrooms for duxelles, just because food tends to be a lot less uniform and come in a much wider variety of textures than machine parts on an assembly line. But it's more like, going from a palm pilot to an iphone than going from, I dunno ENIAC to the Macintosh. Will that same bot then be able to unload a delivery truck? Maybe not -- that's a whole different kettle of fish. Like I said, I'm not talking one for one replacement, a bot that can do everything a human can do. But how much of a restaurant's day is taken up with prep? If you've got 4 guys spending 6 hours right now to do the mise, and I can replace, say, two of them with a bot, then the fact that it might take the 2 guys a little longer to unload the delivery truck not such a bid deal, no?
posted by Diablevert at 4:07 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why anyone associates white table cloths, invisible staff, and spotless cutlery with an enjoyable dining experience is something I've never really understood.
posted by Maugrim at 4:09 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


But how much of a restaurant's day is taken up with prep?

Every single second of it. And much, much less of it than you think is taken up by the kinds of repetitive tasks that a robot can do. Slicing tomatoes, shredding lettuce--sure, those are automatable tasks. Most of what happens in a kitchen isn't, because of the need to adapt to changing situations every day, and because the timing doesn't always work--if I'm brunoising shallots right now I can always stop that task to go do something more important/urgent. Robots cannot do that, and they cannot respond in human time to go deal with that more urgent thing.

Automating kitchen work isn't really practical for many of the same reasons that automating surgery isn't.

Why anyone associates white table cloths, invisible staff, and spotless cutlery with an enjoyable dining experience is something I've never really understood.

And?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:18 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


And nothing. I just don't understand the compulsion towards what I consider the relatively antiseptic, lifeless experiences described in the article. They just don't equate with a pleasurably dining experience as far as I'm concerned, and often not even with what I consider good food.
posted by Maugrim at 4:26 PM on August 24, 2015


It's a good idea to have your cutlery be lifeless.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:31 PM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Then, with respect, you have never had one of the dining experiences talked about in this article. They're neither antiseptic nor lifeless. The number one sound heard in the dining room at high-end, creative places? Laughter.

Maybe before pooh-poohing, it would be effective for you to actually experience this?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:36 PM on August 24, 2015


Meanwhile, the people who view a man collapsing in the dining room as gauche or inconvenient have fetishized the dining experience to a point where they would literally let a man die on the floor rather than let their pleasures be altered or delayed, and the restaurant's management tacitly agrees with that view.

Well, what are you supposed to do when a stranger dies near you at a special event? There's very little medical professionals can do for a severe stroke without equipment, let alone an amateur. Just trying to do CPR is likely to result in a corpse with broken ribs in that scenario.

Some of the people nearby were likely there for an anniversary or the like and were spending a measurable percentage of their yearly income to have a special night out. Yes, it's sad that a stranger passed away, but being disappointed that a special event is being disrupted is understandable.

Nothing that he described sounded all that bad (other than the drunken chanting 1%ers) or unusual. I think working a service job for 80 hours a week is soul destroying and that he'd have had much the same reaction working 80 hours a week at a Chili's.
posted by Candleman at 4:44 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Speaking of customers who aren't rich but are assholes, I quite enjoy some of the Behind Closed Ovens stories on Jezebel.

But maybe that's because I'm someone who will openly mouth off at people who are rude or cruel to service staff whether it's in an upscale dining situation or at McDonald's.

Because people being treated like shit ruins my dining experience way more than a glitch in service.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:45 PM on August 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


njohnson23 is correct that Michelin-starred places are not, in fact, for the 1%. Even if you had the money, who the hell has time to spend four hours eating dinner every night? The patrons at Per Se, et al. are enthusiasts, for better or worse. At most truly fancy restaurants you can become known to the house by going once or twice a year. This lack of regular patronage is why they always ask if there's a special occasion.

Given the enthusiast audience, the prevalence of fussy creative presentations only makes sense. It's a stylized performance, like an opera, catering (literally, in this case) to a specialized wealthy audience. I hope that the serving staff (who indeed turn over frequently even in the most prestigious places) aren't burning themselves out on emotional labor. Like theater actors, there's definitely an element of doing the job because you can't picture yourself doing anything else, rather than the circumstances of the job being especially good.

I do note that higher-end places are much more likely to say that service is included (though Panera also has a no-tipping policy), which I have always seen as a more humane way to compensate the various roles in the restaurant. Isn't it a lot easier to push back against rude guests when one doesn't have to worry that they will refuse to tip?
posted by wnissen at 4:47 PM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Maybe before pooh-poohing, it would be effective for you to actually experience this?

