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Chowhounds Don't Bribe!

Mattapoisett in LA Jul 19, 2008 10:29 AM

I was looking through the Chow tips videos which are mildly amusing and sometimes oddly Informative, when I came across one from a Chow staffer that suggests greasing the palm of the Maitre D in order to get a table at a busy restaurant.

We were really taken aback as this to us is the antithesis of what chowhounds believe. To Quote the manifesto " Chowhounds blaze trails.. while they appreciate ambiance and service, they can't be fooled by flash" To Bribe a Maitre D is to be fooled by the flash, further, my Miss Manners loving partner just finds the whole suggestion tacky.

So before we sent an angry letter, we wanted to know what the consensus was....

Take Care

- P.

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  1. ccbweb RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 19, 2008 11:30 AM

    I don't actually think it has anything to do with being a Chowhound and it seems to me that rather than being fooled by the flash its sidestepping the flash entirely to get down to the food. So, in fact, it could be seen as a very Chowhound-ish sort of thing to do in terms of taking the shortest distance between point A and good food. Not sure how that fits into the definition of Chowhound.

    That said, I couldn't possibly agree more that it's tacky, it's rude, it's presumptive, it's self-entitled and it shouldn't be done and is, therefore, a bad suggestion.

    1. Veggo RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 19, 2008 11:45 AM

      A little grease goes a long way toward a better seat/table for a Vegas show, which can really enhance the experience.
      Joe's Stone Crab in Miami may be among the notorious; urban myth has it that the Maitre D's there earn beefy 6 figures. So if you go greaseless, go early and be patient...

      5 Replies
      1. re: Veggo
        yayadave RE: Veggo Jul 20, 2008 08:46 AM

        I'm pretty sure the Vegas show experience has not much to do with good food.

        Re: Joe's and Maitre D's, I wonder if the results of a little grease in a lesser place that doesn't have Maitre D's, only self-important "hostesses," wouldn't be even more worthwhile.

        1. re: yayadave
          Veggo RE: yayadave Jul 20, 2008 03:46 PM

          1st point: you are mostly right; but dinner theater, while endangered, is not yet extinct.
          2nd point: I completely agree with your hypothesis that a lot of grease is misdirected, or even worse, gains nothing from whoever pockets it.

        2. re: Veggo
          PeterL RE: Veggo Jul 22, 2008 02:02 PM

          That actually adds to the seediness of an LV show, and detracts from the overall experience. I detest the practice.

          And you'll have to pay me to get me to go to Joe's Stone Crap, I mean Crab.

          1. re: PeterL
            Miss Needle RE: PeterL Jul 22, 2008 02:31 PM

            Or just get take-out next door, sit on a bench and enjoy the delicious stone crabs overlooking the ocean without paying the bribe and no wait. I know Joe's gets some bad press on the FL board, but I thought they were pretty tasty.

            I remember many years ago I forgot my ID at home and was trying to get into a bar with my date (I was definitely over 21). The bouncer refused to let me in because I didn't have ID. I said fine -- that we'll go someplace else. My date asked the bouncer to just let me in, that I was definitely over 21. The bouncer asked me my age and DOB. I answered without skipping a beat. Bouncer let me in, and my date gave him a $20 bill while he passed through the velvet rope. I was shocked that he did that, especially as that action implied that I was indeed underage. He just said that that's how it's done and the bribe was expected.

            I haven't read all the responses to this thing but the whole bribing thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth -- doesn't matter if this is how the world goes. Just because it is an "accepted" part of society doesn't make it right. And I do find there's a difference between bribing and tipping for service. Tipping is done after service. Greasing a palm to get a table is generally done before the act.

            There's an interesting statement by Phoebe Damrosch (author of Service Included) on "palming" :

            "Guests tip out of a sense of duty and appreciation and most leave the same percentage everywhere they go, unless the service is miraculous or really, really terrible. Palming is about power. It is a way for someone who just relinquished control - to the maitre d who told him where to sit; to the sommelier who chose a wine; to the waiter who handled his food; to the bellhop who disappeared with his luggage - to then reestablish his hierarchy. This is why women palm less. Our sense of power comes less directly from money and more from our appearance and sexuality. Women are more likely to bat their eyelashes at a maitre d or complement their waiter than slip him a fifty."

            1. re: Miss Needle
              Veggo RE: Miss Needle Jul 22, 2008 02:49 PM

              Yeah, but that's Power with a capital "P". Us guys only have cash...:)

        3. n
          nosh RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 19, 2008 11:48 AM

          I don't know about the morality or tackiness, but it appears that it often works. There is a funny, well-written article about the author's experience trying the practice of greasing palms in Gourmet several years ago:

          http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s...

          If nothing else I think you'll find it entertaining.

          4 Replies
          1. re: nosh
            Servorg RE: nosh Jul 19, 2008 12:34 PM

            Great story. I do think it's still done more than we care to think. I've never done it, but it might be fun to try and see what the results would be and then post about it. Thanks, nosh.

