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Bribing maitre d' to skip the line (gourmet.com)
529 points by howard_yeh 2663 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 177 comments

Back in college, a buddy of mine worked as a doorman at what had become a reasonably popular bar (with >30k undergrads, they're all pretty popular) with a line down the block every Friday and Saturday. As a friend of the doorman, I would rarely have to wait in said line, but on one peculiar condition.

On such days when he was going to be working, he'd give me a $10 bill some time during the day. Later that night, I would wait until the line was good and long, and walk confidently up to the door. Upon arrival, I would hand him his $10 bill back and cruise on through, making sure the gesture was noticed by passersby.

Without fail, every time we pulled this little stunt, he would manage to make a decent haul off of people that were inspired by my brazen (though contrived) bribery. As far as I know, there was no real policy on the matter of bribing the doorman - the only real problem is having to fudge the occupancy for a few minutes - and for every incidental person over the limit, there was at least one outside smoking, so this was never a very worrisome problem.

That's clever. Sends a great signal to the right audience. May I ask if that's a common thing or if he came up with it?

I have a friend who valet parks at an up-scale hotel, and over the years he's become pretty good at sizing up whether someone isn't aware that a tip is expected. So he's come up with a little code between his fellow employees. While the newb who doesn't know he's supposed to tip is waiting for his car, my friend loudly announces to a fellow employee as he hands him the keys to fetch some other customer's car "hey, he's already tipped, so he's good to go...". Without fail, the newb promptly pulls a $5 out of his pocket a few moments later...

It's just like the loose change in the street musician's instrument case. They always start with a little of their own money in there because it helps people understand what's expected.

> Increasingly, I was struck by how much impact the experience was having on me. Surmounting this challenge night after night was actually giving me a certain self-assurance, a feeling of having grown up. Some might find this disillusioning: “You mean life is not first-come, first-served?” I found I had a different reaction: “You mean all it takes to crack one of New York’s most daunting thresholds is fifty bucks?” Even if I chose not to do it on a regular basis, just knowing how doable it is brought the whole puffery of New York restaurants into perspective. Bribing, it turns out, has as much effect on the briber as it does on the bribee.

If you ever wanted to know why corruption is so entrenched in many parts of the world, there is your answer.

An excellent point. Besides the inherent scale, what makes this author's experience different from a senator or representative who takes money in exchange for preferential treatment? Both screw over a number of people who are playing by the rules.

Actually, I think this article made me realize that in any situation it is important to ask "what are the rules?". It's not like there is a sign posted above the door saying "do not tip for better seating". Who says it's wrong to tip for priority seating?

You probably haven't experienced corruption. It takes away the level playing field that would exist otherwise. When the rules involve bribing, those without the means and capacity to bribe but who deserve their chance are simply left watching.

Sure, in this case the bribing rule may be okay since they are all standing in line at an expensive restaurant and presumably could afford the $50 bribe. What if the rules were made public and now everyone starts to bribe the maitre d'? Imagine what that would do :)

The market should take care of it like it has for every other type of tipping: the fixed wages of the maitre d' would drop to compensate for the expected compensation in bribes. I don't have the data to prove it, but I suspect this has already happened to some extent and the restaurants themselves benefit indirectly from the bribes.

I think the "level playing field" here is an illusion anyway. I can't afford to go to a $375/person restaurant with or without the bribe.

I'm sorry to say your argument is purely theoretical. "The market" resides in economics texts, reality doesn't always conform to it. I grew up in a country where bribery is rampant. It is a nuisance and a drain on everything.

You have hit on a way of thinking that, for me, was inspired by reading David Sirlin's masterpiece 'Playing to Win'. The book is available on amazon or for free on his website http://www.sirlin.net/ptw

Although the book focuses on competitive video games it quickly establishes an important point that can be applied to nearly every situation in life: There are two types of people in a situation, "scrubs" who make up a subset of rules for the 'game' they are playing and those who understand the true extent of the rules.

One view I hold as a result of this thinking is my strong support for financial regulation. I was depressed to see so many people pointing fingers at wall street and talking about them being so immoral and corrupt. What they did was extremely damaging to society as a whole, but their motivation lies in winning their 'game' which is the money acquisition objective; and they pushed to the very border of what the rules were. Those playing the game came out very successfully; society may be crumbling around them, but they have their huge bonuses. Going angry-mob on someone for successfully achieving their objectives is just being a scrub. Most people talk about how they violated rules that don't exist: imaginary rules hiding behind noble sounding words like ethics or morality.

While the scenario can be depressing looking at it that way, it ultimately is accepting reality for what it is. This is how you can chart a path to actually deal with the issue; if you don't like the way the game is played, you have to change the rules.

But in my personal life it generally has a much more positive theme to it. I learn the rules of what is valued at my company; how much depends on social behavior and how much on productive output. I learn the rules of social interactions at parties and clubs; and adjust my behavior to maximize my gains. Even on Hacker News I learn the rules of what is acceptable as a quality comment, and what is not. I think this comment will get upvoted. It adheres to the values of adding to the discussion and providing new information... along with the always popular "personal advancment" story.

It's funny to me now seeing how many people fail at various 'games' in life simply due to not understanding the rules of the games. They fight against it, like a fish swimming upstream. If you don't even understand the rules of the game, how are you supposed to gain skill at it?

edit: Just to clarify, when I talk about the rules binding things like the financial system I do not mean the regulations alone (which may be broken through corruption as others have pointed out). Those rules are actually a subset; viewing them as absolute is scrub-talk. I am talking about the REAL rules of the game which includes 'shady' things like bribery.

