New York Daily Photo Analytics

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Take It


Payback, payola, quid pro quo, freebies, gratuities - New York City is mired in the various forms of "free" or discounts. The small business owner should express gratitude to the regular customer in some way. In the world of restaurants, policy and practices span the gamut in New York City, from one extreme to another. I am currently experiencing both extremes. In one case, a restaurant I have frequented weekly for over ten years has never offered me anything free other than the requisite water. Nothing. At the other end, a new restaurant I am currently frequenting is offering me free appetizers and/or desserts at every visit for nearly a year. The owner is rolling out the red carpet and I am being treated like family.

Free, however, may not always be the best thing for either party. I have given a lot of thought to this because of a very poignant incident that happened when I was much younger. At the time, I was making handcrafted items and a close friend told me that he wanted to buy one of my products. I was pleased and in the conversation that ensued, I mentioned that I would, of course, give him some sort of discount. To which he replied that he wanted no discount, but insisted on paying full retail. I was very perplexed by this and asked why. Isn't a discount to be expected with business between friends? His answer still lingers in my mind today, decades later. No, he said, if you are truly a friend, then you want to see your friends do well and succeed. A friend should be the most willing to pay full price and refuse a discount. Of course, the individuals' affluence relative to one another needs to be taken into account also.

This philosophy was echoed many, many years later, when another friend, who was a consultant and on the board of directors for a small performance group, told me he paid for admission to all of the group's performances. This appeared to be insane to me. When I asked why, his reasoning was the same as my aforementioned friend - he was a patron of the arts and wanted them to succeed. He pointed out that the idea of refusing freebies also serves the customer or patron - helping a business survive provides a continued source of a product or service.

The issue of freebies in restaurants, however, poses a dilemma with regards to all these issues of showing customer appreciation and the customer's reciprocal support. Once an owner or staff member surprises with free food, such as an appetizer or dessert, it would be insulting (and perhaps wasteful) to refuse it. Insisting that it be added to the bill will most likely be met with refusal. And, leaving an unusually large tip does not compensate the ownership, where ultimately, the act of generosity lies. So, in the case of restaurant offerings, I follow the advice of a someone who once suggested: if someone offers you a gift, take it :)

Photo Note: This free piece of Tiramisu was offered to my dining companion and I last night at Boyd Thai, a great little place that I wrote about in 2007 - see it here.

10 comments:

Lily Hydrangea said...

I like the advice your friend gave you about accepting gifts.
& I think it's also so true to support those around us in whatever way we can.
Thank you for your thoughtful interesting post.

Sue said...

Ok, so here's my take on restaurant freebies. Avi and I often eat out in restaurants which he has designed and built or helped design and build. So when we go to eat at one of these places, the owners always know who we are and usually treat us as family, usually because of their appreciation of how Avi treated them. Therefore, a few freebies are usually thrown in, either by the chef or the owner. Many times a discount is also given on the bill. Avi always insists on giving a much larger tip to the server - after all, they still served that food to us, even though we didn't pay for it. They worked a tad harder in delivering more food then ordered, and also paying more attention to us than normal; even if it was suggested by the owner. So therefore the good deed of freebies gets paid forward by rewarding the server, who is then happier and thereby offers better service to others. And then our happiness encourages us to recommend the restaurant highly to others. A win win situation. Hopefully the food is good when this happens! Usually it is.

Brian Dubé said...

Sue - good take. However, management does not always appreciate when servers take it upon themselves to offer freebies, particularly at bars. They may find incentive to give away food or drinks to drive up tips. The cost to the server is nothing and customers may order the same amount of food or drinks as they normally would meaning smaller checks for the owner. So it can be tricky. In general though, I think this does not get abused and I agree with you.

Sue said...

Oh, it's never the server who initiates the freebie, always the owner or the chef/owner. The server should not be the one to do this, I agree. It is not their place. But I do remember a particular bar tender a long long time ago in a Manhattan bar/restaurant who always made me, and my party of women, pay for our first round of drinks and then nothing else the rest of the night. I was always amazed. But being young, single and not very wealthy, I remember always going back and always bringing more people. He made great tips, the bar always looked crowded and happening. The restaurants were always successful. We followed him wherever he worked. Do you remember that? I think his name was Monte. He did that for years and it aways amazed me.

Brian Dubé said...

Sue - Yes, but nothing amazing about it. The man was fundamentally a thief. He was giving away product without the management's approval. He was heavily compensated with tips. He knew that. It is no different really than processing sales without using a register and pocketing the proceeds.
And don't think this doesn't happen all the time on a smaller scale. Restaurant owners are not going to track slices of pie. Most of them are absentee.

Sue said...

So so true! I also knew of a bartender at a comedy club back in the 1980's who on his first day of work was shown by the other bartenders how he had to charge for the first drink and put it in the register, then on either the 2nd or 3rd drink he had to pocket the money without using the register - just as you mentioned. He was greatly threatened to follow this procedure or else walk away from the job. I told him to quit, but I think he ended up working there - in order to further his own career as a comedian. Not sure whatever happened to him, but he never became famous.

Brian Dubé said...

Sue - Isn't unabashed overt larceny amazing? I once went to clear an international shipment through customs at the piers in New Jersey. I did it myself to see the process. One of the men actually showed me how to offer a cash bribe. It was like a mob movie. At one point he said something like "You see how you do that? [puts $10 in an envelope] It will make things go more smoothly, kid."

Von said...

The geometry of the photo is amazing. And this blog, is the salt and sugar of life.

Brian Dubé said...

Von - Thanks! As regular readers know - I love math and geometry. The angle is no accident :)

Paul said...

I am and always have been a dessert kind of guy. This does look great. There is an old saying, never look a gift horse in the mouth. But equally I do think generosity of spirit should be appreciated.