16 April 2009

Le Bon Vaconce Begins

I found an apartment for us to rent for our week in Paris through Craigslist. Oddly enough, the apartment made no mention of the awesome view to be had of the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre from the living room and bedroom windows. I knew it was in the garment distric, that it was on the sixth floor with an elevator the size of a broom closet, that we would be let into the apartment by Madame Bergeron, the concierge, but not that you could nearly throw a rock and hit the church from its balcony (not that we'd want to do that, mind you).

It took us three days to get used to the time change. We are still getting used to the scene out the window, however.

Having breakfast in the living room with this thing looming over you is a great way to start the day. It gives me a certain sense of possibility, I guess.

I like it.

20 March 2008

WHY YOUR WAITER HATES YOU plus 2 simple rules for dining out like an adult

There are two kinds of people who come into a restaurant: those that tip well and everyone else. Everyone else includes doctors, lawyers, day traders, optometrists, pilots, anyone with a house in the Hamptons, the Germans, Irish, English, Scots, Asians, White Trash, Jews, Rachel Ray, people who don’t tip on wine, women who split checks, and Canadians. And by "Canadians", I, of course, refer to black people.

I hope I haven't left anyone out. If I've slighted a demographic by not including them, my apologies.

As for referring to black people as "Canadians", it's a time-honored front of the house bit of lingo, used so as not to appear overtly racist in front of any guests within earshot. No one seems to care if Canadians are insulted.

The back of the house has its lingo, as well.

“FNG”, for example, is the term used for the newest member of the staff. It stands for "fucking new guy", as in, "That FNG fucked up the stock. I don’t know if he can even boil water properly." The newest member of the staff remains the FNG until someone else is hired.

(In many houses there is a dirty little trick that is often played on the FNG. A dried "cake" of espresso grounds is taken and topped with a dollop of whip cream and various other sundries -maybe even a candle, the evil bastards - so as to be made an appetizing morsel, then presented with much fanfare from the staff, welcoming the FNG as a member of The Team. "We've made you this mini-chocolate espresso cake to welcome you aboard!" someone will exclaim, just in case he smells it first, and then the poor sucker takes a bite and realizes too late: he has No Friends in this godforsaken kitchen. Friends are earned.)

But I digress. Two things you need to know about waiters:

1. They know that stereotypes exist for a reason, and
2. They hate you.

The reason stereotypes exist is because they’re true. Otherwise, they’d never exist in the first place. I’m not talking about stereotypes like black people love fried chicken, I’m talking about stereotypes like Asian men don’t drive very well, or, that people who live in trailers are incestuous. Okay, maybe those are all the same thing. But these stereotypes all came from somewhere, didn’t they? (Don’t get me wrong, I love fried chicken as much as any man on the planet, I can’t drive and smoke at the same time anymore, and my sister is kind of hot, so I can relate.)

Waiters hate you because they realize that their entire financial existence is predicated on making you think you are the most important table in the room. This is an art form, the real deal, and it gets virtually no credence in the United States. I’ve always heard it is somewhat more revered in Europe, but it would not surprise me that if there, too, it has faded from glory.

There are so many ways to screw up somebody’s night out in a restaurant. Of these, the waiter has control over, let’s say, 50% of them, yet will usually be blamed by a guest for any and all. The waiter has to run interference between the kitchen and the guest, the bar and the guest, the bussers and the guest, the food runners and the guest, the host stand and the guest, and, most importantly, the house rules and the guest. In a busy restaurant, the waiter does this for anywhere from four to ten tables, at a time, 2-3 times a night. This is a nearly herculean task, and a screw-up is like dominoes stacked on end, with one thing impacting the next right down the line. All it takes is one asshole, anywhere in the room, to bring the whole thing crashing down.

In the mind of a waiter, a guest is guilty until proven not-an-asshole.

Why would any sane person want this job, then? The truth is, they wouldn’t. It takes a particular breed of lunatic to work any position in a restaurant, and a waiter is no exception. Granted, they make the most money and work the shortest hours of anyone in the house - which is why cooks have a deep and abiding hatred of the waitstaff - but the mental strain a waiter incurs on a daily basis is why most waiters have some sort of flirtation with, or outright addiction to, alcohol and chainsmoking.