Going angry-mob on someone for successfully achieving their objectives is just being a scrub.

No. In your framework, at least, this tactic is a move well within the "true extent of the rules".

That is the flipside of this. I have a friend who when he's staying at a hotel with his girlfriend always says "it's our anniversary" or "it's her birthday". It usually works but... Maybe they're in the bridal suite and 5 minutes later a real couple on their anniversary show up.

yeah, coming from india and having railed against the entrenched culture of bribery all my life, i felt slightly greasy after having read this

Came here to say just that.

Related, but unrelated - this is some advice for events like weddings or any open bar where there is a crowd (think SXSW).

Go to the bar early. Talk to the bartender, take $20 out of your pocket and tell him/her/them:

"Hey, this is for you. I don't have change and I want to tip, and I have no idea how much I'll actually drink... Thanks!"

I started doing this because I used to bartend and a lot of people skimp on tips at events or just don't have change at a cash-bar (who has a stack of $1 bills on-hand?). Its extra effective if there is a no-tipping policy.

The result: You'll always get a drink ahead of everyone else, especially when it gets a little crazy. They usually start pouring what you last ordered when they see you approaching.

Also, if there are more than one person it helps to have the conversation within ear-shot of any other bartenders. Feel free to introduce yourself too and give your name. Most 'drinkers' are meatheads so you stand out further.

I was recently at a conference reception where each person was given two drink tickets. My friend and I went up for our first drink and my friend tipped the bar tender well. The rest of the night that same guy just kept handing him his tickets back...

I had a similar experience. I went to an open bar birthday party, where with a particular wristband you could get unlimited drinks. I ordered something simple, and tipped a dollar, came back once, and did the same thing. The next time I came over, the same bartender made a beeline for me and started pouring two drinks before I got all the way up to the bar. Another dollar. Now I had two drinks and only two hands, so I gave the second to a friend, and found myself with an order for four drinks from some friends who noticed my speed of service. Somehow she heard this, and had two of them mixed by the time I got back to her.

What is considered a good tip for a drink?

As the previous poster said, a $1 per drink is good if you're going back and fourth to the bar.

However, if you're sitting there awhile at the bar with the same bartender and running a tab, it is acceptable to tip less when you settle up.

Example: If I had 6 drinks at $5 a pint, thats $30. For that I would give a $5 instead of a $6.

Since the amount in question is so minor, its better to stick with $1 a drink. Easier.

However, I would point out that if you get a buy-back then you should tip more. A basic guide is if the bartender 'buys' you a $5 drink then you should be giving $2 towards the final tip.

Thats just a simple guide for a simple use-case. Use your discretions. I don't tip if the bartender is rude or gives me a sloppily poured drink (I say that as a former bartender/bar-back/bar-manager).

Usually a buck a drink will do the trick.

I try to stack another buck on any time the tip will be <15%. You don't wanna be the schmoe tipping a buck for a $9 drink.

I was reading Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, and he talks about being liberal and magnificent with money. I'm in Vietnam now, things are cheap-ish anyways, so I decided I'm make the transition towards doing that. I wrote up my first experiences here -


Since then, it's been even more crazy. I was just trying to be gracious - I wasn't trying to bribe for favors like the author of the gourmet.com piece. Just either before or after I get service, tipping more. Result is staggering to me - people start working for you. I wasn't asking anything in return, but I'm now getting informed on all sorts of little details, recommendations, little extra services here and there. In the changing room of the place I go to get a massage, the guy there is like my intelligence agent now. As I was getting changed back into street clothes after getting a massage, he says, "Psst - hey, next time... go with locker #1." He taps the locker. He explains, "Very pretty, young girl. Best girl here." Apparently the experience is streamlined by number the whole way through - locker number, who you are massage therapist is, and billing for tips/coffee/extra food or drink you order is all tied together. He also shined my boots and he's super friendly helping me put a robe.

It's strange, I came from pretty humble origins so this is all very new for me. I just thought I should start being good to people and taking care of people, and I'm kind of taken aback by how gracious people are. It's still against my nature to over-tip, I came up pretty frugal and had literally no money for large portions of my life, but I'm starting to see the value of really taking care of people. There's a security guard near where I live who I'm friendly with, I'm going to go buy him a tuna sandwich next time I'm buying stuff at the bakery. I think, just like that, I'll go from having a friendly acquaintance to having a guide and intelligence agent.

That's not even why I do it. I thought - give back, spread money around a little bit, take care of people. But people seem to really want to take care of you when you do. It's like you're signalling that you're a person who takes good care of people or some such. I don't know, still very new to me. It's interesting though.

