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March-01-2002,
Scenes from a bookie resaurant....By The Philosopher

[The scene is the Olympic Restaurant. Seated around a large table are several people who own or work in restaurants, as well as various friends and acquaintances. They are conversing after an enjoyable meal. Mr. A relaxes back in his chair and pulls an expensive cigar from his pocket, which he just as quickly puts back in his pocket with a frown after immediate and vociferous objections from Mr. B at the opposite end of the table who then flags down a waitress to order another double wheatgrass.

The diners are attempting to ignore a vehement argument at the table next to them, where one man is insisting that if a restaurant miscalculates your check and undercharges you, you still must either pay the real charges in full or be 86.ed from the establishment permanently, with the second man insisting from personal experience that there are places that will honor the miscalculated check and allow you to get away with underpaying. This argument continues for the next several years, until the participants die of old age.]

Mr. A.: Yeah, if people only knew about this business.

Mr. C.: They don.t know. They think they do. They don.t know.

Mr. A.: Yeah, everybody.s a freaking expert. Let .em open up their own restaurant. Then we.ll see what kind of a freaking expert they are!

Mr. D.: Damn right!

Mr. E.: Yeah, let me tell you what.s been going on over at my place. You know once a month I.ve been mailing out these coupons around the neighborhood?

Mr. F: The joint I work for.s been doing the same thing.

Mr. G.: Lots of places doing that now.

Mr. E.: Sure. You gotta. If you wanna compete, you gotta do it. Anyway, so, we send out these coupons. And, you know, it.s $2 off, but only on a minimum $10 or more order, right? So, this son of a bitch comes in for lunch today, and how much do you think his order comes to? $10.13! Freaking $10.13! And he wants to use a goddamn coupon!

Mr. D.: You.re lucky. I.m surprised you got the thirteen cents.

(General laughter.)

Mr. D.: Most of these coupon whores, they.ll try and land right on the minimum.

Mr. E.: Oh yeah, don.t think he wasn.t trying. You should have seen the son of a bitch studying that menu, trying to spend the absolute minimum and still use the coupon.

Mr. A.: And listen, a coupon whore like that? They won.t even eat where they don.t have a coupon. If they only get one coupon a month from your joint, that.s the only time you.ll see them.once a month. Every other night they.re using some other coupon somewhere else.

Mr. H.: I.ve never owned a restaurant like you guys, but to me I can.t see being a scam artist like that. I couldn.t live with myself. Don.t get me wrong, I.ll use a coupon if you give me one. But it would never be a factor in choosing where I eat.

Mr. G.: Right, right! I.m the same way. And if a coupon says .$10 minimum,. I never spend less than $20.

Mr. A.: Well yeah, that.s cause you.ve got some freaking class. But most of these people are looking to rob you blind. They.re just looking to save a buck at your expense. They don.t care about nobody but themselves.

Mr. C.: To me, the whole coupon thing.s a mistake. It.s gonna be the death of the restaurant industry.

Mr. E.: I agree. But what the hell can you do? Customers expect .em now. If I don.t give .em out, they.ll just eat some place else.

Mr. C.: Yeah, but just think about it mathematically. Selling a $10 menu item for $8 is a loss. There.s no way around it. I mean, where.s overhead? Where.s your labor costs? Where.s your light bill? You think you can knock 20% off your prices and still cover all that? No way. It don.t add up.

Mr. G.: Though not everybody.s going to spend just the $8.

Mr. C.: Right, but a lot will.

Mr. I.: Most of .em will.

Mr. C.: Most of them will, yes. But even collecting $18 on a $20 check like you said, that.s still giving away 10%. Even that.s borderline. I don.t think you can survive even doing that.

Mr. I.: It.s a tough racket all right.

Mr. J.: What about just raising the minimum, like to $20 or $25 instead of $10?

Mr. I.: (With a condescending snort.) Yeah, if you want to listen to them whine about .Oh, I can go down to so-and-so.s place, and he.s still giving $2 off of $10..

Mr. E.: Or, .The place down on the corner.s giving $3 off..

