Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Surprisingly, unlike the clip above I am FOR tipping. My problem with tipping however is that there is no way to accurately judge a waitress/waiters performance other than the tip itself. Certainly if someone does a horrible job you can refuse to tip them but that just makes you/I look like a cheap insensitive clod. In addition, the sensitive souls among us will harbor guilt for having to withhold money that someone else may rely on. If the waitress messes up and you/I remove a dollar from the tip, they again will just think us cheap. Should we give an extra dollar for great service they might deduce that our math skills are poor or decide that we just didn't want to lug 93 cents in change home with us.

More importantly though tipping (In North American culture) is essentially built into the dining out experience. The fatal flaw with the entire tipping construct is that there is no clear way to communicate good/bad service so that a server knows when he or she is being rewarded/punished accordingly. Certainly one could write on the bill: "terrible service, I hope you choke on a bread stick and die." But you'd probably just get categorized as a "Drunk unruly customer who is no longer allowed at any Olive Garden in the state of California." This in my mind defeats the entire purpose of gratuity because there is no way to decipher gratitude (or the lack of it) through any concrete means.

So I thought on this problem (as all geniuses do) and I came up with a solution...The server scorecard. The principle of the server scorecard is simple. Calculate what the average tip is in your area. In the state of California it is about 17%. Next compose a list of 17 things that you expect from a server at a restaurant. For each task that your server does not perform or performs poorly deduct one point (or 1%) from their tip. In addition, you can also add a bonus section for those servers that go above and beyond the call of duty to earn additional gratuity. If you are too lazy or lack creativity like me then simply round up to 18% and make up 9 things worth 2 points each.

In the interest of science I went out to dinner and took some notes to get a better idea of what the public at large might expect from a server. Below I will present some talking points that you might want to include in your own list.

1) Attitude

A server should proceed on the assumption that you/I have come to their establishment to celebrate a special occasion. I don't require an entire brass section of trumpeters to announce my arrival or an overly exuberant waitress gleaming at me with her jackal-like fangs. A modest recognition of my presence without a long exhausted sigh or a drag ass walk to my table will suit me just fine.

2) Order Taking

Arriving within the first five minutes of me being seated to take a drink order is not a sin. Secondly, we are not BFF's so please reserve your jocular tone for a little later in our dining experience. Also, please stand to take my order. I'm not a child, you don't have to squat down to my level and help me to point to the picture of the food that I am ordering. In addition, No sitters. Unless you are picking up part of the tab or buying us a round of adult beverages the empty seat at our table is not reserved for you. Please write down my order. The memorization magic trick impressions no one. If a trick has a 100% who gives a s*%t response when it works and a 100% complaint response when it fails why bother?

3) Serving Food

Remember, serving me food/drink is your number one job. Because of this please take special care not to serve me someone else's food from another table and likewise please do not serve my food to someone else. However, mistakes do occur and I won't judge you harshly if you correct the mistake and/or are apologetic about it.

4) Attentiveness/Pestering

Every once in a while when I am gobbling down a juice splatterin' bacon burger I might need a napkin or two to sop up my zombie like meat crazed face. Also, why bother asking me if I want a refill if I'm drinking soda? Fill the glass. Worst case scenario you have to dump 6 cents worth of coke zero down the drain. Also, I'm aware that I just ate a gigantic meal fit for two people but perhaps I'd also like to cram four pounds of molten lava cake down my gullet as well. It doesn't hurt to ask if I'd like dessert considering that a portion of every dollar I spend goes to you.

On the flip side dining out with friends or family often serves to motivate important conversations. Should you (the server) witness that someone at the table is visibly upset an/or in the midst of a misogynistic tirade perhaps you could do another lap around the restaurant before inquiring about about the jalapeno poppers.

5) The Check

Don't bring it too soon (like when I'm halfway through eating). I know you'll say "Don't feel rushed" but that's like saying "Don't notice the polar bear behind you that's about to tear into your trachea." Once the image (or fear) has been implanted I feel rushed. More importantly once you do drop off the check don't disappear for an hour. Further, please don't take my money/card and keep it for so long that I think you are across the street filling up your gas tank with it. Our final exchange is the most important one because the last thing that you do is the last (and sometimes only) thing that I remember. Poor change service could sully an otherwise great waiting performance. I know I don't speak for the rest of the world but once I'm done eating I'm ready to leave and the quicker that someone can facilitate my leaving the greater the gratuity.

But enough of my belly aching. Please take the template which I will provide below (pending the link works) and go out into the world and rate some waitresses and waiters. 