Kind of reminds me of a friend who worked in sales. Whenever he was going to take a client to a restaurant he would always go to the restaurant the day before find a waiter who was going to be there during the lunch meeting and tip heavily so as to be sure of good service during the working lunch.

i think what you're doing is great, so don't take my hypothesis the wrong way:

i have a dog and i live with 8 other people, so i have a bit of data on 8 different dog-human relationships. it boils dog to the dog treating everyone differently depending on who gives him food. P always give dog his sandwich crusts without asking anything in return, so when P walks in the door with a subway, dog goes grazy. in fact, P started giving more when dog wimpered, so for a little while dog whimpered until i made P not be such a sucker. A always lets dog lick his plates, so dog gets excited when A finishes eating. L requires dog to lie down in a neighboring room, so dog beg's from neighboring room when L eats. it's not love or care, it's simple causation and reward. dog constantly tries different tactics on those people who give him food. often, the amount of food escalates.

btw, dog goes crazy when the (human) dinner bell is rung.

edit: also, in restaurants, bribing before is a bit like tipping afterwards. the wait staff is constantly evaluating how much effort to expand on incoming parties (among other things) in order to maximize tips. in light of that, treatin an apparently wealthy couple well in hopes of a good tip isn't unreasonable. as for accepting bribes...depending on the place it's not that different from a tip except that it comes before not after the service (some places split tips with the whole staff, including say back waiters, etc, so then it might be immoral if the people keep the bribe for themselves. as for the immorallity of "jumping" the queue--for all i know, the wait staff does that anyway when they evaluate how much people can tip....)

Can I just warn you that our dog always ate the scraps (and too much of them) and ended up with Diabetes. (Such a first world problem I know). Having to give her 2 insulin injections a day was not very fun (or cheap).

Maybe that says more about the food you are eating, and a warning to change your diet.

Not really, dogs have very different dietary needs to humans.

Especially when it comes to chocolate.

Could be. Although I think in this case it came down to calorie quantity and not quality.

its surprising how quickly people go out of their way to be friendly and helpful to you when you're a model customer. and i mean model as someone who is easy, friendly, regular, and consistently tips.

most service industry people can't outright reject customers without a really good reason, so if you can make someone's day easier, they'll typically reciprocate it.

Yes, a model customer is also someone who never complains no matter how bad the service is, and how bad the staff screw up.

That is not the best way to go about things.

I have also seen the best service going to those who make the most amount of noise, who shout the loudest, and cause the most amount of trouble, since no one wants to upset that person. And I have seen model customers ignored over this person, since they will not complain.

It is not as simple and gracious a system as you suggest.

> a model customer is also someone who never complains no matter how bad the service is

hardly. but a model customer probably isn't an ass about complaining, either. i've complained about tons of shit, and they are much more receptive and responsive when they know its someone who is usually nice.

> It is not as simple and gracious a system as you suggest.

never said it was. i don't disagree with what you're saying, and it comes down to the fact that the person taking your order is going to get fired if they tell you to leave because you're a bad customer (in most places). so they generally have to sit there and take it, for the most part. which is why a good customer is usually treated like gold.

Like Seth Godin says, don't be afraid to fire your customers if they are negatively impacting your business. If you have an ass who is causing you to neglect your real good customers (the ones who give good feedback and will work with you), that customer should go.

Yes, you can shout and be obnoxious and get what you want. Or you can be nice, polite and full of cash and/or smiles and get what you didn't expect. There are certainly more ways to go about something than just tipping and bribing, but in my experience I can always get the same result as long as I'm nice, polite but persuasive.

In addition I'd like to point out that it's generally a good idea to not be obnoxious to the person who is going to handle your FOOD. You might get a little extra in terms of service, but you're practically guaranteed to get a little something extra in your food...

I live in Southeast Asia as well, and there is a strong sense of reciprocity here (and no expectation of tipping) so if you do decide to tip, the obligation to repay will be very apparent.

I would guess that it's due to the collectivist culture and value on collaboration that inspires active triggers of reciprocity circuits

The truth is I'm not sure how the financial markets work in Vietnam, but in most Western Countries your dollar probably goes further when it comes to helping people out sitting in the bank than over-tipping and being kind to people.

Granted it is probably good for you psychologically to form these relationships of mutual kindness, and to see yourself putting a smile on someones face on a daily basis. But in terms of "Giving back" and "spreading the money around", keeping your money in the bank is probably a better move.

Again this is based on my limited understanding of the financial system in western countries and of economies. It is very likely that my understanding of economics is flawed and/or my comparison of Vietnam to the US is a bad comparison. If so, ignore everything I said.

I assume you are talking about the credit creation cycle (if not, then please explain your logic?)

I think this depends on your definition of "goes further"

While credit creation may create more value (measured in dollars) than tipping/gifts/charity, the opposite may be true if you measure in terms of numbers of people helped. Many people who are helped by tipping are service workers who don't have easy access to credit.

Yes that is what I'm talking about. While they are not helped directly by getting loans, they are helped by overall growth in the economy.

They're motivated by future tips, and by the extra opportunities they'll get from forwarding your generous business to people they know. The incentive is your money.

Interestingly, this sometimes works the other way around too. I frequented a coffee shop in my town for a few months (I later moved house). The baristas came to recognize my face, even though I didn't make smalltalk or introduce myself. I would come in, order a coffee, and work on their wifi for a few hours before leaving, more or less every other day.

One day the barista recognized me and said, "this coffee's on the house." I was stunned--stuff like that usually doesn't happen to me because I'm usually fairly quiet when it comes to interacting with service people. Grateful, I put the money I would have spent on the coffee into the tip jar instead.

Over the course of the next month the barista would occasionally offer free coffee again. The cup of coffee costs them cents, but it brightened my day so much that I actually started tipping (for the first time at a coffee shop, ever) regularly.

So in effect, for the cost of a "bribe" (a few cups of coffee to me), the barista had established a relationship that made me feel like reciprocating with cash.

If you think about it, it is economically rational behavior for a barista/bartender to do this for regular customers. After all, she gives you a drink that is free to her and gets back real money as a tip. The only loser is the coffee shop or bar, who has trouble tracking the number of drinks served.