Mr. I.: Or $4. Yeah, they.re never satisfied.

Mr. A.: How about this? Listen. How about these people that shop around for the lowest prices before they decide where to eat? You know the ones I mean. Like we.ve got a real good quality spaghetti dinner, but it.s cheap, you know.

Mr. J.: It.s a good deal. I.ve had it.

Mr. A.: So people when they want spaghetti, they.ll come to me. But they want chicken, they.ll go across the street, where that.s on special.

Mr. I.: Or they.ll come to my place when they want a hamburger, cause we got the cheapest burgers.

Mr. A.: Right, right. And don.t you love it, you.ll see .em peeking at the menu in the window out there, can.t even come in the freaking door until they.ve compared you with every other restaurant in town.

Mr. E.: (Laughs.) Yeah, the shoppers. Got to compare everything. What the hell did they do before restaurants started putting menus in the window?

Mr. A.: I don.t know. I guess they had to make their own goddamn decision of what to eat and where to eat on their own. Poor babies.

(General laughter.)

Mr. I.: All right, I got one. What about these people that just order water with their meal?

Mr. K.: No!

Mr. E.: Oh yeah, I know exactly what he.s talking about.

Mr. K.: But that.s your biggest markup, on the beverages.

Mr. I.: You think these people care? You think they care if we make a living? They.re not even thinking about that. I guarantee it. Never even crosses their mind. Selfish bastards.

Mr. E.: I want to tell .em, .Order a cocktail. Order a beer. Order a goddamn soft drink, for chrissake..

(General laughter.)

Mr. E.: .How much you think I.m making on that sandwich you ordered? Would it kill you to order a goddamn coke?.

Mr. I.: (Laughs.) Yeah, but you can.t open your mouth. If you say a word, they.ll blab all over town about how your restaurant.s no good, and you.re giving people a hard time about ordering water.

Mr. A.: What gets me is the regular customers will side with these bastards. Can you beat that! Son of a bitch orders the cheapest thing on the menu, with a glass of water--costs me more in overhead than I.m even getting from his check.and if I throw the bum out and tell him to keep his ass out of my joint, my regulars are making me out to be the bad guy!

Mr. D.: Like we were saying, they don.t understand this business. If they understood the business, they wouldn.t want those cheap bastards around any more than you do.

Mr. A.: Exactly! If I.m not losing money to the coupon whores, and the water drinkers, and all the rest of the scum, maybe I can add a couple items to the menu. Maybe I can give a little better service to the regulars. Maybe I can cut the prices on some of my dinners.

(General nods all around.)

Mr. D.: What do you think.s gonna happen? Cause I gotta think it.s gonna get worse before it gets better.

Mr. C.: I still say the coupons and all that shit.ll be the end of the industry.

Mr. L.: A lot of these places will be gone inside of a year. That.s what I think anyway. You.ll have two or three big restaurants in the neighborhood, and that.s it.

Mr. A.: Yeah, and when all these joints shut down, people are going to be crying about that. You can.t win. And they.re too damn dumb to see whose fault it is.

Mr. E.: Oh, they know. The coupon whores and the rest of .em know. They just don.t care.

Mr. A.: Right, some of them know. But, like, my regulars, my good customers, a lot of them can.t see how those shoppers and coupon whores and water drinkers are ruining the restaurant industry. When I gotta bump up my prices, they.re gonna act like it.s my fault, not the coupon whores. They.re clueless! Or (points to Mr. I.) when you close up shop, God forbid, they.re going to be all upset that they lost a damn fine place to eat, but why aren.t they thinking about that now? Why aren.t they giving shit to all the people who comparison shop when they go out to eat? That.s whose fault it is!

Mr. L.: That.s right. Can.t argue with that.

Mr. I.: Yeah, these selfish pricks. They figure, .I.ll spend my money where I want. I.ll get the best deal I can get for me.. It.s all about .me, me, me.. They.re not thinking about the fact that there are places cutting corners on the health codes because they.re having trouble making ends meet with all these cheap bastards out there. They don.t care that they.re putting people at risk always looking to save money the way they do.