            1. re: Servorg
              n
              nosh RE: Servorg Jul 19, 2008 08:34 PM

              Back at you, Servorg. The guy is a good writer and knows how to tell a funny anecdote. If you search for bruce feiler + gourmet you will find a number of articles he wrote. I can understand the sentiment that greasing palms is elitist and unfair, but alas, so much in today's society depends on who you know and how much you are willing to spend. The gist of the article, to me, is that greasing the hand of the maitre d' isn't just a bribe but establishes one as a customer willing to spend, eager to make an evening special, and therefor the type of patron and hopefully regular that the restaurant wants to cultivate and please.

              1. re: nosh
                susancinsf RE: nosh Aug 3, 2008 11:00 AM

                I also enjoyed the article, and yes, Bruce Feiler is a good writer. However, given that he notes that something of a generational gap in attitudes, and that restaurants tended to side with the younger than 40 set who found palm-greasing to be 'distasteful, degrading and showy', I'd be interested in seeing if the results would be the same if he repeated his experiment today (the original article was published almost 8 years ago.)

            2. re: nosh
              The Ranger RE: nosh Jul 20, 2008 09:36 AM

              My 80-yo gahdmother's boyfriend is an artist when greasing that gear. If you didn't know what was happening, you'd never "see" the exchange between him and the maître d’. He can walk in to almost ever restaurant and be seated quickly, simply considering it a necessary part of the dining experience.

            3. danhole RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 19, 2008 01:15 PM

              I don't care how much I want to eat at a particular restaurant, I absolutely refuse to bribe them so I can get a table. 'nuff said.

              1 Reply
              1. re: danhole
                d
                dolores RE: danhole Jul 19, 2008 02:45 PM

                But how would one be sure said bribe was enough? Or would get that table? Or would not just result in the bribee just pocketing said bribe and going about their business, seating the three people behind me?

                Ewww. Bribing? No, thanks, I have enough trouble with the above board stuff.

              2. limster RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 19, 2008 01:33 PM

                While bribery may be a short cut with apparent immediate benefits, it's nowhere as worthwhile as cultivating a restaurant over a long period of time as regular.

                1 Reply
                1. re: limster
                  s
                  soupkitten RE: limster Jul 19, 2008 04:04 PM

                  word.

                2. ipsedixit RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 19, 2008 11:34 PM

                  Sometimes you just have to buy a ticket to play the game.

                  Such is life.

                  1. x
                    xanadude RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 20, 2008 12:03 PM

                    I tend to view participating in bribery (either party) as unethical...it's certainly not a practice I'd want to support.

                    One of the main reasons the US has been more successful economically over the last two centuries has been its relative lack of corruption (relative to other countries), and corruption plays a material role in hindering economic development.

                    That said, I mean, it's your life, your vacation, and your money. It's neither chowish nor not.

                    1. n
                      nosh RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 20, 2008 03:45 PM

                      Hypothetical: You are in Spain relatively unexpectedly, and you'd like to go to El Bulli but haven't made the necessary reservation and don't have the connections. It is a "once in a lifetime" experience and opportunity. The meal would cost multiple hundreds per person. Do you "tip" "bribe" "grease" your concierge or the maitre d' or a manager or even a cab driver if that can get you in?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: nosh
                        Caroline1 RE: nosh Jul 20, 2008 10:59 PM

                        In my experience, tipping is NOT universal. There are not only differences in what is "standard" in Sheboygan, as opposed to Manhattan, as opposed to Las Vegas, but there can be much greater variances from country to country. Well, that may not be as true today as it was twenty or thirty years ago... "Fusion" is impacting on more than food. But I do feel pretty confident that not everything is homogenized yet, so if I found myself in the situation you've hypothesized, before I did anything, I would meet with my concierge face to face and ask to be clued in. There may well be some places still left in this shrinking world where offering an "incentive" to get in wil get you locked out... in a heart beat! So my first concern would be to proceed cautiously so I won't do something that can't be undone.

                      2. Sam Fujisaka RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 20, 2008 04:56 PM

                        I got another underlying message from the Gourmet article that nosh cited. In the end it wasn't the money and the bribe that got the tables. It was the guy making the transformation from a thought bubble that said, "Gaaacckk, I ddddon't kknknoww if I can dddo this [sweat, pant, pant, puff]" to on that said, "Bond.... James Bond!" It was gaining attitute, confidence, appearance, body language, eye contact.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                          Veggo RE: Sam Fujisaka Jul 20, 2008 05:08 PM

                          You can still get that for a five dollar shoe shine....:)

                        2. Gio RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 20, 2008 05:12 PM

                          Ethical behavior never takes a holiday.

                          19 Replies
                          1. re: Gio
                            Caroline1 RE: Gio Jul 21, 2008 07:55 PM

                            "Ethical behavior"? What about tipping? Is that ethical behavior? To go back to the origin of the word "tip," it is an acronym for "to insure promptness." In other words, a bribe. So why is it ethical (assuming you do tip) to tip for service, but unethical to tip for a table? It's pretty basic that without a table, you'll have no reason to tip the rest of the staff.