My friend runs a bar and this is a huge problem for him that he calls a "bribe back". The only solution he found is hiring good people, as monitoring the bartenders makes him look like he doesn't trust or respect them.

Yeah, this is a huge problem. I was on a business trip once and eating dinner at the bar of TGIFridays. I normally wouldn't eat at a chain restaurant like that, but I was in Virginia and there was nothing nearby.

In any case, these college kids were sitting at the bar next to me, and we started talking. They seemed to be friends with the bartender and one of the told me "give the bartender a $20 and you'll drink all night for free." This was a Friday and I was stuck in VA for the weekend, with my hotel across the street so I was like, OK. Anyway, I slipped the bartender a $20, and he proceeded to make all kinds of drinks for us. He was using the top shelf liquor, not the well drink stuff, and he was making all kinds of custom martinis, shots, etc. We literally finished well over $200 worth of drinks in the space of a few hours. When the check arrived, it only had my meal on there, and all the drinks were missing.

Essentially, the bartenders gave us about $200 worth of drinks and we only paid for our meals, plus $20 each in tips (there were 4 of us).

If I owned that TGIFridays somewhere in VA, I'd be seriously worried about how much money my bartenders were stealing from me. It is literally stealing when a bartender can make an extra $100-200 a night just by slipping free drinks to his friends. I guess the markup is so much on alcohol that most people wouldn't notice.

There are companies that audit bartenders by very carefully inventorying the liquor. I found out from this article in my college's newspaper: http://www.michigandaily.com/content/2008-09-24/bar-audits-m... .

The company is Bevinco (www.bevinco.com), and I'm sure there are others.

Yeah, I remember watching a video in an accounting class about internal controls of a bar in Texas which would weigh bottles every night and dispensed drinks through a soda gun.

Found another example of companies using some audits to keep track of liquor usage. [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3190/is_43_40/ai_n267...]

I definitely know about some bartenders at a similar establishment that lost their jobs for that type of behavior. The bartender's basically stealing from the establishment.

'My friend runs a bar and this is a huge problem for him that he calls a "bribe back". The only solution he found is hiring good people, as monitoring the bartenders makes him look like he doesn't trust or respect them.'

Back in my bar-hopping days I learned about buy-backs. I was surprised the first time it happened, but it was explained that this was common thing (at least if you drink enough).

Given that it was apparently common knowledge in the bar culture, I'd have to believe that anyone running a bar knows this is happening and either makes some educated guesses on the amount, or simply has the bartenders do some tracking. It seems like just part of doing business and sales, nothing underhanded.

Broadly speaking, it seems a businesses will have trouble keeping customers if the owner or manage does not give the line people authority (within some bounds) to give stuff away. I've mainly seen this in the hotel business. You can keep a customer, and make them want to come back, by smoothing over a complaint with a comp'ed night or free meal, and the win to the hotel is terrific (it's expensive to get new customers vs. keeping them). But if the restaurant manager or front desk staff has to first get the OK from the head of F&B or the Front Office manager it tends to just not happen because people are afraid they'll get in trouble for doing what is arguably right and in the long-term interest of the business.

Yes, it's economically rational for the barista/bartender, but it's not necessarily bad business for the bar/coffeeshop either. If the bartender is smart about when and how often she hands out these freebies, she can convert one-time or occasional customers into loyal, regular customers, which is much better for the bar in the long run.

It reminds me of the Apple store - 9 times out of 10, if you go in there with something broken that's out of warranty, you have to pay the full price to repair it. However, Apple geniuses are given a little bit of leeway, and often offer "unnecessary" free out-of-warrany replacements that, while costly to Apple in the short-term, generally pay handsome returns in the long run by encouraging loyalty.

Yeah, I agree. What I was trying to articulate is that this is a good example of a principal/agent problem, as the Principal (owner) has interests that differ from those of his Agent. Solutions to this generally either decrease information asymmetry or involve a better incentive system for the Agent. However, as you point out, it's possible that the Agent will act in his interest and still benefit the Principal.

Wow, I just looked and this exact example is actually featured on the Wikipedia page for Principle-agent problem. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principal-agent_problem#Employm...

My wife took her dropped/broken iPhone into the apple store. She's too honest and didn't realise when the genius was asking her if it was broken/having issues before she dropped it that he was wanting to put it through under warranty.

Fun story--I had a dropped/dented PowerBook once that I never got fixed because it was my fault, but it had another issue due to a manufacturing fault that I did send it in for. They sent it back with apparently a brand new, undented case.

I hope your friend also understands how much this will get people like me to come back.

There is a bar in Phoenix that I used to go to all the time (when the weather calms down, I'll start going again [because I bike there]). One of the major reasons that I went back so often, is because I felt like a regular there. It was a very common occurrence for the bartenders to offer me a free drink. A lot of these free drinks were beer that had been poured wrong, or stuff that they would have had to pour down the drain, but not all of them.

This is something I think a lot of people don't understand (not saying your friend, just in general); when you own a business, you're not selling widgets, you're selling customer service. I wasn't going to the bar to buy beer, I was going because one of the bartenders looked at me one night (I was feeling down about something) and said "Dude, what's wrong?" and tried to cheer me up...or another night when another bartender didn't charge me the $10 that they usually charge for growlers (a glass chug that holds 1 gallon of beer and is for transporting it home [common at breweries that don't bottle their beer])...