Mr. M.: Hey, I got a question. With this valet parking, I heard some places rent out the cars while you.re inside eating. Is that true?

(Several people shift nervously in their chairs.)

Mr. A.: I don.t do it. I know what you.re talking about, but I don.t do it.

Mr. K.: That makes me nervous even thinking places are doing that.

Mr. I.: Well, look, technically, yeah, you shouldn.t do it.

Mr. A.: It happens though. It happens. A lot of people don.t realize it, but it happens.

Mr. I.: That.s what I.m saying. In an ideal world, it wouldn.t happen, but let.s not be naï here.

Mr. C.: A reputable place won.t do it, in my opinion.

Mr. L.: Actually, aren.t there some cities where you can get in trouble for that? I mean, because really, you.re supposed to just be parking and safeguarding the customer.s car.

Mr. E.: Listen to what the man.s saying though, will you? Don.t be naï. The car is in the restaurant.s possession. It.s going to be in their possession for an hour, maybe two, maybe three. You really think a restaurant is just going to leave it there taking up space when they can rent it for a few dollars to somebody who just needs a car for a quick trip in the immediate area? It.s bad business not to fully exploit your assets.

Mr. L.: But it doesn.t belong to them.

Mr. E.: I didn.t say it does. I.

Mr. L.: The car doesn.t belong to them. You can.t say it.s their .asset..

Mr. E.: Listen, I.m not going to argue with you. I.m just telling you how it is.

Mr. N.: Bottom line, though.not to cut in.but, bottom line, too many people are opening up restaurants without enough capital, and its forcing them to cut corners and do things like rent out their customers. cars.

Mr. I.: That.s exactly right. This ain.t an easy business, like we.ve been saying. People lose money because they don.t know about all these scams, and then they get desperate. Like here.s another one. You don.t know about this shit if you.re not in the business, but here.s another one. I got this special I run on Fridays. It.s an all you can eat crab legs dinner. Real popular, right? You.d think I.d do all right with it, right? Come to find out, there.s people that.ll skip lunch so they can eat more of the crab legs at dinner. You see what I.m saying?

Mr. D.: Oh yeah.

Mr. I.: It.s all you can eat, you know, same price however much you eat. So these conniving sons of bitches (shakes head and chuckles in disgust).I.m feeding these sons of bitches two meals for the price of one!

(Nods of sympathy all around.)

Mr. G.: Yeah, I didn.t even know a lot of this stuff until I started hanging out with you guys.

Mr. A.: You know, you got your decent customers, nobody.s denying that.

Mr. E.: Sure.

Mr. A.: And then you got your freaking scumbags and coupon whores, like we.re talking about.

Mr. I.: Uh huh.

Mr. A.: One honest customer, ten scumbag shoppers. Another honest customer, another ten scumbag shoppers.

Mr. I.: (Laughs.) Or twenty.

Mr. D.: Say, how are things over at All World CaféI haven.t been by your place in awhile.

Mr. O.: We.re doing fine. We got this Sam what.s-his-name next door being a pain in the ass, but other than that,--

Mr. I.: Who?

Mr. P.: You know, the fellah runs the newsstand next door to us.

Mr. O.: Yeah, Sam something. He.s got a hair up his ass about something, and he.s always knocking us to the people who stop and get a paper and talk to him.

Mr. P.: Yeah, like, he.s all upset because he says we let some customers take extra trips to the salad bar, but then we tell other customers that it.s one trip only.

Mr. N.: Which is it really? Is it one trip, or as much as you want?

Mr. O.: The way the servers enter the items in the cash register, you can.t even charge them for a second trip. With the present technology, we.re limited in how we can charge for the salad bar, and how it shows up on the check. But that.s not even the point. You know, whatever. If it.s not that, it.s something else with him.

Mr. P.: I know he was complaining about we raised the prices on a couple items. And we stopped running that early bird special.

Mr. O.: Yeah, but it doesn.t matter if you raise the prices or cut the prices with some of these people. You remember last year, we cut the price of the burgers a dollar, and there were people whispering about, .Oh, maybe they stopped using good quality beef and are using horsemeat now..