                            1. re: Caroline1
                              j
                              jlafler RE: Caroline1 Jul 21, 2008 08:43 PM

                              The "to insure promptness" derivation is a myth (according to the OED, anyway).

                              As I said below, I think the difference between a bribe and a tip is that a bribe occurs before the service, a tip after. A tip isn't a bribe, it's a reward. Unless you consider any payment a bribe.

                              1. re: jlafler
                                Caroline1 RE: jlafler Jul 21, 2008 09:15 PM

                                The "to insure promptness" derivation is a myth (according to the OED, anyway). .....................jlafler
                                .................................................................

                                Would you mind citing where to find that? I have the hard copy Compact Edition, which entails micro-copies of the original pages, 4 per "mega page," and just "tip" covers one full and two partial pages. I've tried to find a debunking of the "to insure promptness," and haven't been able to locate it. But then, being the impatient type, I'm unwilling to invest the time required to read every word. Please direct me! Thanks.

                                1. re: Caroline1
                                  Caroline1 RE: Caroline1 Jul 21, 2008 09:38 PM

                                  Okay, never mind. I've put away my OED and then went to Wikepedia, that *usually* right on-line reference. I was told the "TIP" derivation in about the 8th grade, and who grows up doubting their teachers? Just never occurred to me to question it.

                                  Nevertheless, my point is that by hairsplitting over whether the "gratuity" that is presented to the maitre d'hotel to be seated is scandalous, or the "gratuity" that is given to the wait staff after having been seated and dined is good manners, the fact is that both are well established customs for elite dining in the United States, as well as some other areas of the world. Whether an individual disdains the custom and refuses to "slip a little something to the maitre d" doesn't change "the way things are."

                                  Now, *IF* Chow is about sharing information regarding food, whether a great recipe to make at home, or a "tip" on which restaurant is great and which serves drek, then why is information about the customs of how to get a good table quickly, or without a reservation an inappropriate topic for this forum?

                                  1. re: Caroline1
                                    j
                                    jlafler RE: Caroline1 Jul 21, 2008 10:57 PM

                                    Well, this is obviously one of those subjects where there's not going to be a resolution. Clearly I'm in the minority here, so I hope this will be my last word on the topic and we can move on.

                                    Just because something is "the way things are" doesn't mean it's ethical. I don't dispute that bribery happens; given that, it's probably better to acknowledge and discuss it openly than not. But of course, part of the point of bribery is that it's *not* openly acknowledged. Do you know of a restaurateur who openly admits that his staff takes bribes? If there's nothing unethical about bribery, then why don't food writers ask about it in interviews: "so, what's your policy on bribery? Do you pool bribes among the staff? How much to get a table for two at 8:00?" Tipping conventions are fairly widely known and openly talked about; lots of restaurants give tipping guidelines; sometimes there's a service surcharge. Why not a bribe rate? Why not openly charge for reservations? Even if the customs of bribing and tipping are both well-established, they are not equally honestly deployed.

                                    To me, the distinction between a bribe and a tip is not hair-splitting. I tip partly because I know that in this wage system, the waiters aren't paid much by their employer and their income depends largely on tips. This is formally acknowledged in tax law and minimum wage laws. The relationship between a tip and service has become so eroded that I generally think of a tip as an automatic surcharge on a meal; I tip a certain percentage -- less only if the waiter has been deliberately rude, more only if the service is extraordinary. I suspect that's the way most people tip. It really has very little to do with service any more.

                                    With a bribe, the transaction is "I will pay you extra to do me a special service." With a tip, the transaction is "I'm pleased with the service, therefore I will reward you." Only one lends itself to the counter-transaction of extortion ("I can't seem to find a record of your reservation....ah [checks denomination on bill] here it is! Right this way, sir!").

                                    In any case, there's a difference between discussing and recommending or condoning. The thing that bothers me most about this entire discussion is the fatalistic attitude that a practice's existence is its own justification. The answer to "it's unethical" is "no it's not, it's just the way things are."

                                    1. re: jlafler
                                      Caroline1 RE: jlafler Jul 21, 2008 11:35 PM

                                      Hey, if you can convert the whole country to your viewpoint, I'm 100% for it! I would LOVE to get a table at The Mansion on Turtle Creek without a reservation and without shaking hands with the host! And while you're at it, can you do something to obliterate tipping? Oh, and state taxes too! It would be GREAT to dine out for only the cost indicated on a menu. FABULOUS! '-)

                                      1. re: Caroline1
                                        j
                                        justagthing RE: Caroline1 Jul 22, 2008 12:36 AM

                                        state taxes...none in Washington...good chow city as well. ;)

                                        1. re: Caroline1
                                          d
                                          Docsknotinn RE: Caroline1 Jul 22, 2008 03:50 AM

                                          Tips are given for a job well done.
                                          Bribes are incentive for unethical behavior. I'm not sure paying for a table would always be a bribe but in some cases it could be. I surely do not see it as tipping.
                                          BTW No state Taxes in Florida, lots of good chow and I never had difficulty with a reservation at TMOTC.
                                          To me this smacks more of elitism or the I'm special" mentality than "pay to play".
                                          It sure seems a lot easier and more cost effective to make a reservation.