It starts out innocently enough. Waiting tables is a great way to make good money. In a decent restaurant, a good waiter can work 25-30 hours a week and make the same amount of money or more, in cash every day, as someone with a 9 to 5, and have the benefit of a flexible schedule. It's the perfect job for artists, writers, musicians, students, and other misanthropic dreamers. No one starts out wanting to make it a career. That is a slow and almost imperceptible process that takes years. Then one day they wake up and realize they’re totally addicted to the daily infusion of cash, the light hourly schedule, the pure adrenaline rush of the damn job - and completely ill-suited for any other kind of work.

This is when the true hatred begins.

Most of that hatred is directed outward towards the guests, but what the waiter really hates is himself for being too weak to walk away from a job that most people consider one step removed from servant.

It’s nobody’s fault, really.


Rule #1: If you want to go out to a nice restaurant, be prepared to spend some money. This includes leaving a tip. If you don’t want to spend any money, go somewhere inexpensive. Or stay home.

Does that seem like rocket science? I once waited on a man who, upon perusing the wine list, proceeded to order the cheapest thing on the list. Ordinarily this would not be such a bad thing but in this case the cheapest thing on the wine list was the corkage fee.

“I’ll have a bottle of the ‘Cor-khage’,” he said, with a French inflection to his pronunciation.

I looked at him for a second, wondering if he was serious. He simply smiled at his dinner date as if he did this sort of thing all the time. Then it hit me: this man is a moron.

I didn’t really know what to do for a moment. So I did what I thought best in this situation and excused myself from the table, ostensibly to check to see if we were out of that particular wine. In reality, I headed into the kitchen to share this nugget with the boys on the line. After I dried the tears from my eyes, I returned to the table and informed the gentleman that we were, indeed, out of stock on that item and perhaps he’d like to try the next most inexpensive bottle.

Which brings me to

Rule #2: If you don’t know what something is, and you’re not prepared to ask questions, and you’re not the adventurous type, then for god’s sake DON’T ORDER THAT ITEM.

This happens constantly. And I’m not referring to a legitimate complaint about too much salt, or somebody dropped a hair in the pasta. I’m talking about sending back the glass of sauvignon blanc because it’s “too dry”, which, if you had bothered to inquire about, you would have been informed that sauvignon blanc is traditionally the driest white wine on the face of the planet.

I once had a woman send back her risotto because there was too much rice in it. I'm not making that up.

equatorial sartorial

The thing no one tells you about Mexico is that the sun is different. 90 degrees here in the faded southern glory of Virginia is your basic hot, muggy day, but 90 degrees on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan peninsula is something else entirely. The sun feels radioactive. Even with 30spf sunblock slathered on like cream cheese on a bagel, it goes through your bones in seconds.

And naps come to you whether you want one or not. 

Which is okay, because nothing moves very quickly there. It's just not possible to be in a hurry in the Yucatan. Perhaps other parts of Mexico move in a more frantic Yanqui fashion, but not there. 

So, of course, I fit right in.    


And I have brought back
The Word
from on high,
and the word is:

Okay, that is two words -  but my gawd man do you know what I'm talking about?!

They sound, upon description, unexciting. And I have had them before, on a road trip to Ensenada back in my California daze, and enjoyed them. But these were an entirely different matter.

Take a couple strips of whitefish - marlin, grouper, whatever - roll them in a a tempura-like beer batter, fry 'em, throw 'em in a handmade corn tortilla with some pico de gallo (chopped tomato, cilantro, onion - jalapeno is optional), and, salud!

See, it sounds like nothing, right?

And that's where you're so horribly wrong I can't even stand to look at you right now.

Because these things are monstrously addictive. I ate three a day for lunch every day I was there. That's 22 fish tacos (one day I ate 4) in a week. Needless to say, I was full of love upon my return.

One more thing about the fish taco place (which is called El Oasis, in the lovely burg of Playa del Carmen): they have a chilled salsa they bring out to you in a squirt bottle. Another deceptively simple thing, it consists of pureed habanero peppers, garlic, and vinegar, and it is a living miracle, my friends. Make no mistake, it's hot. The kind of hot that takes your tongue out of your mouth and hands it back to you, as if to say, what a pretty thing you have here, your tongue.

I could put it on my cornflakes.


Scuba diving is a completely strange & foreign thing to do, and I doff my panama to those Cousteau people who 1st tried it. I have probably 40 to 50 dives under my weight belt but I still freaked out the first few seconds of my first dive in 5 years. It's that whole breathing-through-a-tube thing that gets you.

