It has come to my attention recently that there are people in the world who do not know what I am about to tell you, no matter how bleedingly obvious it might seem.

When you patronize giant, faceless retail chains, you are fairly free to behave as a freeloader. Denny's has already factored into their prices that tables full of bored teenagers will linger for three hours after their meal, and Wal-Mart doesn't suffer if you spend hours in the store and buy nothing. You can show up to Free Sample Day at your chain grocer of choice, eat all the free samples, and leave without buying anything. Hell, I fondly remember one summer in which I lived in a rental unit with no air conditioning, and I regularly spent entire days in Borders without buying anything. Maybe it's my fault they went under, but probably not.

These rules change when you patronize a Small Business. I mean a real one, owned by a person who's usually standing behind the cash register. When you go to Bob's Coffee Shop, order a small Americano for $0.89, and proceed to sit there for four hours, you are being kind of a dick. Starbucks can handle it because their profit margins are high and they do incredible volume.
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Bob might only get 100 customers in a day, and he's relying on the fact that they're not going to take the most they can out of his establishment while spending the least possible money. Yes, part of the reason you go to a coffee shop is to sit around for a long time. That's cool. But maybe buy something. Bob's not running a public park.

That's not the worst thing you can do, though. That would be the following.

A local bar owner told me a tale recently of a group of customers who came in drunk, announced that they had spent the evening getting liquored up at a different bar, and asked to be served water for an hour so they could sober up enough to drive home. Don't do that, ever. If one person in a group of bar patrons wants to sip water all night while the others drink, that's cool. That's responsible, even. But a group of people taking up real estate at a bar and expecting to hang out without buying anything…what the hell is that? Who thinks that's OK? Apparently some of you do. Would you go into a restaurant, ask for a table, and then refuse to order anything? If you answered "yes", maybe double-check to see if you are an asshole.

How do people not get this? A place of business is not a public hangout. No, you shouldn't feel compelled to buy something every time you walk in the door. But these people are not operating a charity, they are operating a business and they would like to make enough money to 1) stay open and 2) live indoors. Maybe don't expect them to do things for you for free.

I'm glad we had this talk.

47 thoughts on “NPF: PATRONIZING”

  • Corporations are people, my friend. It is an even bigger sin to freeload on them because it cuts profits and dividends and hurts our job creators' fe-fees.

  • moderateindy says:

    This can cut both ways though. At least in the case of the bar, (not so much in the other scenarios), Bars have a very unique "pathology" to them. Say, for instance, the bar is fairly empty. Having extra people, particularly if they are kind of boisterous, without being obnoxious can be very appealling for a bar owner, even if they aren't buying anything. The extra excitement and energy they bring can help keep other patrons there longer, and get them to consume more product. Many people walk into a bar that is dead, and will walk out, or get one drink and leave. Plus, if they bring a better ambiance, new patrons are more likely to come back another time.
    Consider it something like ladies night where a bar will take a loss on the extra "ambience" that is provided by the ladies.
    Having a bunch of drunks come into your establishment, and not buy anything may only be a losing proposition sometimes, but it may turn out to be more profitable in the end than if they never showed up.
    Also, if they tip the bartender just a couple of bucks, that's all the better. Don't think that people don't tip just because they don't buy much.
    I often go to bars to watch a game (go hawks) and only get a coke or two, but slide my server a generous tip, because they still had to wait on me, and check to see how I was doing, and I recognize that if I were drinking they'd be getting tipped every time they brought me something, so I compensate them accordingly.

  • Listen up, dicks-who-take-up-tables-for-hours-after-purchasing-one-coffee-and-suck-up-the-wifi-so-that-I-don't-have-anyplace-to-sit-when-my-wife-and-I-have-our-food-and-drink-in-our-hands…. fuck you all to hell!

  • Hm. About those bigger chains, however, aren't at least some of them franchises? So aren't their individual stores basically run by lots of Bobs who can individually go broke from freeloading even while the franchise prospers?

    Tomorrow I am going to go into a Walmart and ask if I can use their phone.

  • Good post.

    That's why they invented the $6 Coke. Which, you might notice, the bartender probably won't charge you for (but you should tip for) if you mention you're the designated driver for a bunch of your merrymaking friends, but definitely will if that's all you order.

    Seriously, you aren't *required* to order alcohol. Just compensate the bartender/owner in some way for taking up space. Paying for non-alcoholic drinks, leaving the tip you'd leave had you been drinking alcohol, etc.

  • Weird Old Tip says:

    One time when I did that, the bar owner sold me some special water enhanced with vitamins, minerals & other biological substances which were guaranteed to sober me up, make me a better driver, & ameliorate the hangover the next day. It was expensive, but worth every penny.

  • Aaron Schroeder says:

    Tell me that this thread is about to devolve into a at-will service industry rant-a-thon. Just tell me. (BYOBers who bitch about corkage. Parties of two that demand a four-seat table. Buying your drink at the bar and then taking a table. Birthday/anniversary diners who expect a free dessert, or a special candle, or that their spouse's name be written in chocolate on the plate. Children in any dining setting where it's assumed there will be alcohol. Parents of said children who expect bars and fine dining places to have crayons on hand and then leave their crumbled snacks and torn paper all over the floor. Hard as it would've been to believe before I started waiting tables, the list is endless.)

    Follow-up thought. I don't tip for coffee at chain coffeeshops, but I always tip $1 per drink at my local coffee bar. Yeah, the local place is usually better, but for a lot of drinks, the 'baristas' at either location do as much as the baristas do at the other one. And either way, a tip is about service – right? – and you can get good service at a coffee chain, even though, from what I see in (and contribute to) the tip jar at Starbucks, most other people out there are like me on this.

  • "A local bar owner told me a tale recently of a group of customers who came in drunk, announced that they had spent the evening getting liquored up at a different bar, and asked to be served water for an hour so they could sober up enough to drive home. Don't do that, ever."

    You try that one in NSW:
    A) we're legally obligated to refuse service/not let you through the door
    B) if you really, really, *REALLY!* want to push the issue, call the cops who will gladly hit you w/ A$2,500 Arsehole fee.

    And frankly after being on that side of the bar, you've more than made my night.

    A Kiwi mate introduced me to the concept of "leasing a table". You are obligated to pay the "land lord" rent. A Sepo friend introduced me to the idea to his theory of "there are only so many times you can use someone's toilet." Know when that is and *leave* when you're still welcome to it.

    They're pretty good rules.

    When "leasing a table" pay attention to traffic patterns. Mid-morning/mid-arvo, who cares. Lunch rush, pay up or f*** off!

  • c u n d gulag says:

    I don't think anyone reading this site will fit into this category, but it's still worth saying:
    If you're a celebrity of some sort, major or minor, and you walk into an establishment where tips are the primary source of income for the workers there, please remember to tip the staff with something besides just the glory of being in your "majestic" presence.

    Your "aura," your luck, and your success, won't pay my bills, just because you somehow "graced" me by being in the place I work.

    I was a bartender in NY City back in the early-mid 80's, and I could tell some stories – about some greats celeb's, and the ones who were entitled @$$holes.
    But it was a long time ago, and the younger folk here might not know who many of them are – or, speaking of the minor and/or dead ones, were.

  • It is a shame that any of this needs to be said to adults, but unfortunately that is the case.

  • You chip in a little bit more just so you can have nice things around you. Or you pay a little bit less so you can live in a franchise encrusted hellscape.

  • Does this apply as well to gas station and restaurant bathrooms? Should you be required to buy something to use the facilities?

  • Doctor Rock says:

    I thought corkage fees were a tax on people who didn't buy wine directly from the establishment. But then I had to pay a $10 corkage fee at a place that *didn't* sell booze. What the fucking hell!

  • I've wondered if there is a bit of "royalty" DNA common to the species, the I will be served thing. I've seen otherwise good and useful folk lord it over others under certain circumstances: Like those in a fairly broken down neighborhood in my city, screaming at car wash attendants from an even more broken down neighborhood. Ugly to see – so much in common goes out the window for a moment of heady control. I always tip double the standard rate: half for thank you, half for sorry you have to put up with all us jerks. And I get smiles the next time I visit. Helps me sleep.

  • I heard a story on NPR a while back that profiled a business model that addressed this (I think it was somewhere in Europe, but can't remember): it was chain of coffee shops that gave the drinks for free but charged for time spent. The coffee shop was basically set up like the kind of public hangout spot that Ed says many mistake regular coffee shops for. Maybe the model will catch on?

  • YES. As a former small business owner (shoes), nothing would piss me off more than the 'customers' who would come in, get professionally measured and fitted, try on a dozen pair, then claim they were 'just browsing' and then go home and buy it on the internet. Usually not for much cheaper than we offered, shipping considered. Fuck you, thanks for wasting an hour of my/my employee's time. That time ain't free, you know.

  • @c u n d gulag: And really, even if you are not a celebrity, tip as generously as you can if the person serving you makes even a modest effort at trying to do right by you.

    The extra buck or two you add to your tip–which might mean little to you–could mean a lot to them, esp. if multiplied 25 times over the course of a shift.

  • gulag wrote:
    "If you're a celebrity of some sort, major or minor, and you walk into an establishment where tips are the primary source of income for the workers there, please remember to tip the staff with something besides just the glory of being in your "majestic" presence."


  • c u n d gulag says:

    Doctor Rock,
    I don't know your state's rule, but unless something's changed in mine, NY, there's a special license you need to pay to have, so that your establishment can even have people bring their own wine or beer for you to "open."
    If they don't have that license, you're SOL, regarding drinking any alcohol.

    You can't walk into just anyplace in my state and open, or have the establishment "open," your wine, beer, or harder alcohol (the latter, which I don't think NY even allows).

    And that license may require some training for the staff, regarding consumption of alcohol by guests – even if your establishment isn't serving it to them – and that training, if required, ain't cheap.

    And possibly even some additional insurance charges, for the privilege of "opening" wine or beer.

    There are a lot of hidden expenses that the public doesn't know about, when it comes to the bar and restaurant business.

  • Living in both Paris and New York in the fifties in crummy apartments with little or no heat, I found, along with almost all my fellow students, that cafes and coffee houses were heated, had reasonably inexpensive fare and did not discourage us from hanging out. These spots were like club houses and different groups would occupy their spots in different cafes. To a large extent, I think that the success of Starbucks is that they picked up on this practice. The English Pub is another good example where people hang out until the closing bell playing darts or cards without buying too much of anything. Maybe we have become materially defined by the fast food we consume.

  • One point that actually detracts from your argument: To use the late night bar scene as an example, a group of people who choose to drink water at a bar do actually add some value to the business owner just in being inside the bar in a group. If someone were to walk buy, they might be more inclined to enter that bar if they think it's popular. Popularity being established by the fact that there are people at the bar. So, water drinkers could attract paying customers.

  • this does get at a sticky question of etiquette (to me): when are tables share-able? i realize that most places aren't dim sum, but what does one do when they're at a coffeehouse full of four-tops, and each four-seat table has one person sitting and occupying it?

  • Tom Bloodgood says:

    "Fuck you, thanks for wasting an hour of my/my employee's time. That time ain't free, you know."

    Wouldn't you still be paying them even if no customers came in to your store? Unless you are paying them based on actual sales they make, they get paid whether they are selling things to customers or sweeping the floor and putting stuff on shelves.

    Not everyone who is "just browsing" goes home and buys it on the internet. Sometimes we don't see the exact thing we want. It doesn't mean the potential customer isn't willing to spend money in your store. I know I have browsed a store before and then come back a day or two later and bought something that caught my interest when I was browsing. I guess my point is that not everyone is decisive and not everyone buys on impulse.

  • but what does one do when they're at a coffeehouse full of four-tops, and each four-seat table has one person sitting and occupying it?

    Go up and say "There don't seem to be any more tables open–mind if I/we share yours?" Yeah, you'll probably get the stinkeye, but maybe you won't. As for the assholes who walked into the other bar and wanted to sober up there–no, they aren't doing the establishment any favors. They are just being assholes. Probably got kicked out of the last bar. I think I would have just said "why don't I call you all a cab to share?"

    And Aaron Schroeder, WHY don't you tip at chain coffeshops? You said it is all about service and you presumably get service at that chain coffeeshop, so why not tip the server/barista? Sure they have more volume, but if every one is a stingy rationalizer like you, then they sure as hell don't make more than the barista in the local joint.

  • I have a friend who argued the toss with the staff of small restaurant who tried to move her on after she came in expressly to hop-on the free Wi-Fi and bought all of one drink. They pointed out to her that they only offered Wi-Fi as a courtesy (as advertised), not a service, and that this was a restaurant, not an office, but she wasn't having any of it, and acted like her consumer rights had been greviously infringed. If you want coffee and unlimited internet access, why not not just stay at home?

  • @sc:
    I don't think I'd have the grapes to ask to sit at an occupied table in most cases. And yet, one of the best dates of my life happened when a lovely young woman asked to sit at my table in a crowded brunch joint. It quickly turned into a flirty and hilarious insta-date.

    @Da Moose:
    I guess that depends on the crowd. If it's Tuesday night, I could see the value of having a few sloshy water-drinkers on hand, as long as they're polite and tip heavily. If it's Saturday at midnight and the bar is pushing fire code, it puts the staff in an ugly position – they have to choose between making money and possibly stopping a DUI.

  • I will look up books on Amazon, then take the info to my locally owned small neighborhood bookstore and order the book there. Why? Because I can, first of all, but also because I like having that neighborhood bookstore. When I go the local bar, I get a drink, tip a dollar, drink it and leave.
    But then, I'm so old-fashioned I still read newspapers.

  • Aaron Schroeder says:

    Hey Mothra,

    No need to jump to the hostile "stingy rationalizer" conclusion; I'm as curious about this practice as the next person. My sense of it is that the chain coffee places provide something much closer to a fast-food service than the local places provide, and so I don't really want to put more money into a place like that. The local baristas have to have real skills to make most things, the coffee tends to be fresher, and in general, the atmosphere is more conducive to enjoying oneself (ESP in contrast to the chain places). It makes me WANT to tip there. Plus, these people make at least minimum wage, which means that the tip isn't built into their paycheck; therefore, the tip says something different at a place like this than it says at a typical sit-down restaurant. It says that this experience is worth more to me than the sticker price.

    Anyway, my two cents about why I tend not to tip at a chain coffee shop. I would (still) be interested to see what other people think of this.

  • Doctor Rock says:

    @ c u

    I did not know that. I was aware that it was at least a tax on not buying their marked up stuff (fair, since food margins are low and booze is where the money's at). A hibachi place I used to frequent near Ithaca was byob, no charge. But this was in Florida. Fair enough though.

    I bring my own wine because I like it, don't want to be a cheapass, I'll pay a fee. Just wasnt aware of hidden costs.

  • If you get a cork fee, it's paying for the glasses that need to be served, the washing of those glasses, and the drinks you won't be buying whether they're alcoholic or not. Seems reasonable to me. They could always just say no, so pay up or don't.

    Having to explain why some things are charged for is a difficult thing sometimes, but if a restaurant wants to serve you something for free, it's because they are giving you a gift that they expect back some other time. I once had a meal comped at a place I went for thirty years (and this time forgot my wallet.) I graciously accepted. Next time I went in, the staff got a $40 tip for my $25 meal. They graciously accepted, too. If I couldn't do that, I'd get frozen pizza.

  • Doctor Rock says:

    I know all that. Funny thing is, my date and I bought non-alcoholic drinks anyway. I have my doubts over $10 going to the washing of two wine glasses-cu's probably right about the license issue. Anyway, I would've gladly added extra to the tip for bringing in my own stuff even though they didn't sell booze. I didn't deduct it from the tip-I'm not a douchebag. I'm a pretty straight 20%, you basically have to call me a spic or throw a drink in my face to make me not tip you. But I certainly didn't go above and beyond, which I might've done

    First time I went to this steakhouse, we got a free side and a free dessert. I tipped 30%, I think (had more money back then). Next time I went, a table next to us commented that our portions looked large.

    A delivery place I like-I always generously tip and inexplicably, the food always arrives very very fast! I even get noticeably larger portions than I used to/I've seen other people get. Which always used to piss off my conservative mother. Maybe it ain't "fair," maybe you shouldn't "have to" tip 25-30% and beyond to get the kind of service I do. But seriously-I got conspicuously better treatment at a local steakhouse and I loved how it pissed off one of my conservative friends.

    That was a bit rambly sorry.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Doctor Rock,
    When I was a bartended, I knew who the regulars were, what they drank regularly, and who tipped well, and who didn't.
    If it wasn't overly crazy, by the time they came through the door and made their way to the bar, I had the good tippers drinks ready for them by the time they sat down, or made their way through a few people.

    We had these two gay male hairdressers, who were a couple and had their own salon, who were Friday Happy Hour regulars – and they were usually the life of the party, and were terrific tippers (and I'm sure it was because they lived off of tips, themselves). I loved having them there, because they brought energy and fun.
    But with them, you never knew from week to week what they were in the mood to drink, so I had to wait for them to tell me. And the moment they sat down, or, more likely on a Friday H-h, made their way to the bar, I'd make a bee-line to them, to find out what they wanted.
    More than once, I had some non-regular, or occasional regular, who said to me, 'How come when those two f*ggots come in here, you always go rush to get their drinks, but when I walked in I hadda wait for you to get around to me."
    I'd look at that person, and say, "When you start to tip as much as those two gentlemen do, I'll start to give you top priority, too. Among other things, the letters 'T-I-P,' stand for, 'to insure promptness.' So, they tip, and I 'ip.' Get it?"
    That always shut the complainer up. And they almost always left a more generous tip. So, next time they came in, I'd hustle just a bit more.

    The problem isn't tipping itself, per se.
    It's that too often, that's the only way you make any money on your shift – because the hourly pay is usually only a small portion of the minimum-wage hourly-pay.
    Some people don't realize how little workers in that type of service industry earn per hour, and don't feel a tip should be obligatory. And I can't really argue that point – but that's the fecked-up system we've got. In other countries, workers in those industries can make a pretty decent living without tips.
    Not here in the Good Ol' USA.
    Tips are the difference between poverty, and at least making a living.

    How good, prompt, and, for lack of a better work, "entertaining" a bartender, waitperson, haircutter/dresser, etc., you are, and how you treat your customers to earn their tips, is the difference between just eking out a subsistence living, and a better than subsistence living.

    If you work in a good place that people want to go to, and it has a lot of traffic, and you work hard and treat your customers right, you can make a pretty good living. You ain't gonna get rich. But you won't be living anywhere near poverty, either.

    Oh, and in Sushi joints, don't forget to tip the waitstaff AND the Sushi-chef.
    And don't you can get off cheap by sitting at the counter. The waitstaff still bring you everything else except the sushi, which the chef will usually hand to you.

    If tipping is against your religious beliefs, then do everyone a favor – stay home, cook, and pray.

  • This is a follow on for yesterday's post and CU's last post:

    There was this bar I frequented and could never understand why there was an underlying hostility towards the customers. It wasn't so much overt as this seething undercurrent of "Fack off! You're fackin nucance and absolute inconvenience!!"

    Then I found myself working there. Talk about toxic. The reward for doing your job right or poorly was the same: abuse. I got called a "F@ckin idiot!" Because I needed some keys from the boss so I could do my tasks on time and in a timely manner. If I hadn't, I would have been kicked because I hadn't gotten my tasks done on time. You quickly learned that doing that "little bit extra" wasn't worth the effort. Customer dropped their cutlery, any place else they'll get you a new item, yes? Here it was, it's over there, you need to get it yourself. Seriously. If you did assist, you got a bollocking for leaving your post or not collecting glasses/plates. You saw it time and again someone would show up keen, and quickly stop.

    People would ask why no one seemed happy to be there and that staff was so surly? Because it's not in one's interest to be any other way.

    They ruled by fear. Whilst fear gets immediate, guaranteed, measurable results, you have to watch the staff like a hawk. Otherwise they will do what you fear they'll do: slack off, steal, whatever (I've shared the link for the Coogee Bay poo ice cream scandal before). So really you put far more effort into running a business than you should. This place could behave this way because it had no competition. Now that it had competition their business is suffering and they have no idea that the main reason is that morale is so crap.

    Love on the other hand isn't guaranteed, and takes longer to build, but really gets better results across and through the board. I.e. Sarah.

    @CU: Aus traditionally pays its workers a liveable minimum wage (or it used to be before "American" mores took over). Thus Aussies are the worst tippers on the planet. I was happy to give those customers who were friendly, polite and respectful preferential treatment. I.e. have their drink on the bar ready and waiting before they came through the door as I saw them finishing etc. not for the company, not for the tip (a rarity) but because they were genuinely nice people to serve.

    The worst person if ever served was a guy from Macau I believe. It was obvious he was used to having servants, and was absolutely dismissive of staff.

    When I used to organise social groups there were always those who either ordered nothing—1-3 in large group was ok as not everyone had cash, but still a coke or a coffe—or worse stiffed me on the bill.

  • Oh, and if the iced tea is $1.50 with free refills? Count your refills and tip appropriately.

    I'm a large man (but losing! Yay me!) who likes to eat and spends a lot of time enjoying all-you-can-eat fare. My rule of thumb is the server gets $1 per trip to my table or 25%, whichever is larger, and adjusted for service level. It's not uncommon for my tip to be 50-100% of the cost of my meal; just because the meal is $20 doesn't mean the server didn't make a dozen or more trips to my table between drink refills and more food.

    Plus, I realize that if I had to work food service I'd have brought an AK-47 to work by about day 4, so I hope to tip enough to achieve "I kill you last" status.

  • CU: re bartenders: I've encountered great ones, and I encountered more than one who left me standing at the bar because 'chicks don't tip'. Well, they sure don't if you leave them standing for 20 minutes and make a show of how you're ignoring them.

  • My father used to rent a booth at a diner on the Upper East Side to do taxes. It was a classic Greek diner, complete with Parthenon coffee cups. I'm not sure what they charged, but from February to April 15th, there he was, the seasonal tax man with his Olivetti mechanical adding machine that he carried in a bowling ball case. Usually, people made appointments to see him. We lived in Queens, and he couldn't afford real office space in Manhattan, so this made sense. He even put a small sign in the window and now and then would get a walk in.

    I guess I always recognized that space in a restaurant was worth something.

    Of course, there is a long tradition of using restaurants for office space. The London Stock Exchange started in a coffee house back in the 17th century. I don't think they even serve coffee anymore.

  • Kaleberg: that's classic neighborhood relations, of the type you hardly ever see any more. He probably did the taxes for the diner, and I'd be surprised if they asked for anything beyond that. How many people do you suppose stayed for a meal after getting their taxes done, or came in to eat there outside of the tax season because they knew about the place from going there for the tax service?

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Then those were some really dumbass bartenders.

    Women in the bar draw men – and then keep them there, much longer than if there were no women around.

    And I've never heard, and certainly never experienced, that women don't tip.

    And any bartender worth his salt, knows that tips come from prompt and good service. And that anyone who has to wait 20 minutes, male or female, and of whatever race or religion, really doesn't have a good reason to tip – so, that's kind of a self-perpetuating prophesy.

    Tips are also result of turnover. I always liked working in a bar where a lot of people came in, had a couple of pops, maybe a lunch or some chicken-wings, or some other kind of appetizer, and then left so that the next wave can come in.
    The worst shifts for tips I ever had, were working the Super Bowl. Everyone comes in, plops down, nurses their drinks, order their food, and linger throughout the game. And they don't drink much, unless they have a DD, because they know the cops will be out in droves, looking to hand-out DWI's.
    I eventually found someone to take my shift for the SB's. Everyone thinks it's a great night for tips, like I did, but more often than not, it's a bad night for a lot of tip money.

  • Joseph Nobles says:

    Another issue for the bar owner: third party liability. The second those drunks walked into his bar, he would be liable for their actions when they left. Even if he didn't serve them and sent them on their way. Especially then. Every server alcohol training video I've ever seen says to sit them down, offer food and water, and if they leave on their own, call the police.

  • Drunks want to sober up with water? No problem sir, here's your tab!

    What, you thought mineral water was free? Naive, isn't that?

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