Server Scorecard  <-- Click Link

Sunday, May 6, 2012


"You know when you make popcorn there are those fluffy white kernels that are fun to eat but there are also those burnt black kernels that don't pop. You know why they don't pop? Because they have integrity." -Marc Maron

I alluded to the idea of integrity in a previous post but today I'd like to assess its true value. Before I dive into uncharted territory let me first say that as a concept I believe in integrity. Doing things wholly/completely by justifiable and ethical means is of course the ideal way to live. However, is it even possible to survive at this stage of our evolution with our integrity intact?

I often hear people say "I'd rather create truly great art that no one sees rather than sell out." This highly ignorant statement assumes that integrity is linked to artistic ability but what if your art sucks either way? Perhaps people don't "understand" your art because it is terrible, not because you are an undiscovered genius buried beneath a blanket of radio gaga. Integrity in many cases is simply used to justify failure and to prop up someone's self esteem rather than uphold a divine code of honor.

You will always be remembered for your least interesting work. In the past a few authors and artists may have had a fighting chance of maintaining their integrity because in order for them to succeed they had to be understood and appreciated. These days the lightning quick response of television and the immediacy of the internet reduce our lives to the lowest common denominator. We seek out stimulus to excite our impulses rather than get drawn in for an emotional experience.

In the past bands were forced to cut singles which were typically different sounding than the rest of the tracks on the CD. The intent of these singles was to get a chorus or riff stuck in your head quickly and infect your body with a desire to purchase an entire CD. Once you got the CD home you/I were supposed to listen to the rest of the tracks and experience "the band." However, back in the 90's it was a common practice of mine to buy a CD and just listen to "the hits." What did this mean for the artist who slaved away at crafting a piece of art? It meant that I didn't care about their inner expression I just identified with the hit making formula of verse/chorus/verse with melody. Today's model is an amplified version of the above model. There is no longer any room for true expression to be buried in the deep tracks of a CD. Everything is constructed with the intent of building a catch phrase, clothing line or scent around it.

Don't be fooled into believing that the people who are "discovered" on American idol are farmhands or dockworkers who work four jobs to help pay for their grandmothers diabetes medication. Almost all of those kids have been plugging away (and failing) at a singing career for years. They have all sold out and signed on to fabricated stories embellished and designed to warm the cockles of your heart so that you will PAY to vote for them. But what about those internet stars who "made it" without advertising? They were quickly absorbed into the machine and were stretched, pushed and pulled to fit a form. Those who did not adhere or those who had a shorter life span were devoured for a few advertising dollars before their lifeless bodies were tossed back into the sea of names.

However, not everyone desires to be famous, surely there is a way to live a normal life with your integrity intact right? False. Acting honorably in a noble world will grant you reverence. However, acting honorably in an easily distracted self serving world will hobble or destroy you. If someone is out for your job, wife or life and they are able to accurately predict how you will act you will be easily taken advantage of. With integrity life is "solitary poor nasty brutish and short."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Can I "Help" You?

This isn't going to be a quasi racist rant about the cultural divide between the customer and customer service "specialist". I don't want to dissect the time I went into a Mcdonald's and asked the lady mopping the floor what the address was. I don't want to tell you that she lead me through a corridor of people into the children's playroom whereby she pried a small mexican child out of a high chair and attempted to hand to me said high chair with a satisfied look on her face. I don't want to tell you how I had to nervously negotiate with the confused and angered mother for information about the buildings address all the while explaining with my eyes that I did not intend to uproot their family fun at Mcdonald's by covertly heisting their high chair.

This isn't going to a rant about how back in my day retail employees knew the ins and outs of the products that they were selling. I don't want to nostalgically remember a past era and celebrate a nobler time that perhaps we the people of earth may have taken for granted. I realize that in order for progress to occur that time has to march on and with that marching on some of things that we are fond of are replaced, reinvented or removed entirely. The question I am out to answer in regard to customer service in the immortal words of Office Space is: "What would you say...you do here?"

Allow me to quickly set the scene. My wife has a yellow car and it has a long scratch on the passenger side door. Whether a mysterious stranger keyed the car or my wife secretly ran into something we'll never know. On a day when I was filled with ambition and a great sense of manliness I decided that I had had enough of the blight on the car door and I was going to once and for all (read: poorly disguise) the problem with some yellow touch up paint. Unlike other brave fools I wasn't about to go Autozone empty handed. Before leaving the house I logged onto google slash the internet.com  to make sure that the item was available at my local Autozone and that it was in stock for my car model. Thankfully it was and so off I went to ascertain the item.