                                          1. re: Docsknotinn
                                            jfood RE: Docsknotinn Jul 22, 2008 05:27 AM

                                            Jfood thinks that both sides of this discussion have come up with rationalization to prove their points. "Unethical" and "done all the time" just seem to be make yourself feel good medicine. And everyone has their own line in the sand.

                                            For jfood he does not feel as strongly about tipping an MD for a table or assitance in a better table, yet he has an aversion to bartenders knowing their tips will go up dramatically if they slide Tony a few extra rounds.

                                            To jfood both have a level of "stealing". The MD is stealing time from people behind the queue and the bartender is stealing from the establishment (maybe diverting is a better term) and others are not receiving the same benefit of the bargain (see insider trading rationale). And jfood understands that some restaurants allow the bartender to "give-away" a certain number of drinks per night, so it's approved diverting. What if management also allow the MD to "give-away" a few tables per night? Jfood does not know the answer. He doubts whether management is completely ignorant of the MD practice, so there is, at a minimum, implicit approval of the practice.

                                            The world is not perfect, the giving of tables is not perfect, the giving of free drinks is not perfect, the comping of apps and desserts is not perfect, and life goes on.

                                            But to the point of the OP, that a CH would never "bribe"? As stated elsewhere, a CH is not the morally perfect person, but a member of the group who just happens to enjoy searching and eating food more than the average person.

                                            1. re: jfood
                                              j
                                              jlafler RE: jfood Jul 22, 2008 09:42 AM

                                              Well, when it comes to that, I think it's silly to talk about "what a chowhound would do." Chowhounds are a diverse group. Much as people like to talk about what makes chowhounds different and special and unique, there's huge variation, especially about things that don't relate directly to food.

                                          2. re: Caroline1
                                            j
                                            jlafler RE: Caroline1 Jul 22, 2008 09:36 AM

                                            Um, I'm not saying that people shouldn't be paid for their work, you know. I'd be happy to obliterate tipping, if people who normally make money from tips were to get a decent wage. Of course, in that case the price on the menu would be higher, so you wouldn't save any money. Sorry.

                                            I'm also not saying that we shouldn't have to pay for service, or that I should be able to get into any restaurant at any time I want. Obviously, with a popular or high-class restaurant, there has to be way to seat people without, say, having a rush for each table as it opens up. (Though I have to admit, that might be entertaining.) I just don't think that there should be two sets of rules, one official set, and one that allows people who know the ropes to circumvent the first set.

                                            At Chez Panisse they discourage tipping, and there is a 17% service charge added to the bill, which most restaurants only do for large parties. There are other high-end restaurants that do this. It takes the element of chance out of waiters' wages and reputedly improves the relationship between the kitchen staff and the front of the house staff.

                                            *small grammar edit

                                            1. re: jlafler
                                              Caroline1 RE: jlafler Jul 22, 2008 01:39 PM

                                              Well, we're obviously of very different mind-sets on this issue, but the thing I don't like about the Chez Panisse method is that it takes the dicision completely out of the hands of the diner. Okay, so Chez Panisse is SUPPOSED to have great food, a great chef, and presumably a great wait staff. But the wait staff is human, and things can go awry. So good, bad, or indifferent, you have no choice on how much you tip. So why don't they just up all of their prices on the menu by 17% and post a sign that says, "Absolutely NO Tipping Allowed"? The end result is absolutely the same.

                                              And just for the record, tips/gratuities are absolutely NOT part of a wait person's "wages." "Wages" are an hourly sum paid by the employer, "salaries" are a monthly (or annual) amount paid by the employer, and "tips/gratuities" are variable, must be reported to IRS and income taxes on tips must be rendered quarterly. Income taxes on wages are paid annually. NOT the same animal.

                                              1. re: Caroline1
                                                j
                                                jlafler RE: Caroline1 Jul 22, 2008 02:29 PM

                                                I think the reason they add the service charge on top of the price of the meal is to make their prices more easily comparable with other restaurants. Just a guess.

                                                From the point of view of taxation, there's a difference between earning from tips and earnings from an hourly wage. But "wage" is also a more general term for earnings. According to my dictionary, wage means "Payment for labor or services to a worker, especially remuneration on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis or by the piece."

                                                The thing about human error is that when you tip, you may be rewarding or punishing the wrong person. Sometimes the problem is in the kitchen. If a waiter drops your soup, that's one thing. But if the dishes appear out of order or late, you don't really know what when on behind the scenes. And meanwhile, heroic efforts in the kitchen go unseen, and the waiter may get the credit.

                                                Despite appearances, I'm really not trying to pick a fight here.

                                                1. re: Caroline1
                                                  jfood RE: Caroline1 Jul 22, 2008 02:45 PM

                                                  Cee

                                                  Not to take sides on increase price/no tip vs. same price/% tip included, sorta gets you to the same place from the customers' points of view. The MAJOR differeence between the 2 is that in the Chez Panisse model the server is taking the risk of no business since his/her entire income is based on the 17% gratuity; while in the let's raise all prices, the owner is taking the business risk because s/he would pay not only a fixed salary, plus probably benefits.