All in all, that place has probably given me 10 beers for free; at most $20 worth of product. But that $20 has probably come back to them 10-100 fold in the last couple of years. I'd say about half of my family's birthdays now take place at that bar, (I've taken my sisters and my mom there, they all love it, it really really is truly unlike any other restaurant I've been to in Phoenix), as well as most of my friends. I've recommended it to literally hundreds of people.

Contrast this with a bar in Tempe where I took a visiting friend for drinks: the bartender didn't want to talk to us and, when we asked him why he was using a jigger to measure the mixed drink that my friend ordered (it was taking a long time and we said something to the effect of "We really don't care about the measurements being that exact") he explained how close of an eye the managers keep on the alcohol shrinkage.

Another story for me is dell: when I call dell, I talk to Lisa, who remembers my name, remembers where I live (Phoenix) and remembers the time that her and her husband came here to visit...and how nice the weather was. "Is that place on scottsdale road that sells the ice cream still there?"

Artificial as I'm sure all of this is (Lisa probably has a computer that remembers this stuff for her), I like it. I like going into a coffee shop and feeling like the owner of the shop is a friend of mine and I'm just coming over to his house to hang out (there was a coffee shop in Des Moines, IA; 3 years after I moved away, I came back to have to have the owner greet me with "RYAN!?! Where the hell have you been!? Has the band been on tour or something? [the first time I went into his shop I had a DW drums tshirt on. The joke from then on was that I was a famous drummer]).

I think it's important for business owners to remember this type of thing: you're absolutely not selling coffee, or beer, or dell computers, you're selling me a little temporary friend that makes me feel like they really and truly care about whatever problem I am coming to them to solve.

"I think it's important for business owners to remember this type of thing: you're absolutely not selling coffee, or beer, or dell computers, you're selling me a little temporary friend that makes me feel like they really and truly care about whatever problem I am coming to them to solve."

This is only true in non-commodity markets. Yeah, the coffee shop is selling you the 'coffee experience' - the service, more than they are selling you the coffee. But if you follow that chain backwards, you can bet that someone along the line is selling actual coffee.

to take the example I actually know something about, yeah, dell wants to be my buddy. But micron? micron wants to sell me some fucking ram. Because cheap reliable servers are central to my business, I find my friends elsewhere, and I bypass dell and go to suppliers that don't want to be my friend, and I pocket the difference.

On the other hand, when I buy things like accounting services or coffee, I expect something that is more 'full service' - I know jack about accounting, so you've gotta put me at ease, and be willing to pretty much just handle it for me. If I didn't know what I know about hardware, and if my servers needed to be reliable but cheap wasn't as big of a deal, I'd think about buying my servers from dell, too, with the silly expensive support plans. (dell, on the minimum support plan, in my experience is worse than building yourself. On the other hand, the gold plated support, I hear, is damn good.)

So, uh, yeah. Sometimes you are selling your product, and sometimes you are selling "the experience" of the product. Most of the time, you are selling a little bit of both.

But, you are right that it's very important to remember what you are selling... If you try to sell me 'the experience' when I try to get ram, I'm probably going to walk. and if dell tried to just sell the servers when they went to sell to $BIGCORP, without the, uh, "tips" and gladhanding, they'd loose out just as badly.

>I bypass dell and go to suppliers that don't want to be my friend, and I pocket the difference.

Do you? My relationship with dell isn't just about getting warm fuzzy feelings when I call our rep to order stuff, it's about knowing that, if I do have a problem, it's going to get resolved immediately when I call her.

There is another company that I work with, which is small, and specific to my industry, and I have a very good relationship with one of the sales people there (they're in Canada).

Well, one day, something went wrong with their product so, instead of calling and asking to talk to a CSR, I called and asked to talk to Al. Al apologized up and down because, unfortunately, the FedEx guy had already come and there weren't any more pickups for the day.

So do you know what he did? Got in his car and drove the part that I needed down to the fedex office at the airport. I had the part in my hands a little over 12 hours later.

Another one: Our office buys all of our toner from cartridge world. The guy that we talk to down there, his name is Kent, is really nice. One day, I called Kent and told him that I needed a toner cartridge for one of our printers, but I needed MICR toner (for checks). Unfortunately, he told me, they didn't have any that I could get that day, but they could ship me one in a week. But in the meantime, he would bring me a printer of theirs as well as a cartridge for it, and he wouldn't charge me for it, just thanks for always doing business with him.

This type of thing is absolutely invaluable to my business.

We'll be a Cartridge World customer for life because of this. We're not buying toner from them, we're buying the ability to print documents. I suspect that you're not buying RAM, you're buying servers that work. Do you think anybody from micron is going to jump in their car and bring you something when you need it? Or care that something got messed up and fix it for you immediately?

>Do you? My relationship with dell isn't just about getting warm fuzzy feelings when I call our rep to order stuff, it's about knowing that, if I do have a problem, it's going to get resolved immediately when I call her.

right. you need to pay a /whole lot/ to get that relationship; the cheap level support contract, in my experience, is usually worse than just fixing it myself.

the thing of it is, at least on the more affordable support plans, Dell expects a corporate environment where unexplained reboots, so long as the server comes back up in a reasonable period of time, are acceptable. In my business I say a reboot costs me... so I've got to figure out if it was hardware or software, and then trace it down from there. Dell and RHEL seem to say "Well, it came up clean, what do you want?" Dell and rhel are both awesome when a box is down and it stays down, but those problems are trivially easy for me to solve myself, so I don't really see the point of buying support for that.

>Do you think anybody from micron is going to jump in their car and bring you something when you need it? Or care that something got messed up and fix it for you immediately?

Absolutely not. and yeah, if it was something I couldn't fix myself, this would be a big concern. like I said, I go 'full service' in areas where I'm helpless, like accounting. But the thing is, when my ram goes bad, I don't /need/ micron to drive down and fix it for me. I have spares of everything, and I am better at diagnostics than any dell tech I've met.

Also, if you buy the cheap support plan from dell, well, you are waiting until Monday for your part anyhow.

Now, yeah, maintaining that skillset is pretty expensive. if it wasn't central to my business, if hardware wasn't where the majority of our money went, you would be right, it wouldn't make any sense. But hardware is where the majority of my money goes, and I am able to provide a level of service that exceeds what I have seen from dell, so it does make sense.

My favorite local coffee shop is like that. I know the owner fairly well, and he always drops by to chit chat whenever I come in. I refuse to go to any of the other coffee shops in town, even if the coffee is cheaper or marginally better, because I've built a relationship with the owner.

When I was shopping for a new motorcycle, I bought one from the dealership that's 45 minutes away instead of the one that's 5 minutes away because of the reputation the close one has of ripping people off. The bike I was looking at was actually available cheaper at the closer one, but I'd rather give my money to a dealer that's not going to try to scam me later on, even if it's less convenient or more expensive.

I truly appreciate good service, and I'll happily pay more for it. I'm surprised more businesses don't care about excellent customer service, or is it that a lot of people truly don't care about service?

People get tricked into thinking that they're buying something good.

When I go to a coffee shop, a lot of times I'll sit there with some of my friends and work on a project at their tables, or I'll use their internet, or read a book, or whatever. The $2.5, or $4 or whatever that I'm paying for a cup of water run through ground up beans is mostly paying the for a barrista to ask me how my day is going so far, and for the table. It's like a day-hotel; the table is my room, the person at the counter is the front-counter clerk, and the $4 is my room fee.

This is fine, I'm more than willing to pay $4 for a coffee when I'm going to be sitting there for 5 hours working (in fact, if I'm staying this long, I'll usually buy more than one cup of coffee even though I don't need it.). The $4 is insane for a cup of coffee, but I'm buying more than just coffee.

Starbucks is the same thing, but a bit more interesting (I think). When people go into starbucks, they're paying $4 because they want to feel like members of the cool kids club. The coffee has names that you have to be a member of the little club to understand, the interior is very starbucksy, there is obscure "art" on the walls, etc.

This makes sense. Yeah, you could go to the gas station across the street and get something that tastes about the same, but then you wouldn't have access to the cool kids club. The $3 difference between a gas station cappuccino and a Starbucks "coffee flavored milkshake for adults" is the membership fee.

The trick here is that Starbucks (as well as their competitors) now also runs coffee shops where you can't even go inside. You can't stay there, there is no obscure art, no atmosphere, no nothing. You drive up, get your coffee, and leave. You probably even finish your coffee in the car before anybody has chance to see the familiar logo that means "cool kid".

So why do people still go there and pay the $3 membership fee to a club that doesn't exist?

Because they've been tricked into thinking that they're buying coffee.

Growing up, I rarely was in a situation to tip, but these days, living near Palo Alto, i've noticed something interesting:

out of the places I go to eat or get coffee, a few are small independent businesses owned by locals. At the ones where I was getting consistently good service, I started tipping 20%+. Within a few weeks of this, I was surprised to notice that they began discounting my food and drinks without mentioning it, and they were more likely to remember my name and what I usually order. The result is that other than the money I spent tipping more initially, this improved service doesn't cost me anything.

I think a very common tip increasing strategy used by people serving food is to give discounts. If I'm selling you something for $10 and you'd normally tip $1 and I give it to you for $8, you are much more inclined to tip me $2-3, because you'd still pay the same or less and received "special" service.

This of course may be unethical for the employee, depending on store policy. My best friend falls for it every time, tipping back up to "full" price. I see it as a type of scam against the employer, though.

> I see it as a type of scam against the employer, though.

That's definitely sometimes true. But it depends - when I was in college I used to go to a bar (Redbones in Somerville, MA) where the owner had a policy of letting the bartenders offer a certain number of free drinks and appetizers to favored customers at their discretion. He did this because he said it meant more loyal customers, which helped both him and his employees. I definitely spent a lot of money in that bar and always tipped heavily because of the great service. Despite all the freebies I got, I'm sure they turned a well-deserved profit off my business.

This is officially sanctioned at the coffee shop I frequent. I used to often get free coffee because I am good friends with a lot of the employees, and when wasn't free it was usually someone new I didn't know or $1 (from 1.65).

The owners a couple years ago put a lock down on all the free coffee going out of the place but encouraged the employees to give discounts to their friends.

It actually works out quite well, as the place can't afford to really pay any type of decent wage. The owners recognized that many people (myself included) would simply stop going to said shop everyday if coffee went from free to 1.65 or 1 to 1.65. I would still go sometimes, but it's not like they are going to see an immediate 65% increase on that revenue if people stop giving away the coffee.

At the same time, it allows the workers to get a couple extra bucks an hour and allows them to retain a number of really good employees while paying a wage <$10 an hour.

The danger with tactics like this is that the customers don't overthink tipping as much as the service staff, particularly if they are from a different country/culture. I tried to tip about $1/drink in New York, but when I got a free drink ("for being stuck" - volcano) I didn't know whether I was expected to tip the value, tip a little extra, or just take it as a favour. I would guess that on a bill, rather than a free drink, there's a good chance that people don't realise as well.

You should always tip the free drink. When you are in a bar or restaurant, you're receiving two things: the product and the service. When the product is free, you should still pay for the service.

I used to do something similar when I was a student and getting my haircut! I'd ask for my student discount, then tip and make up the difference and give it straight to the girl who cut my hair. I got some good haircuts back then.

When I worked at a steakhouse the smart servers would never charge for sodas or extras like baked potatoes, rice etc. Because as soon as the person got the bill, whatever amount was discounted almost always was directly added onto the tip amount. It might be bad for the restaurant for their soda/potatoes/rice, but that stuff costs as close to nothing as you're going to get.

The waiter is stealing the profit (and cost) of those items, not just the cost.

The incentives of the waiters and the restaurant owners are almost never perfectly aligned.

Most profit comes from simple items: drinks, salads, the most basic pasta dishes, coffee. It's all stuff where the ingredients cost next to nothing and the prep time is negligible. They don't cost much either, but have huge margins.

The waiter's incentive is not to push you to get the $9.95 ziti marinara, but to get the $22 lobster-filled ravioli, or the $25 jumbo shrimp dish, or the $27 steak—the most expensive dishes on the menu. But the lobster or the shrimp or the steak often have the slimmest margins of anything on the menu. Oftentimes something like lobster will serve as a loss-leader to get people into the restaurant.

As a waiter, you're constantly pushed to sell appetizers, salads, drinks, coffee and ice cream. All the stuff that's not just an entree. That's where the margins are, despite not costing very much and not leading to an inflated bill like a steak and bottle of wine would.

So not only is the waiter stealing the profit from the sodas they give you for free, they stand a chance of making the restaurant take a loss on your meal if you order a slim-margin item as an entree and don't order anything else.

But this is a problem you'll never really fix. Waiters are sharecroppers and their incentives will always be (in part) opposed to what's best for the restaurant.

But this is a problem you'll never really fix.

Actually it's a fairly easy fix. Pay waiters a decent wage (so they aren't reliant on tips to pay the rent), plus an annual bonus for everybody who's worked the entire year (so they have an incentive to do their job right and not get fired), and combine this with actively discouraging/forbidding accepting tips and you're basically there. That's how most industries work.

I love your reply. This is what hacking means: you've found a bug in the system, you go fix it. Hacking is not limited to software.

I have a friend that would disagree with you. He is from Holland, and when we have gone out to eat we have discussed the differences between our customs.

He enjoys tipping. He says that back home, because the Dutch don't have a custom of tipping waiters, the service suffers. There is no incentive for them to provide more service than the minimum required to not get a complaint... Which is quite low when expectations are already low across the board.

I think you're jumping the gun by using a loaded term like stealing. It may be restaurant policy to allow servers that discretion.

Especially if that "discount" is appearing on the bill.

How do you steal something that never existed i.e. the profit?

I guess this isn't quite like the experiences I've had, where you have a reputation of tipping well, and all of the sudden items are missing from your bill. That's just an illegal transfer of wealth from the owner to the employee.

I have a friend who used to approach concession stands at sporting events and ask the teenager behind the counter if he'd give him a free x,y, or z if he put $2 in their tip jar. This usually worked.

Y'see, that's just crossing the line from nudge-nudge, wink-wink into outright let's-steal-from-your-employer.

For me this issue isn't so black and white. If an engineer being paid $100k/yr pulled something like this, yes I'd say he's stealing from his employer. When someone making $2.85/hr does this, I'm not sure it's stealing. The employer has the ability to hire someone at an insulting wage, and the employee has the ability to make the situation a little more favorable for themselves.

Most people have though about doing something like this, or done it, but most of us do have choices about where we work, and if you want the word 'honorable' to ever be used to describe you, then you will avoid this type of activity.

I thought the line "Bribing, it turns out, has as much effect on the briber as it does on the bribee" was particularly telling. I mean, bribing someone (successfully) touches on everything: a sense of exclusivity, an appearance of prominence, a seemingly meaningful interpersonal connection, and it streamlines the whole process. No wonder if feels so good...

It is an insightful line.

Partners in crime is the concept, though, I think. In this a very trivial "crime".

The only "crime" that is broken is split between ethical and social.

Socially, if there is a line to get into a place or to receive something and you skip ahead of a hundred other people, then you're a jerk. Another point I can see is if by this article being published, more people start trying to bribe their way into restaurants, the people that already try to follow the standard rules get pushed further back in line. Bribing your way into some place shouldn't be the protocol for getting a seat. Only when "This is a really important night for me" is true should it be used. And if it successful, tip on the way out if the service was great. If you start acting like an ass, you're going to ruin it for the rest of us.

Ethically, its fairly weak. There might be rules and a code of conduct that the wait staff need to adhere to, and when offered cash to break them it may get them in trouble. Though, that is their problem for accepting it, but you should also respect those rules and not try to break them either.

>Bribing your way into some place shouldn't be the protocol for getting a seat.

Why not? Doesn't microeconomics 101 say "if you have more demand than supply, your prices are too low"? Clarendon Ballroom fills to capacity every weekend, so I have to pay a $5 cover if I go this Saturday (and even at that price, they still have a line at 11pm, which is why I'll get there early). When I drive out to see friends tonight, I'll pay $5 to drive on the Dulles Toll Road rather than sit in more traffic on Route 7 during rush hour. I mean, ideally the system should be formalized so that it's not off-the-books, but I don't see what's socially wrong with for-pay seating at exclusive restaurants.