You're right. Clearly you have a better handle on my impressions and experiences than me.
posted by Maugrim at 5:34 PM on August 24, 2015


While obviously no-one can dispute your impressions it seems reasonable that people could dispute whether your impressions accurately reflect the reality.
posted by Justinian at 5:37 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe ya'all should lay off telling people what their reality is. Just silently disagree while judging others, like a civilized beast.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:48 PM on August 24, 2015


[Maybe we can leave the "what does Maugrim think about this" issue as settled and move on? It's fine if you don't like it, but that doesn't really make for compelling extended conversation.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:49 PM on August 24, 2015


Panera is putting in kiosks for customers to place their order.

We went to Olive Garden recently and they had a kiosk at every table for ordering appetizers and desserts. The most annoying thing about it was the waiter who had been obviously told to push people to use it.

We kept turning it away from us and he kept turning it back. If I wasn't in a breadstick coma, I would have been pissed.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:57 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that avoiding unpleasant interactions with other people is one of the biggest budget items for rich people. Please, they say with their money, put an obsequious veneer over everything. Not even the smallest thing - "a smudge on the butter, a fingerprint on the fork" - that could make me uncomfortable.

Oh, it's not just the ultra-rich. I've been driving for Lyft since I've been unemployed and while my rating is pretty good, here are some of the things people have complained about.

-I left them in a "dangerous neighborhood." For one thing, this is where they wanted to go. And for another thing, the place I left them was one of the most popular after-hours spots in the city and had two uniformed cops on duty and that's just the ones I saw.

-Air conditioning too cold. At no point did they say "Yo, could you turn that down?" It was 88 degrees outside, figured people would like the AC.

-I got a navigation complaint from someone that didn't enter a destination, just asked for "the blue house on *major street*, I think you can see the water from it?" in a city surrounded by water. And I found it. And for my trouble, I got dinged.

-VERY STRONG SCENT IN CAR. What's weird is I'm allergic to scents, so there's no scent in my car, not even when I get it cleaned. And I didn't stink. And I got a complaint that my car didn't smell like anything for that same day, so I dunno.

And this is a service that's expressly promoted as "cool people in their cars giving you rides, not like those weirdo cabbies," so you would think some quirkiness would be encouraged/tolerated.

Thing I've learned is people do not want the messiness of human interaction, pretty much at all. They want to go through their day entirely without friction, without a single thing disturbing them. If you're bringing them food, it should be delivered precisely when they want it. If there's not music on, there should be, and it should be something precisely in their wheelhouse. If there's no scent, there should be. If there isn't a scent, there shouldn't be. If I'm not suitably chipper, I'm rude. If I'm too chipper, I'm annoying.

Frankly, I think Google's self-driving cars are going to explode, at least for intra-city transit, because nobody wants anything to do with anyone else.

I was just talking to a friend about the rise in those "goodie box" services. Not just the ones that send you clothes or razor blades every month, but the ones that send you random stuff, sort of like the care packages your mom or friend might've sent you once, but now that's old fashioned. It's a paid service simulating a simulacra of human experience, but without the messy edges of actually having to thank them or figure out what to get them in return.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:39 PM on August 24, 2015 [12 favorites]


So let's cut to the chase here. What restaurant are we talking about? I'm curious to know. I got this weird vibe that this restaurant only serves the super-rich but many of the well-known expensive restaurants (Eleven Madison Park) are well within the budget of the rest of us if you really really want to go. I've never been there but I think you can eat at 11MP for what $500? It's expensive but doable for anyone in the middle class. So is there some secret phalanx of super-rich eateries I don't know about? Like where they charge you a minimum of say $10,000?
posted by storybored at 8:48 PM on August 24, 2015


The number one sound heard in the dining room at high-end, creative places? Laughter.

Absolutely this. We occasionally dine at some places that definitely place a huge emphasis on excellent flavor as well as unexpected presentations or memorable combinations. The table is alive with conversation and wonderment and attempts at figuring out how they just did what they did. The waitstaff are that perfect blend of friendly but professional and they seem genuinely thrilled that you are enjoying what they are offering.

In one particularly great course, I just could not believe how amazing this dish tasted. It is by far the best thing I've ever had in mouth. I was in tears at how good this was. The wait staff noticed my enjoyment and brought out another portion of it for me right prior to dessert. Mind you that was over an hour later and several courses later. That kind of service was amazing.
posted by mmascolino at 8:59 PM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


That sounds like what happened to a friend of mine at the French Laundry. He has a lot of allergies, so he had to talk to them when making the reso in pretty detailed terms, and kept saying "I'm a chef, I know this is difficult, if it messes up your service don't worry I can skip a course." And they brought him a menu totally different from his wife's, and he mentioned something about the bread and the server packed this care package--over and above what they send you home with usually--of the bread they'd loved.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:54 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's expensive but doable for anyone in the middle class. So is there some secret phalanx of super-rich eateries I don't know about? Like where they charge you a minimum of say $10,000?

