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Not a City in China

from Friday, November13th of the year2009.

This is a brief comment. I have been reading with great relish and fascination the comments thread at Waiter Rant (particularly this one, about tipping and revenge on bad customers). Waiter Rant was a blog that then got turned into a book (is there a word for this yet?) and then will presumably be made into a movie with a soundtrack with a lot of sharped fourth degrees, you all know what I’m talking about. The skyline of New York, badly spaced string chord and a triangle? Anyway. Tipping is such a fun and weird neurosis. These comments have opened up a whole world of questions for me, though, and I’ll organize it based on example.

Eating Late, Paying More. Musicians tend to not want to eat before a show; we like to eat and drink afterwards. In New York, it’s pretty easy to find places that are open at 11 in the evening still serving. Not so much in Europe. Anyway, in New York, the usual situation is that about twelve people will turn up, all with varying degrees of hunger, but a similar desire for alcohol. It is almost guaranteed that we will not sit in the same seats the entire evening; we need to gossip! So, are we a nightmare table? Is there any way to make ourselves less annoying? Whenever we go to the Landmarc, on 59th street, which is the best for this kind of post-concert thing, I usually try to take the waitress aside and just explain what the deal is and then tip outrageously. Is that enough? Can we do anything else?

Eating Alone. I eat alone probably three times a week. I love, love, love, eating alone. I’ve found that New York and Paris are places that are feeling you doing this; London and L.A., not so much. Actually, in L.A. I see a lot of people eating alone with an empty seat next to them filled with piles of scripts and documents blaring “MARIGOLD DRAFT” so maybe they’re just waiting for somebody to come and buy their facacta idea. Anyway, if you’re eating alone, is it weird to tip a lot? Does it seem like you’re trying to negotiate a sex transaction? The only other moments where you, as an individual, hand another individual a $20 bill is, like, tipping a masseuse or hairdresser, which is some kind of sex transaction (their hands r on your person). There is a handsome dude who works at Lupa, by my studio, and I always feel uncomfortable with the whole situation because he’s great but I don’t want to make it seem like I expect anything aside from pasta.

When One Person In Ur Party is Stupid and Annoying but the Rest of U R Not. I have a really huge anxiety about this. Here’s the tableau: the waiter in a busy restaurant has taken the eight orders for your table. It’s crowded and insane. He arrives with three plates on one arm, and starts saying, “swordfish, swordfish.” And nobody fesses up, even though we all know whose ass ordered the swordfish. It’s always that one person, isn’t it? So then there’s a power vacuum and a million people start shouting “swordfish” and pointing around the room. That moment freaks me out so much.

I sort of feel like any group of people larger than seven will have this person in it, even if it’s your best friend; it’s one of those weird social phenomenons where people assume these stock roles against their own wills and better judgment. I’ve observed the same thing in the context of orchestra musicians. In my experience, 99.9% of orchestra musicians are the definition of professionals: they turn up on time, their instruments are tuned, the pages are in order, the machinery of their sections is locked into gear. But there’s always one, isn’t there? It’s a lone clarinet, a nineteenth violin, a rogue piccolo: this person will find themselves PoÆ’Æ’eÆ’Æ’’t by the Spirit of Difficultie and will be a minute late, moistening a reed or rosining a bow after downbeat, and will start packing up a minute early, and in between, will not be, shall we say, MiÆ’treÆ’Æ’ of her InÆ’trumental Domaine. It’s those people in the orchestra that I always want to win over: those are the people who make me double, triple, quadruple proof-read parts to make sure there’s nothing stupid in it, make sure the page turns are sensible, make sure there aren’t any prolonged moments in the score where a specific musician feels useless, or like a robot. It’s a bargain between composers and musicians; get your shit in gear and it’ll be easier for them, too, even if you’ve written a bunch of craziness. As diners, is there anything we can do to fulfill our part of the bargain?


  • This blog entry was very entertaining and well-written. Thx!

  • “I usually try to take the waitress aside and just explain what the deal is and then tip outrageously. Is that enough?”\n\nWay more than enough! Also funny!!

  • I actually have a reverse problem where I’m the one person furiously apologizing to the waiter for all my friends – not the easiest people to go out with!

  • At times I feel the same way in restaurants when I’m with people who don’t go with the flow. And I do strive to not be a pain in the ass patron. But then I read rants from wait-persons and think that customers are always going to be difficult, so get a different job if you can’t deal.

  • Indeed, there is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blook

  • It is the waiter’s job to know where the swordfish is going. If they don’t, just take it and hand it to the right person. You are the perfect host, never was anyone less in need of worrying about this. First you must solve the European shower problem, and everything else will fall into place.

  • funny/excellent writing. Thanks for the long s (my favorite letter; reminds me of Flanders and Swann: Greenfleeves….Well this is a pretty unlikely title for a fong).\n\nI wonder if there is a keyboard trick for typing a long s that has no crossbar and is slanted–instead of an italic Æ’ or the derivative ∫

  • You got it right about London. I would feel soooo awkward to eat alone in a cafe or restaurant, unless of course if I was just having a quick coffee and danish while reading the paper… but I guess that hardly counts.

  • Try Dining Alone in Italy — it’s so bad that you’ll avoid it. The waiters hate it (smaller check, smaller tip), the owners hate it (why waste a two-top on a single person?), and the other patrons will Stare at You during your entire meal, wondering what is wrong with you, and why you have no friends or family or business associates. Three ways a pariah. The whole experience is very disheartening (tho’ fantastically slimming).

  • the waiter you speak of
    December 30th, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    so i’m the guy who’s your waiter at Lupa. and you’re a bad tipper.

    Nico responds: oh no I hope it’s not true! I’ll do better nexxxxttttttiiiiiime