Your first reaction is, as any sane persons would be, "What the hell am I doing down here? All the air is up there!" But you get a grip and you move on, much like life above water. 
And then you're in the middle of a Nature Channel special, and you rock. 

The ocean, for me, has always had a "hey! welcome back!" quality to it. It's really the only place I can say that about. Throw in a few thousand fish you only get to see in world class aquariums and a dozen sea turtles, and that dive could last all day. But it doesn't, of course. That damn air again. So you go up and motor off in your little launch to the next spot and squeeze in another dive before lunch, this one with a sunken ship and barracuda about, and you rock again, and then it's back to town for lunch. 


Then it's a nap, whether you want one or not, and then up for a cocktail with the great new tequila you found at the tequileria (yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus), and then dinner and perhaps more cocktails on the outdoor bed at the patio bar that shows black and white Mexican wrestler movies from the 1950's on the wall of the hotel, or perhaps to the beachfront joint with hammocks for stools, your feet in the sand and a full moon coming up over the island of Cozumel a few miles offshore.

And then it's time for bed, whether you want to or not, because that sun -- that sun has made your bones warm all day long & there's not a damn thing you can do about it. 

Not that you'd want to. 

- jswwiles

26 November 2007


We were on the set of a foodies' porn movie, albeit a very upscale foodies' porn movie sporting a faux county fair theme being shot in the cavernous National Building Museum in Washington, DC - a building better suited to a Cirque du Soleil show than a state fair - and starring such heavyweight veterans as Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Gary Danko, Joachim Splichal, Patrick O'Connell, Doug Keane, Todd Gray, and every other USA Relais & Chateau chef members, with the exception of Jean-Georges Vongrichten and Charlie Palmer. Both were no-shows, although Palmer's booth was up and running, manned by his capable chefs. Jean-George wasn't there at all, for whatever reason. There was an empty booth there with his name on it, looking for all the world like the M&M clause in his rider was not fulfilled.

The mis-en-scene: a crowd of predominantly "fashionable" European Relais & Gourmand members attempting their country/western best to get into The Spirit of the Event. There were popcorn stands and cotton candy and Budweisers. There were straw hats handed out at the door. There was a mother/daughter country music team and their band doing god awful versions of "Angels from Montgomery" and "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me" - two songs that are nearly impossible to screw up as a country music band. They even hired a square dance caller to get the Europeans into The Spirit of the Event, and to teach them line-dancing - which, as one might imagine, went over like the proverbial lead dirigible.

And yet, somehow, it all worked. A good time was had by most attendees, I think, myself included. It's hard not to get a little giddy when the room is full of gracious, friendly celebrities, beautiful food, good looking women, fashionable European hospitality professionals and plenty to drink. You'd have to be a complete boob not to get a bit light-headed.

The event was hosted by Patrick O'Connell, Executive Chef/Proprietor of the four star Inn at Little Washington, and for all I know the state fair idea was entirely his. He's a warm, gracious man, but sartorial restraint is not known as his forte. (His cooks' uniforms are cheetah print chef pants, if that gives you an idea.) He gave a speech on the balcony at the beginning of the event, thanking all attendees and chefs and providers; and he was brief about it, which was very warm and gracious of him.

Group photos of all the chefs, posing in two rows on a picnic bench, were taken just before the guests arrived. Daniel Boulud, heretofore unseen, flew in just seconds before the flash, rolling up the sleeves of his chef's whites. Now that, my friends, is a professional!

Speaking with Gary Danko before the event, I reminded him that we had once worked together years before, at an event at the Ritz-Carlton San Juan. Wiithout missing a beat he immediately asked me where I was now. When I replied that I had left The Floor to work for a private company, he sighed that sly, Danko sigh, and said, "All the sommeliers are being put out to pasture." He's a funny guy. The last time I'd seen him he'd sported a pencil-thin William Powell moustache, and I neglected to tell him that I kind of missed it on him. I gave him a glass of wine and never saw him without one for the remainder of the event. The man knows how to enjoy himself, I do believe.

As for the food, there was not one item there that I'd kick out of bed for eating crackers (and keep in mind that this was a tasting for several hundred people). Joachim Splichal found a way to take what has quickly become a cliche, Kobe beef short ribs with shaved black truffle, and make me remember why not everybody is a Chef. Doug Keane, of Cyrus in Healdsburg, CA, made a Thai marinated lobster that made me fall in love with lobster again.

