If you ask restaurateur Danny Meyer, this is no way to pay an employee.

Tipping is an historic “hoax,” so end it, says Danny Meyer: I’ve taken a lot of crap from people who disagree with my stance that tipping in restaurants should die, but I’m not budging on it. Especially when Danny Meyer, arguably the nation’s finest all-around restaurateur and exceptionally good guy, eliminates it at all his restaurants. Atop that, he said this recently on WNYC’s The Sporkful podcast:

“Tipping is actually one of the biggest hoaxes ever pulled on … the American culture.” He gave the history of it—which I’d never known—and how the restaurant and railroad industries petitioned the U.S. government to let servers and bag carriers work for tips only. “And no surprise, most of the people who were working in service professional jobs and restaurants and in Pullman train cars were African American.”

Real shocker there, right? Meyer went on to say that, “Tipped employees, happily for them, are making about 300 percent of what they were 31 years ago. During that same period, everyone in the kitchen — the dishwasher, non-tip eligible employees — have seen their hourly income go up about 20 percent.”

(FWIW, I don’t see how that 20 percent figure is true. I made around $5 an hour as a cook in 1986. Cooks now earn double that.) Read the whole thing by clicking here before deciding if you think continuing tipping is a good idea.

Where have all the trays gone? Ever notice how servers use trays less these days? What’s certain is not using them doesn’t improve service. Not long ago I watched a server at a pizzeria make three trips to the bar and back just to deliver six drinks to our table. Two at a time they arrived, her warm hands wrapped around our cold beers. A server using a cocktail tray would have made that in one trip.

I know owners get tired of breakage and product waste when trays get dropped, and that’s why some have eliminated them. But using a tray correctly is just a matter of training that results in better, faster service. Which makes guests happier and more willing to return, which increases sales, and which overcomes the cost of the occasional dropped tray.

Parker Beam, longtime master distiller at Heaven Hill, who died Jan. 8. | Photo courtesy of Heaven Hill
Parker Beam, longtime master distiller at Heaven Hill, who died Jan. 8. | Photo courtesy of Heaven Hill

The passing of Parker Beam: He was Heaven Hill’s master for nearly 40 years, and he was a beloved figure in the spirits industry. When he died Jan. 8, the industry mourned and sighed happily simultaneously, for Beam had battled ALS a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s Disease, for six years. Family, friends and writers on the sideline were glad his suffering ended at age 75.

He was one of a dwindling number of master bourbon distillers who saw public opinion of their careers change from blue-collar booze makers to rock stars—without their jobs changing a single iota. Beam was a distiller and a farmer, jobs that required getting dirty and sweaty without garnering much praise or attention. Yet he became a man adored by countless fans, which amused him. I wrote a feature piece about his passing for WhiskeyWash.com, and local whiskey writer Fred Minnick, who knew Beam well, penned this piece.

And speaking of Beam and bourbon: Did you hear that Beam backed off its promise to boost the price of Booker’s bourbon from around $55 per bottle to $99 this year? According to published reports, the ramp-up in price will be $69.99 to $79.99, which isn’t as bad, but pretty darn steep for a bourbon I paid $43 a bottle for (at Prospect Party Center) many times last year.

In December I saw Booker’s selling for $39.99 per bottle at Costco. And about the same time, I read in a recently released book on Booker Noe that the launch price for Booker’s in 1989 was … wait for it … $39.99. Yes, Beam Brands, it was time for a price increase, but your slowness to do that gradually is your fault, not consumers’. You didn’t treat longtime fans too well by threatening a 90 percent price jump.

There’s no such thing as “fine casual”: That’s what Nation’s Restaurant News commentator Bret Thorn wrote recently. Better food served in a relaxed setting and at a speedy pace just means that. Thorn’s point was that there’s nothing “fine” about such a meal when you’re not served at the table, when the décor is ordinary, the menu narrow and the drink list short.

The general tone of his piece shows a bit of disdain for restaurateurs who just, well, make up such phrases as they go along in hopes of being clever. (I’d link to it, but NRN is mostly subscriber only.) In other words, state your market position clearly; don’t blur the lines and confuse customers.

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Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 25-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass, Whisky Magazine, WhiskeyWash.com and The Bourbon Review. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

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