Mr. P.: (Laughs.) Right, .Not that we can prove it, but..

Mr. O.: Yeah! Yeah! .Not that we can prove it. And not that we care that we.re messing with people.s freaking livelihood here. But, gee, you never know. It might be horsemeat..

Mr. A.: The whole thing.s a freaking joke, this business.

(The table falls silent as the diners notice a particularly attractive young waitress approaching. Their eyes follow her as she stops at the small table next to theirs, where a young couple has just been seated.)

Waitress: (Cheerfully.) Hi! Welcome to Olympic! I.m Sportsbank and I.ll be your waitress. How are you guys doin. tonight?

Man: Oh, good. Good.

Woman: Fine.

Waitress: Great! Well, I see you.ve had a chance to look over our menu. I just wanted to let you know we also have some terrific specials tonight. We have a pheasant under glass that people really seem to be enjoying. And we.ve got a really tasty frozen fish sticks dinner, if you like seafood.

Man: You know, I don.t see it here on the menu, but what I was really in the mood for tonight is ribs.

Waitress: Oh gee, I.m sorry. We don.t have ribs.

(The diners at the big table have heard enough. They look at each other and roll their eyes. Mr. E. shakes his head and brings his fist down on the table in a gesture of disgust. Mr. P. is sitting motionless for the moment, but he is frowning and his face is turning red. Clearly he is ready to blow.)

Mr. O.: (Laughing and wincing as he theatrically reaches over as if to cup his hand over Mr. P.s mouth and prevent him from speaking.) Don.t say it! Man, I know what.s coming. I.m thinking the same thing.

Mr. P.: Goddamn assholes!

Mr. C.: What is it?

Mr. P.: (Looks around and then reaches around behind him for a menu.) I want you to look at this menu. I want you to look at this goddamn menu, will you?

Mr. O.: (Smiles and shakes his head, knowing he can.t stop the tirade.)

Mr. P.: How many mother freaking items you see here? You got forty entrees, easy.

Mr. O.: Nobody has more selections than Spiro.

Mr. P.: You got steaks, you got chicken, you got fish, you got spam. All the basics. And then you got every imaginable kind of salad, you got pasta. Here, look at this, rack of lamb.

Mr. O.: Hell, Spiro.ll probably fix you up some eggs if you want.

Mr. P.: Right, and all this idiot can say is (switches to a mockingly high-pitched whine), .What about ribs? Where.s the ribs? I demand ribs!.

(General laughter. Some hoots cast in the general direction of the neighboring table.)

Mr. O.: See, I know why he.s upset, cause if he didn.t say it, I was going to have to. We just got done expanding our menu over at All World CaféNot like this; Spiro.s the man. But we.ve got, like 20 entrees now. And you wouldn.t believe how much work goes into making the decisions of what to serve, and designing and printing up the menus, and ordering all the food, and then cooking so many different items night after night.

Mr. P.: And you.d think a customer would see that and at least be a little appreciative. I mean, is that too much to ask? When we put our new menu in, our head chef was working twelve, thirteen hour days making sure everything went smoothly. I can only imagine the work that goes into putting together a menu like this one. And after all that, this clown waltzes in here with his (switches to the high pitched whine), .But I want ribs!.

(General laughter.)

Mr. J.: (Calling out to the neighboring table.) Hey asshole! Why don.t you open up your own restaurant if Olympic ain.t up to your standards?

Mr. D.: (Also directed at the neighboring table.) Yeah, after all, what.s forty entrees? I.m sure you can handle a hundred in your new joint!

(General roars of laughter, hooting, and catcalling. Gradually dies down.)

Mr. Q.: (Way down at the farthest end of the table.) Um, you know, when you get right down to it, all the guy really said was that he was in the mood for ribs tonight. What did he say that was so bad?

(Stunned silence as everyone turns to stare at Mr.Q. Then all at once they all groan loudly. They pick up napkins and whatever other debris is handy and proceed to bombard Mr. Q.)

A voice from amidst the crowd of diners: Jesus Christ, Alec!



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