And I finally got a chance to sample Thomas Keller's infamous cornet of salmon tartare, an appetizer that has the distinction of being the only food item I have been reading about for 15 years that I had yet to eat. Everything I had heard about it was true. It's one of the single best things I've ever put into my mouth. No wonder the guy has been making it for 20 years.

I got the chance to speak with Keller before the thing got going and, rather than genuflect, I asked him what it takes to be a member of Relais & Chateaux. There were dues to be a member, he said, and I mentioned that's probably why more American restaurants aren't members, that they felt they didn't get their money's worth from membership. He replied that it wasn't about the money for him, it was about what it stood for, the benchmark of quality it represented -- about what it meant to him as a young cook.

I've met quite a few famous people in my restaurant career, and most of them gave me the feeling as we spoke that they were looking for the next person to talk to, someone they'd rather be talking to, but not Keller. I wasn't anybody to him, I wasn't somebody in the press with which he had to stay on message. Keller looked me directly in the eye and spoke with me as if we had been doing it all night. All the things I had read about the famous Keller integrity came through in those few minutes. I was definitely drinking the Kool-Aid.

Later in the evening I saw him running around the room, passing trays of food, like a giddy waiter happy to show off his wares. That's when I said to myself, you know, Thomas Keller is pretty fucking cool.

But the money shot had to be Daniel Boulud's groaning, over the top, three table display of the Art of Charcuterie. For a charcuterie nutjob like myself, it was heaven. He must have had 30 different items, from head cheese to rabbit terrine to saucisson sec to Bayonne ham and all manner of pates, with mustards and cornichons and pickled pearl onions in apothecary jars with little wooden tongs. The centerpiece was a small, barren tree with sausages hanging from it, which I think will be my Christmas tree this year. I immediately dubbed it Porktopia. It took me three passes of heaped plates to sample everything available, and I did the head cheese twice. It was that good. Every white chefs coat in the room was crowded around Boulud's station by the end of the night.

Then we packed up our straw hats and our remaining few bottles of wine and went home. As I was leaving I thought to myself, there are worse ways to spend a Sunday night.

29 January 2007

Just Say No, You Idiot.

When Benjamin the French bartender in Libourne invites you to his apartment after the bar closes to drink champagne and watch bad video of Phil Collins live at an outdoor concert in someplace like Gdansk where he’s still wildly popular, say no. It’s not because your homophobic. There’s nothing gay about drinking champagne in the middle of the night with a roomful of strangers, watching Phil Collins singing “I Can Feel It in the Air Tonight” -- not in France.

No, you say no because your train leaves for the airport at 6:30 am and missing it means missing your flight out of Charles DeGaulle. The next flight will cost you two sleepless nights in the airport and another 155 euros which you don’t have. You say no because you’ve already had a few beers and armagnacs and what happens is you pass out for 5 hours upon returning to your hotel room, oversleeping by 4 hours and 45 minutes.

Say no because changing your last $100 bill at the train station in Montparnasse will cost you $20 of it and due to a lack of real sleep you will not realize it until it is too late. After a croque monsieur and 2 coffees and the Metro to the airport, there will be 38 hours left before your next flight and you will have to live off 15 euros, which is about twenty bucks. Say no because twenty bucks in an airport is worth about five dollars in the real world.

You say no because though you’re used to crazy homeless people from those years you lived in San Francisco there’s something extra creepy about the European homeless people who start to come in from the cold around 5 or 6 am, like they’ve all been hit in the head with shovels. You are in a chilly, empty airport, sleeping on the only armless bench in the entire place, and somehow, unlike them, they think you have money for food. When you tell them no, they pull out a full pack of cigarettes and don’t bother to offer you one. You cannot afford cigarettes. This makes you wish you had said no to the champagne and the warmth and hospitality, even though these are 3 of your favorite things in the whole world.

Say no because there is no heat in the Aeroport Charles DeGaulle. You will spend two nights there shivering and wrestling with trying to preserve some sort of dignity when the extremely drunk Frenchman tries to converse with you in French and refuses to understand even your most rudimentary responses. “No, j’ai ne parle Francais!” you repeat over and over as he continues to speak with you. He wants desperately to shake your hand after he stubs out his cigarette on your suitcase. This, luckily, is the low point.

Ultimately you say no because this is a lesson you did not need to learn. Knowing that the friends and family you spent all night trying to reach to get you out of this jam now think of you as the World’s Biggest Idiot is something you may never fully recover from because you are sure of one thing:

They are not wrong.