                                                  But on your last comment, esimated tax payments, whether individual or corporate must be paid 4 times during the current year with the make-up +/- occuring on the fateful 4/15.

                                        2. re: Caroline1
                                          DanaB RE: Caroline1 Jul 22, 2008 02:10 PM

                                          According to snopes, tip is NOT an acronym for "to insure promptness":

                                          http://www.snopes.com/language/acrony...

                                      2. re: Caroline1
                                        Gio RE: Caroline1 Jul 22, 2008 05:31 PM

                                        Caroline, have a heart. Tipping is nothing more than giving an additional bit of money to those who have served you well. I place nothing more than that to the practice...knowing that most of them are not getting near minimum wages, and certainly not a salary.

                                        The bribe connotation comes in when people push money onto anyone who can bump the system. It happens, but it's just not ethical.

                                        1. re: Gio
                                          jfood RE: Gio Jul 22, 2008 05:49 PM

                                          so let's see:

                                          "Tipping is nothing more than giving an additional bit of money to those who have served you well" and the MD that serves you well does not deserve a tip because the servers "are not getting near minimum wages, and certainly not a salary". So one again the server is a protected class and showing appreciation to others is a bribe.

                                          And the only reason for this difference in salary is elected officials have created laws as such. Brain cramp time.

                                          1. re: jfood
                                            Gio RE: jfood Jul 22, 2008 06:05 PM

                                            Palming a bribe to an M'd is giving a reward for nothing more than the fact that he is bumping you up to a table that others have been waiting per their reservations.

                                            1. re: Gio
                                              s
                                              soupkitten RE: Gio Jul 23, 2008 05:43 AM

                                              lots of restaurants (esp. the very trendy, hot ones, which i think we're all talking about) keep a couple of tables open during peak times-- in case the mayor, the owner, or a local celebrity shows up randomly, or as insurance for later reservations, so that there will be a couple of tables for the 8:30 reses if all the 6:00s are overstaying). the m'd can choose to let these tables go to walk-ins at her/his discretion. the tip/bribe can sometimes tip the scales to the diners favor, sometimes not-- in any case you're not necessarily yoinking "somebody else's" table, or making them wait longer. and tipping/bribing the m'd for a table may work at 6 on a weekday, when it won't work at 8 on sat, in the same establishment.

                                    2. maplesugar RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 20, 2008 09:37 PM

                                      Anyone stop to think what happens to the people who's table was just taken by the guy who greased the Maitre D?

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: maplesugar
                                        ipsedixit RE: maplesugar Jul 20, 2008 09:58 PM

                                        What makes you think that that table was actually spoken for?

                                        1. re: ipsedixit
                                          j
                                          jlafler RE: ipsedixit Jul 20, 2008 10:34 PM

                                          If the table was available, what would be the point of bribing someone to get it? It doesn't matter whether the table was reserved by a specific person. If you offer a bribe, then by definition you're trying to jump the queue.

                                          1. re: jlafler
                                            ipsedixit RE: jlafler Jul 20, 2008 10:43 PM

                                            And your point is what exactly?

                                            1. re: ipsedixit
                                              j
                                              jlafler RE: ipsedixit Jul 20, 2008 11:04 PM

                                              Just that I don't buy the rationalization you appeared to be making.

                                      2. n
                                        nosh RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 21, 2008 01:02 PM

                                        Let's understand what we are talking about here: Most restaurants are easy to get into with little or no notice, particularly in today's economy. So the restaurants we are discussing are popular, hot, upscale restaurants whose reservations books are full and thus are difficult to get into, therefor even opening up the possibility of "greasing" a palm.

                                        How does a Chowhound, or anyone, get into such a restaurant? We all pay a price, just in different ways. Some of us carefully count the 30 days or one month or whatever the policy is, remember to call the restaurant at opening, repeatedly press redial, and hope to procure that precious reservation. Some of us sacrifice eating on the weekend or prime hour we'd prefer and settle for a slower weeknight or a very early or late seating. Some of us travel and stay in an elegant expensive hotel where a part of our rate includes the use of a concierge who can get us in. If fortunate enough, some of us become regulars whose repeat patronage is appreciated enough by the restaurant to give us privileges and allow us to "jump the queue." A very few of us, particularly here in L.A., are famous enough so that our name gets recognized and the restaurant wants our presence.

                                        And as much as some of us don't like it, facing a special evening and wanting to eat at a particular restaurant at a specific time, some people will expend an additional fraction of what they'd spend for the evening to tip the maitre d' for the table. And those that don't may end up waiting a few minutes more for their table. You may not like it -- I don't. You may not do it -- I never have. But it is the reality when there is a short supply and an excess demand for a particular product or service.