As a rule of thumb I am generally curt with people in my neighborhood because I live in what can lovingly be called the ghetto and I don't like to invite any unwanted attention/conversations/pleas for drug money. As a rule of thumb I am generally curt with store employees because I am an express shopper. I plan my purchases  before I walk into the store, I have my cash counted or the card that I am going to swipe at the top position in my wallet to engender a quick and problem free cash-out experience. I generally view people in the store aisles as pylons to swerve around rather than potential new best friends.

However, on this particular occasion I was turning over a new leaf, there was a rainbow in the sky. The morning sunlight softly glinted off the crackhead sleeping in the ditch in front of my house in such a way that it told me everything was going to be okay. I decided that if I needed help I was going to ask for it instead of angrily rushing past people.

I walked into Autozone and immediately looked up to read the signs that indicated what items were in the aisles. I quickly found the "paint/touch up" aisle AND the touch up paint itself. Using a hunt and peck technique that I learned from my father's typing skills I was able to locate the "Ford" section and the "Yellow" subsection. Unfortunately the paint I located was not a bright canary yellow but a dull bronzy yellow. Immediately I felt the hate and distrust for the world begin to swell inside of me. BUT NO! I waved it off. Surely a nearby Autozone employee could help me solve my problem or at the very least point me in the right direction RIGHT?

Grasping the chrome yellow paint tube in my hand I walked out into the main aisle and waited in line until a "Specialist" was available. A gentlemen in his twenties (a fluent English speaker I might add) asked: "Can I help you?" to which I accidentally sarcastically blurted out: "I sure hope so."  Our following conversation went something like this:

Me: I'm looking for yellow touch up paint for my Ford Focus. (Pauses to make sure he understands.) Also, I just went to the TOUCH UP PAINT AISLE and the only one that I could locate was this bronzy yellow which doesn't look like my car color. (points left through a set of double doors where car is parked and in plain sight.)

Him: Yeah, that doesn't look like the right color.

Me: I didn't think so either. However, it does say "duplicolor" on the side of the container. Is it possible that perhaps this color is a generic yellow that somehow "duplicates" the original color when it is applied as a top coat of paint?"

Him: I wouldn't know...Let's go and see if I can help you find the correct color.

We walk back over to the paint aisle whereupon he locates the book filled with car models and their paint codes.

Him: What kinda paint U want? U want The big can...

Me: No, I want the tiny touch up paint bottle (holds up touch up paint in his hand) in canary yellow.

He proceeds to ask my make, year and model of car and looks it up in the book. Before he is finished he is called away by someone else. He leaves me with the book to look it up myself which I do. According to the book there is only one color of yellow available for my car and it just so happens that it is the very same bottle that I already have IN MY HAND.

A little bewildered I stepped back into the main aisle to ask for a second opinion. I located another gentleman dressed in Autozone attire who is sitting behind a computer. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey I just talked to that guy (points to that guy) and we couldn't figure out if this paint (points to paint) is the correct color for that car (points through the window at my car).

Him: Well, the paint looks nothing like the paint that is on that car.

Me: Yes, I am aware. However, the only paint listed in the book for my car make/year/model is that paint and  my car is painted a factory color. While you guys might be out of stock where my car color is concerned don't you think the paint color would at the very least be listed in the book if it existed?

Him: Probably.

Me: Well...(waits expectantly for the employee to perform any action besides a dead stare.)

Him: That is not the same color.

Me: I realize that but perhaps the color inside is different and/or perhaps it contains some color match technology. As you can see this color (points to bottle) is an orangy, coppery, goldy color. Perhaps the color is different inside the bottle than the color expressed on the outside of the bottle because it is made to cover a range of colors???.

Him: I dunno.

Me: So If I buy this and it's the wrong color what then?

Him: We do not do refunds on opened merchandise.

Cue me walking off stage left, fade to black.

The point of this story (finally) is that I do not begrudge a low paid/poorly trained employee for having little to no interest in a meaningless job. Further, I do not expect them to know the ins and outs of their products BECAUSE of their limited training. What I do begrudge however is the lack of thinking critically to look for alternate solutions. The simple act of one of the guys going into a back room and rattling a metal cage  or making a phone call or feigning to look up something on the internet in an attempt to actually solve my problem would have increased my opinion of their customer service greatly. What is the point of hiring employees whose only skill it seems is the ability to click a mouse three times, swipe my card and occasionally remember to say "Have a good day." Further, what is the point of paying 12 employees for the same work that could be done by an automated kiosk and a security guard? Also, I later googled "Ford Chrome yellow" and the following is what I found: