Saturday, December 30, 2006

Il Violino

Il Violino is an Italian restaurant on Columbus Avenue behind the Sony Theatre at Lincoln Square. Many a violinists seemed to have dined there, maybe for dinner as they performed at the nearby Lincoln Center, as their autographed photos covered all the walls. How these photos come into the restaurant is unknown. Did the artists bring a photo of themselves wherever they dined and gave them away as endorsements for the restaurant (a megalomaniac act), or did the owner of Il Violino anticipated the artists' visit and ordered the prints in advance (a precognizant act)? Most likely the owner simply stocked the portraits of all the violinists that have scheduled to perform in Lincoln Center and brought these out for autographs when the violinists dropped by. With scanty restaurants in the vicinity, the violinists are bound to show up in everyone of them some day.
My wife and I went to the Sony Theatre to see The Curse of the Golden Flower, which, incidentally, turned out to be an expected disappointment. Having two hours for dinner before the movie, we strolled into Il Violino for some pasta. It looked busier than its neighbors, but here even the busiest had tables readily available. The waiter, a stocky, balding man with well trimmed goatie, passed by our table. "What would you care to drink?" "Water will be fine." -- We never start with anything other than water, except for once in Dao, where we drank cocktail and my wife had some mishap for imbibing alcohol in empty stomach. The waiter continued on his way to the kitchen and disappeared.
Countless minutes later, the headwaiter came to our table and asked us if someone was waiting on us. Of course, and we were waiting for him. The headwaiter then apologetically took our order. The entrees were duly served, and their taste, considering their convenient location, lived up to the moderate price.
Dessert time, and our waiter was still no show. So we asked a passing waitress, who instructed a handyboy to bring us the dessert menu, who also took our order. Our waiter continued to block us from his sight even after the icecream started to elevate our blood sugar level. My wife suggested walking out without paying, as there was no check, but I refused to leave with a bad conscience on top of a bad dining experience. Again the aforementioned waitress came. "The waiter not doing his job?" She asked, rhetorically, and sent for our waiter, who came to our table the second time to present us our check, and vanished with my credit card into the backroom. Only after we asked the sympathetic waitress for help again did he return, one last time, with the receipt for my signature.
I wrote a small tip for our waiter. He was the waiter, but we did most of the waiting.

Book of Job

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; at least the shipping and handling is free.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Tipping Misgivings

It is almost Christmas and I tipped my doormen. This is the first time that I have given the year-end tip to the doormen of my new apartment, therefore it is important and difficult for me to choose the right amount. Too little, the doormen can be unhappy and that will jeopardize my relationship with them; too much, it will set an expensive precedent that I will have to follow in the years to come, and that may jeopardize my wallet -- there really are quite a few door staff for my apartment. I did some research, and decided to err, if I would, on the generous side. Nonetheless, the moment I handed the tip to a doorman I dreaded my next encounter with him. Did I tip enough? From the body language, facial expression, and tonal voice in the doorman's next greeting, I looked for clues of his satisfaction. Was he making more eye contact or less? Did the vowels in the "Good night" get longer or shorter? Was he two seconds later in opening the door?

Year-end tipping is really undemocratic, since there is no mechanism for the tippers to act on fair ground. Each tipper, especially the inexperienced tippers, has to guess the amount with insufficient information, and that causes unnecessary anxieties, and often, because most people would rather be generous than stingy to avoid attrition with the recipients of the tip, inflation of the tip. By the same token, bribery in a corrupt society causes unnecessary economical attrition.