                                        I love going to concerts, but I've had mostly horribly disappointing experiences in L.A. Most of the good seats go to the industry. Those that remain are sucked up by the ticket brokers. I've been in the first handful as ticket sales open and ended up in the nosebleed sections. More related to food, there were a couple of threads several months ago about people selling dinner reservations through website trading services, mostly in NYC. Finally, and most horrifically, don't you know someone who has gotten in to see a particular doctor sooner because a friend, relative or colleague made a call?

                                        9 Replies
                                        1. re: nosh
                                          Veggo RE: nosh Jul 21, 2008 01:52 PM

                                          Well stated, nosh. Capitalists in general are keenly aware of supply-demand disequilibriums, restaurants being no exception, and epicurians with pure hearts and principles...well, no one has parted the waters to give them the privileged seats just for their virtue.
                                          The mantra of my well-traveled golf group.... "ya gotta paaaay to plaaaaay"

                                          1. re: Veggo
                                            j
                                            jlafler RE: Veggo Jul 21, 2008 01:59 PM

                                            But as I understand it, the question isn't whether bribery happens (of course it does), or whether it works (I'm told it does), or even whether it's ethical (I think not), but whether it's something that should be advocated on Chowhound.

                                            1. re: jlafler
                                              Veggo RE: jlafler Jul 21, 2008 02:15 PM

                                              Chounders seem to want a seamlessly unflawed experience to qualify as memorable; we have seen tiny issues derail what was otherwise destined to be a hugely positive experience. I think nosh and I and others are simply drawing attention to the potholes and speedbumps that can interrupt that highway to heavenly eating. Call them toll booths.

                                              1. re: jlafler
                                                n
                                                nosh RE: jlafler Jul 21, 2008 03:07 PM

                                                Which is more offensive? -- A) Bigshot executive greases a maitre d' with a $20 or $50 to get the elusive table at prime time. B) Bigshot executive has his executive assistant make numerous calls and pull strings to get the same reservation, using $20 to $50 of corporate time?

                                                1. re: nosh
                                                  j
                                                  jlafler RE: nosh Jul 21, 2008 03:44 PM

                                                  Do I have to pick?

                                                  1. re: nosh
                                                    d
                                                    Docsknotinn RE: nosh Jul 21, 2008 04:08 PM

                                                    I guess I don't see the relevance to the point the OP is making. This sort of thing stands in contrast to the CH manifesto. Not because of the tipping or a service received for it but because this is what a foodie would do. (spits up hairball...gak!)
                                                    You don't exactly have to "blaze a trail" or "comb through neighborhoods" to find a place so popular you need to tip for a table.

                                              2. re: nosh
                                                s
                                                soupkitten RE: nosh Jul 21, 2008 03:18 PM

                                                wow. i guess i never thought about the whole "in" on getting to see the doctor thing. it makes sense, though. i'm sure that lots of people don't have to wait for the phone call during the dental school exams to get a tooth extracted, like everyone i know!

                                                on topic-- the "bribe," or the "tip"-- depending on your pov-- which constitutes the transaction for unnamed, or nebulous, services of the host/m.d.h. should be seen in the context of a service industry where folks make tips. it may be considered unethical to tip your lawyer for her services (you probably pay her enough anyway), but in the service industry, tips-- as opposed to wages-- are in fact what people live on, so tipping a bartender, server, host, cabbie, valet, etc. is something that some folks do automatically, others grudgingly, whatever. folks who tip in higher denominations generally expect better service, and what's more, they generally receive it.

                                                if dh and i have waited 30 days for our res to come up at hot restaurant x & pull up to the valet in our vw, great, we're fine with the valet fee + moderate/avg tip. suppose the guy behind us roars up in a lamborghini gallardo. he passes the valet $40 or $50 immediately and tells him to "take good care of his baby." dude 1) can afford the tip 2) definitely *should* offer a tip which may seem excessive/overly generous, to get extra, above & beyond service including the valets shuffling the front queue of vehicles so he can keep an eye on his ride throughout his meal. in other words, the tip & service is worth it to *this* guy, with his unique circumstances, regardless of what other folks tip the valet.

                                                inside the restaurant, dh and i are waiting patiently in the bar for a table to vacate for our res. we're married, happy people, and there is little pressure on this occasion (or the pressure rests solely on the chef). lamborghini dude pulls up a stool next to us & orders a soda water/lime--drink alcohol while driving that thing, are you nuts?!? here at the bar, dh and i, who are tipping very well, are getting great service and having a nice time. lamborghini dude leaves the silver change from his drink on the bar and receives fine, but unexceptional service. he doesn't care, the drink is not, in the least, his priority. the next couple to come in to the restaurant have some pressure on their dinner date. maybe it's an important client dinner, a special occasion, the date diner x plans to propose to diner z. for whatever reason, diner x slips the host a tip/bribe. whether the host accepts the sum (personally, or for a tip pool), & gives special service is really neither here nor there for us & lamborghini dude-- we're not asking for the same service, we didn't tip for it. however, same as with the valet, it is certainly worth it to the tipper. the new couple is shown to a freshly vacated table two minutes earlier than dh and i, and fifteen minutes earlier than lamborghini dude. would their table have been ours? maybe, maybe not. whatever special treatment they get from the staff, it was worth it to *them,* with their circumstances, to tip for it, and their actions in no way cheapen the service anyone else gets.

                                                do i routinely tip hosts/m.d.h.? no. if the circumstances were right, would i "pay to play?" yup. if i became extremely, demonstrably wealthy, would i "share the love"? definitely. i'd rather be thought a fool than a miser.

                                                1. re: soupkitten
                                                  j
                                                  jlafler RE: soupkitten Jul 21, 2008 04:18 PM

                                                  In the situation you describe, nobody was really hurt/inconvenienced by the bribe, but there are situations in which it might really be an inconvenience. Someone might get seated 30 minutes later, instead of 2 minutes later, which could be the difference between, say, having a leisurely meal and having to rush so you can catch the last train home, or because the babysitter can only stay until a certain time. Since I got my insulin pump, my eating schedule is a lot more flexible than it used to be, but there was a time when having my dinner pushed back by half an hour would have been a serious problem for me. Not life-threatening or anything, just more than the typical annoyance of having to wait. (And I still don't like eating too late in the evening, for various physiological reasons that I won't go into.)

                                                  The problem is that usually when someone's bribe results in your getting knocked back on a waiting list or not getting your reserved table at the promised time, you have no idea what has happened. You planned ahead and made sure to get a reservation at a specific time because you knew you had some sort of constraint on your evening, and this doesn't happen. You don't know whether it was because of a bribe, a service bungle, a problem in the kitchen, or what -- if it was a bribe, they're certainly not going to tell you. And if, like me, you are hopelessly naive, it doesn't even occur to you to offer a bribe to clear up the problem.

                                                  I think of tips and bribes as completely different -- for one thing, the tip usually is given after the service, not before. I'm not crazy about the tip economy, either, but that's another issue. In any case, I don't have a problem with expressing gratitude for good service with a tip; I do have a problem with bribes that attempt to circumvent what we are *told* is the way to get a table in a certain restaurant at a certain time.

                                                  I dunno, maybe I have a different perspective on this because I don't go out to eat all that often. If I did, I might know how to play the game better.

                                                  1. re: jlafler
                                                    j
                                                    jlafler RE: jlafler Jul 21, 2008 04:45 PM

                                                    I don't like my sign-off, since it implies that if only I knew the rules of the game, I would be okay with it. Nope. Still not okay, even if I'm one of the inner circle.

                                              3. jfood RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 21, 2008 03:50 PM

                                                Jfood struggles with it "is the antithesis of what chowhounds believe". He does not agree with that premise. Yes many CH'ers blaze trails, but they also like to eat great food. And just because some place is popular and hot does not mean the food is not great. jfood can think of many examples where the place is "hot" and the food is great and getting a table is impossible. And if the true CH wants to experience the great meal, sometimes he has to pay to play.

                                                To say that a CH would never stoop to such levels is not something jfood buys into.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: jfood
                                                  Gio RE: jfood Jul 22, 2008 05:48 PM

                                                  Weeeellllll Jfood....... I dunno. What's the priority here? If the food is hot at said resto this week, won't it be just as hot next week? If tasting the wonderful food is the goal, all things being equal, wouldn't the same food be just as wonderful whenever you get to eat it? Just wondering.

                                                  1. re: Gio
                                                    jfood RE: Gio Jul 22, 2008 06:16 PM

                                                    Let's take the obvious carve-out off the table...you are traveling and do not have the next week option. So it's a binary decision, if not this week, then null set.

                                                    Jfood agrees that the food will be great this week and next week.

                                                2. Caroline1 RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 22, 2008 07:54 PM

                                                  Okay. Rather than respond to others further down the thread chain, I'm going to fall back and respond to you, Mattapoisett. I apparently have an opposite viewpoint to yours. Is it age, or is it outlook? I don’t know. But I do know this. I do consider fine dining at the elite level an entertainment more than I consider it “eating out.” I'm not talking TGI Friday’s here, where some kid is hustling tables to put himself through college. I’m talking about top echelon fine dining as great entertainment for the taste buds and all of the senses. It is a form of “life theater,” if you will.

                                                  I’m fairly certain that my age plays into my tolerance for “an advance show of appreciation” to a maitre d’. In no way do I advocate it as routine practice instead of advance reservations. On the other hand, I have always found it comforting to know that if a spur of the moment situation arises – a friend calls and is in town for a day or two, and I/we (when I was married) feel a desire to reciprocate for something special they did for us, as an example – that there is a way to get a table at the best place in town without benefit of long term planning. And in such a situation, I’ve always consider the “advance show of appreciation” as much of a tribute to the friend we’re entertaining as to the maitre d’ for making it possible.

                                                  Now, as for Captains and waiters, people at this level are presumably the crème de la crème of their profession. They are actors in the theater of great dining. Tips are a diner’s form of applause. And just as with actors on a theater stage, they don’t get a standing ovation for just walking the boards. They have to perform. At this level, these professionals should be adept at catching fumbles and recovering with such aplomb that the “audience” is entirely unaware that anything even had an opportunity to go amiss. If they continuously “flub a line,” or “phone in their performance,” I demand the right to show my displeasure through the tip, as much as I cherish the right to reward a great performance. And I would not patronize a restaurant that takes that away from me by automatically adding a tip to the check before presenting it to me.

                                                  As for waiters at any level of dining and tips as “wages”, I feel no obligation to tip simply because they are waiters. THEY chose to take that job, and presumably were aware of the salary plus tips formula before taking on the job. Tipping is the way through which all diners they tend to can let them know whether or not they have made a reasonable career choice. And I, for one, refuse to reward a bad waiter with an approving tip. A good tip for bad service is just another way of telling a lie.

                                                  1. Mattapoisett in LA RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 22, 2008 11:30 PM

                                                    This thread has taken almost a life of its own. My point was not to have a jury trial of the practice [even though I disagree with it] but bring attention to the fact that the editorial arm of Chow has with their Chow Tip video validated the practice. I live in Los Angeles now and was dragged kicking and screaming here from my last posting In San Francisco. LA is Ground Zero for this type of self important foolishness. Drive around the streets of LA and velvet ropes are everywhere. Chowhound was an antidote for it. I was able to discover a city that I didn’t know existed, where there were real people not the plastic ones you see on Melrose and Rodeo. It took a year and a half but I was able to get to a point where LA didn’t suck anymore. And through the board I’ve met dozens of really neat people who are dedicated and passionate about many things including food.

                                                    I disagree with the notion that age has something to do with it. My late father wouldn’t stand for it and so we developed real relationships with real restaurants including one in the Boston area which was a speakeasy during prohibition that my grandfather went to to be amongst friends [Plus, he was allergic to fish and could go there on Fridays during lent to have a steak and not get sideways glances]

                                                    I have sat at the table of many fine restaurants [I’m not talking about TGIFidays either] and to get there I did my diligence with reservations and booking. My favorite experience in restaurant was the tasting menu at Spago with my sister shortly after my father had passed away. Everything was impeccable. We were even introduced to Wolfgang. If it was required that I slip the Matre’ D a $50 to get in, I would have rather gone to Fridays.

                                                    I will not get into the tipping issue, there is enough fodder for many a thread. But I will most likely post a little note to the folks at Chow about my disappointment with the Chow Tip.

                                                    Take Care

                                                    - P.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Mattapoisett in LA
                                                      Caroline1 RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 23, 2008 03:01 AM

                                                      Why do you think it's unethical for Chow to make people aware or facts pertaining to the food industry? Hey, "mordida" in Mexico may be "unethical" by U.S. standards, but I'd MUCH rather have someone explain it to me ahead of time so that when/if I go there, I can make an informed decision about whether to stand on my principles or go ahead and pay it instead of rotting in a Mexican jail until someone finally figures out where the hell I am! Knowledge is power. Chow was just passing on an empowerment. No one said you have to play the game. '-)

                                                    2. alkapal RE: Mattapoisett in LA Jul 23, 2008 05:50 AM

                                                      out of curiosity, what amount does one pay? based on entree prices? or what?
                                                      how dependent on locale? eg, nyc vs. sf, vs. wash dc, etc...

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: alkapal
                                                        Caroline1 RE: alkapal Jul 23, 2008 02:42 PM

                                                        hmmm... I've been wondering for a few days now whether there really is a low traffic time on Chow, or if it's really a slow server time, which would be my guess. Anyway, I'm surprised no one has responded, so with the warning that my info may be dated (just like me), my answer is that it depends on the restaurant, the day of the week, and the city where the restaurant is located.

                                                        From the Gourmet article that nosh referred us all to, the "going rate" for NYC's creamiest of the creme seems to be from thirty to a hundred bucks a pop. I'd be amazed if it came anywhere near that in Des Moines or Minneapolis. Las Vegas has changed so much since I live there that I wouldn't hazard a guess about today, and I never want to know how much my first husband slipped the maitre d' for that balcony table hanging over the stage for the Dean Martin show in 1958!

                                                        I'll tell you a secret way to find out anything you ever wanted to know about ANYTHING. Just call the 'horse's mouth," in this case maitre d's, and tell them you're a writer and don't want to be inaccurate in your work, so would they mind answering a few questions for you? Then ask them. It's amazing how much info you can get! I've gotten everything from an insider guide to the haute couture salon at Nieman Marcus, to insider info from the CIA, and they even read my script for me to check for errors! Call your local maitre d's and tell them you're a writer. '-)

                                                        1. re: Caroline1
                                                          s
                                                          soupkitten RE: Caroline1 Jul 23, 2008 04:53 PM

                                                          minneapolis here, and $30 seems pretty low for this city. it was $40 6 years ago, i only assume it's $50+ now. otoh it's a pretty open town and the occasion comes up, not-very-often, ish. never eaten in des moines.

                                                          1. re: soupkitten
                                                            Caroline1 RE: soupkitten Jul 23, 2008 11:49 PM

                                                            See? What have I been tellin' ya? Fusion is homogenizing the whole wide world! '-)

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