14 August 2006

More Cheese, Please.

Growing up in the midwest, cheese was ubiquitous. We slapped cheese on everything. For us, it was a condiment, like Heinz 57 or Miracle Whip. It came in some sort of block shape, or, better yet, in pre-cut slices, and there was a law that required it to be hermetically sealed in WWIII-grade plastic and to have a shelf-life beyond cockroaches. We thought this was a good thing.

Kraft and Velveeta were household names (and still are, for that matter). A cheeseburger was just "a burger" -- you had to ask to have the Kraft American Single left off if you didn’t want a cheeseburger; that’s just the way we made them. Peas came in a can. There was no such thing as a tuna filet; tuna melt, yes.

They were simpler times. Looking back on it I realize that when your choices are extremely limited, the times become simpler by definition.

Then I did an amazing thing, amazing, anyway, by Midwestern American Standards of the time. I left. Packed my things and moved 2500 miles away to the Northern California wine country, right before the wine boom of the mid-80’s. It was there I discovered my true calling in life: to eat and drink as well as my budget would allow, and then surpass that budgetary restriction as often as feasibly possible.

It was there that I discovered the joys of wine, tomatoes other than beefsteak, real beer, women who had no desire to marry and pump out babies, and real, honest-to-goodness, farmstead, not-wrapped-in-plastic cheese. It was, to say the very least, a revelation. And times were good, for a time.

Then the wine boom hit. Which, although saving huge portions of Northern California from turning into strip malls and bedroom communities -- for which I remain eternally grateful -- brought with it the early demise of quality wine production. This may seem a rash statement, but ask anyone familiar with the wines of California from the 70's through the mid-80's and I think they'd agree: the overall level of quality has declined year after year. This is a natural progression when companies make wine as opposed to individuals. The stereotype of the crazed individual going against the odds to produce a few dozen barrels of home-made juice, just to see if he can actually do it, is true for a reason. Those people used to exist in Napa & Sonoma. With a handful of exceptions, they no longer do. It's just too damn expensive now, the stakes are too high to fail.

Then the microbrewed beer craze hit (see above for why this actually hurt microbrewed-beer lovers), and women (and myself) got old enough to hear the inevitable tick-tock and decide that they did, after all, want to get married and have babies. Nirvana replaced Michael Jackson on the radio.

At first, we thought these were good things, too.


On the plus side, the heirloom tomatoes of October still rock at the farmer's market in Healdsburg -- even if you can no longer afford to park in that former farm town, let alone to live in it. And I escaped the marital noose.

But the cheese, my friends!

Well, the cheese got better. Or maybe it's just that the selection of cheeses got greater. Because now you can find cheeses in this country that were previously only heard of in whispers from fellow fromagophiles, just returned from small towns in France no one in Paris had ever heard of, or glimpsed in mythical, pre-WWII MFK Fisher stories.

There is no money to be made in handcrafted cheese. At least, not the kind of sick money that corporations need to make to stay alive. No, only a true gonzo lover of the stuff would think about doing this, someone hell-bent on sustainable agriculture, living off the land, keeping the family farm alive, or some such combination of altruism/make-the-best-of-what-ya-got mentality. That, or they're just really, really crazy for the stuff.

And these cheeses will make you crazy, like a Little-Kid-on-Xmas-Day crazy.

Here's something about cheese that keeps me awake at night: if 80% of our sense of taste comes through our olfactory glands, then why does a Tallegio taste so good? In other words, how can something that smells like your Uncle Buck's socks, left to rot under the bed for six weeks, taste like Aunt Betty's apple pie? There's no way around it, Tallegio stinks to high heaven; but the taste of it makes my mouth do the happy dance. As a matter of fact, it seems that the worse a cheese smells, the better it tastes. And that makes no logical sense whatsoever.

I suppose this would be the point where I whip out the Harold McGee and break it down molecularly, but why ruin it? I don't really want to know why, truth be told. That would suck all the fun out of it. And that's what it should be: fun.

Your mouth doing the happy dance.


5 Things Cheese Wants You to Know:

1. Cheese is alive. Not like an apple or orange, ripe when picked but then dying little by little after you pick it, but like spoiled milk full of tiny organisms making magical magic only for you. However, it does have it's peak of ripeness, like produce, after which it starts to fall off, so look for that, just as you would in a canteloupe. The first question you should ask your fromager should not be "What's good with merlot?" but "What's ripe?".