Go to a "normal" high end place that would cost $200+ per head for food, and also has a monster wine list, and then buy several $1000+ bottles of wine and port. Unless you're buying a lot of caviar, it's pretty hard to spend so much on food alone.
posted by theorique at 3:51 AM on August 25, 2015


One of the things I've tried to do with my kids is instill decent table manners and politeness to those who are serving them. Everyone has their off days, especially kids and they have yet to spot the circular reasoning when at a restaurant I'll say, "I wouldn't accept this behavior at home, why would I accept it here?" and at home I'll say, "I wouldn't accept this behavior at a restaurant, why would I accept it here?"

It started small - we set a very low standard: "in this house, we exhibit the barest trappings of civilization!" at the stage when the process of eating shared a great deal in common with hand-to-hand combat. At this point, we are at a higher standard, "in this house, we exhibit a fair amount of civilization!"

It warms my heart when my daughter (who has serious cognitive delays, but for the most part not only gets but enjoys the social glue of speech pragmatics) asks politely for more milk and gives the waitress a hearty, prosody-rich 'thank you!' when it arrives.

Similarly, I was having a 'date' with her some years ago at a Friendly's (not haute cuisine by any stretch) and some boys at the table next to us came in for an ice cream and soda fueled sugar high and were demanding a fair amount of attention (refills, etc). They also clearly brought enough money to cover the bill to the penny. After they left, I tipped the waitress (not mine) for them because I'm sure I've done the same thing when I was their age. It reminded me of a scene from an after school special "It Must Be Love Because I Feel So Dumb" which I read as a book - wherein the protagonist took a girl he had a crush on on a date and got a cab, but it cost more than he had so he had to stop it short and pay for part of the fare with postage stamps. Kids can't plan.

Also, you can count me in the group of people who have performed emergency first aid on a total stranger in a restaurant (actually in a number of places, not just restaurants - it's happened enough that Mrs. Plinth just looks at me and says "Go."). One place comped my meal. Thanks, I guess? I mean this is just something you should do with no expectation of recompense.

It's what helps glue us together as a society, as does fundamental human kindness. When I have a very good experience, I make a point of seeking out a manager to communicate that. More often than not, the first impression I get is "what shit happened this time?" followed by surprise that I'm making an effort to compliment their staff. And that, unfortunately, speaks volumes for us as a society.
posted by plinth at 6:48 AM on August 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


So I guess this signals the end (or at least the peak) of ultra-fine dining. The audience for Harper's is right in the dining as event wheelhouse - highly educated, liberal, lower-upper class - and so a long article in the magazine pissing on the experience is potentially meaningful. But Harper's has a history of going a bit too far, so that in and of itself wouldn't be enough to signal a serious trend. But the Times jumping on the bandwagon in the same month, decrying ultra-fine dining as dehumanizing? It's over.

Its nice to see my wife and I ahead of a curve for once. We used to frequent these kinds of places on our anniversary - a meal at Trio in Evanston when Grant Achatz was chef stands out as my alltime favorite dining experience - but we stopped a few years ago as prices skyrocketed, availability crashed, and the level of pretension grew. Achatz doesn't even want you to call his main establishment a restaurant anymore - I guess its something far greater.
posted by rtimmel at 9:14 AM on August 25, 2015


Achatz doesn't even want you to call his main establishment a restaurant anymore - I guess its something far greater.

That's a really strange way to say "not a restaurant - at least not in the conventional sense," where 'conventional' would mean some format along the lines of app/main/dessert and the main point is to walk away with satiated hunger.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:24 AM on August 25, 2015


Achatz doesn't even want you to call his main establishment a restaurant anymore

Might I suggest Magritte's as a potential name?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:03 AM on August 25, 2015


You probably don't mean to sound horrible, and you're probably not a horrible person, but what you're saying sounds horrible. I am probably completely misreading you.

If you're recognizing their common humanity and being polite and solicitous to them, too, then no problem. But if you're thinking of them as "the service people", people who you are using your money to slot into "a specified role - no more and no less" - I dunno, it makes me shudder.


Good manners are a baseline. It's certainly wrong to treat persons in a service role (or any role) abusively. (I hope that should go without saying.) That being said, a customer at a very expensive restaurant is explicitly paying for attentive service. Part of that service is the emotional labor of reading the table and being present when needed, and absent when not - two businessmen during an intensive working breakfast need a different tempo and tone of service compared a big birthday dinner.
posted by theorique at 1:22 PM on August 26, 2015


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