2. Pairing wine & cheese together is not a sorcerer's art. Do you like the cheese you're eating? "Yes." Do you like the wine you're drinking? "You bet." There, then. Consider yourself paired. On the less flip side, a cheese and a wine from the same part of the world are usually going to be fantastic together. After all, whoever lives there has had the benefit of centuries of experimenting to come up with the right combination, while you only had 20 minutes at Murray's.

3. Do Not Cut Firm Cheeses Into Blocks. Repeat: Do Not Cut Firm Cheeses Into Blocks. That's usually too much cheese for the average person's mouth to handle at once, it's overwhelming to the palate. Shave it and let people use their fingers. And, please, no toothpicks. In my experience, a toothpick sticking out of something on a buffet is like a big neon sign saying "Avoid Me!"

4. Days-old bread is better than crackers. That could just be me, though.

5. Experiment. If you've never tried Cashel Blue from Ireland, or Bayley Hazen Blue from Vermont, don't say you don't like blue cheese. There are so many different kinds of cheese out there. You do your mouth a great disservice by letting your silly brain deny it access to the world's cornucopia. Loosen up, baby.

10 August 2006

welcome to the monkeybrain

It's a gray day in the new neighborhood but that's okay. i'm happy to be here. there's a sweet little bar/restaurant next door and a decent cheese shop down the block. throw in 3 mexican restaurants, 2 coffee shops and a day off and i don't mind the gray skies. i like my new neighborhood.

the new apartment is rambling and a bit funky, but that's what i was looking for; a big improvement over the prison cell of my last apartment. i hope not to be moving again any time soon. i've had enough moving in the last ten years to last a lifetime: san francisco, puerto rico, the hamptons, NYC, hoboken, brooklyn, richmond VA, DC, and now Alexandria VA. and that's just since 1997.

what the hell is wrong with me?

excellent question, doctor. would that i had the disposable to consult a professional. the proverbial "grass is always greener" syndrome? maybe they can name it after me instead. once they discover it, as they recently did with the "restless leg syndrome".

you can get drugs for that now.

i'd like to say that part of all the moving has been for work, but that's not entirely true. most of it has revolved around women: either running away from, or moving towards. may i just go on record here, and say that this is never a good idea. "it all ends in tears, as these things usually do." and may i also state that i am fully aware of this fact; but, as we know, advice is easier given than taken.

let's leave the subject of women for another day, though. and let's leave the subject of my idiocy as an annoying, yet constant, thread throughout these postings. the job that sometimes causes me to move is in the restaurant business. let's talk about that for a bit.

i started in the biz as a waiter/bartender and made a successful, if marginalized, living at this equal parts rewarding and demeaning work for many years. after a time though i realized i had reached an income ceiling, so i went into a sort of stylized management, as a wine+cheese guy. it's what i do when i'm not working so why not get paid for it?

the low-end pay for this sort of work is the same as a waiter's high-end, depending on the market. bartenders in a hot night club still kick our asses, though. that gig requires a strong stomach for late hours, heavy boozing, lots of drugs and far too many assholes, dangerous and otherwise.

aside from financial reasons, i also couldn't deal with walking people through their evening like spoiled children any longer.

anyone who has worked in the restaurant business for any length of time agrees wholeheartedly with me on this proposition: instead of mandatory military service in this country we should have mandatory service industry service. a year in our trenches will give you the outlook required to properly navigate your way through an evening spent dining in public.

the sad truth is that most people are not equipped with either the manners or simple civility to be allowed to eat in public; and a true professional, whether waiter or bartender, knows this, accepts this, and does it anyway.

masochists, all? perhaps. but i think there is another reason for it, one aside from the flexible hours and the great daily infusions of hard cash in the front pocket.

is it a true and unshakeable love for the social compact that restaurants engender?

think about it. what other business operates like this: the customer comes in and takes his place, he orders his food, wine, etc. - services innumerable, spoken and unspoken, noticed and otherwise, take place and all this with only the promise of payment. no actual monies exchange hands until after the transaction is finished. the servers, bussers, bartenders, et al, are only paid on the whim of the patron, on whatever they deem they wish to pay.

it takes a special kind of person to operate at the highest levels of this business. an especially twisted kind of person. mutants and hopeless romantics, for the most part; people who think the world could be, and should be, a more civil place. weirdos and misfits and god help me but i love 'em all.