I read the esquire articles and the chow.com, and neither of these authors really perfected the art. Although the self-titled $20 millionaire occassionally got serviced, he was often punked because he had no style, no swagger.

And when he DID get service, he did it openly & brazenly without the required discretion. Publicly announcing in a first class airplane section that he wanted to trade seats?! Tacky. Cutting the line at a cab stand, only to end up having to pay not only the front customer, but also the 2 cab stand guys? Buddy, that just cost you sixty bucks and a half cup of coffee thrown at your cab.

The demeanor and style in which you execute the handoff matters just as much, if not more than the actual note you've got in your hand.

I remember reading the Esquire article when it was first published. A little money can go a long way when timed correctly.

This works varyingly well over here in the UK (bearing in mind that we have a lot less tip-focused service industry).

Obviously it works in top-class London restaurants. Anywhere else it tends to vary, I've tried it once in a semi-nice place in Leeds and got an icy stare and an extra wait :) but then it worked great in a grill house when I was in a rush with friends.

By the way; this is fun to do if you are with a group of friends who have never done it before. Once we were trying to eat in one of the London hotels (it was the nearest place and pay day :)) and obviously got rebuffed. It's really shallow but saying "hold on, wait here" and 30s later gesturing them over is worth the looks on your friends faces :)

The best place this has worked for me is a restaurant in a nearby town - not top class but always full. A few £20 "tips" now gets use pretty instant service - because they know we will tip decently afterwards.

Is it immoral etc? I've always thought not, it's just that I value getting a table X much and, most of the time, X is a steal price :)

Protip: it doesn't always have to be money.

In college I lived across the street from a art house movie theater. I was invited to the Thursday night after party by a guy who worked at the theater and another local establishment I frequented. Instead of money, I brought a giant bottle of liquor. Because that theater had a "friends get in free" policy and because I was now well known as the "guy who brought the liquor to the party" I was everyone's friend. I would bring 2-3 people with me to the theater, we'd all get in, and we'd all get employee servings of popcorn and soda. Best $20 I ever spent.

Rule #11, don't write an article about it. After this dropped bribing your way into the New York restaurant scene got really tough. Managers were very unhappy.

That'll probably last only a few weeks. People will redirect their attention to more pressing matters soon enough.

I played poker a lot for a couple years and would routinely drop 'quarters' (25 bucks) to runners on busy nights to skip the line. Considering my hourly rate was just under $100/hour saving an hour+ wait on a Friday night was a bargain.

note: Most casinos you would be tipping the 'floor' not the runners, but in this particular one the chip runners were doing the seating.

Great article but I wanted to discuss how the link is to the print page where there is no navigation, ads or ability to see other content. I suggest the ?printable=true be removed from the url out of respect for the content providers.

A lot of time and money goes into creating content. This is clearly a well written and interesting article since it's on top of hacker news right now. Why screw the website out of the extra traffic to it's other pages and possible ad revenue by linking to the printable version?

I can understand not liking ads but this site isn't a content farm with tons of ads. There is only a tiny, handful of ads on the right with plenty of room for the content.

Sure, people on hacker news know enough to change the url if they want to explore the rest of the site but articles that become popular here also get picked up by other services with less savvy users.

If there's a 'display as single page' rather than a print option, I'll recieve an add impression for most sites posted here, and might like the nav tools, but if it's 'print version' or page through a half dozen pages, I'll take print every time.

Fair point. Paging through is a pain and annoying to the reader.

But it doesn't dispute your original point - ads are annoying to the reader too, and longer content costs more.

If there's a "single page" option, I prefer that to "printable". I don't mind ads, but I hate to click through three pages just to read an article.

It's surprising the divide that exists within the HN community. You have a lot of entrepreneurs who try to make successful companies based on free content and another side that can't stand those people. Or at least it seems that way based on the way this article is submitted, downvoted comments and general comments posted on the site.

Someone creates good content and we're almost punishing them for it. Yes, paging is annoying but is it such an offense that we remove the ability for the site owner to monetize the content?

For a given article, a single, long page should be able to display about as much ad space as multiple, short pages. If there's some benefit to the gross number of clicks/pageviews involved then perhaps it is the site that's gaming things.

I usually leave a site whenever I'm forced to click through pages, unless the content is really compelling (which usually isn't). Moreover, my reading is interrupted by having to wait for the next page to load. The option for a single page is what I look for beforehand. I don't mind all the ads being there. I think the solution would be showing a preview of the article.

The site could easily prevent deep-links to print versions if they cared. If they don't care, why should we?

I would not mind paying some 15-20 cents for the experience of reading a good article in a single plain page, ad-free - if this was given as an option to tip the writer (as opposed to paywall).

If a mechanism existed to part with those 20 cents without a bigger pain than that of a click.

I don't get the bribe terminology at all - offering better service to people willing to pay more is a pretty standard form of price differentiation.

We certainly don't call it a bribe when a webservice charges more for faster responses to support requests or access to a dedicated rep. We don't call it a bribe when an airline charges more for more leg room. Why should we call it a bribe when the restaurant's maitre d' charges more for priority access to tables?

I was curious, so I checked the dictionary definition (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bribe):

Definition of BRIBE

1: money or favor given or promised in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust

2: something that serves to induce or influence

I think it's important to distinguish between uses 1 and 2. You're describing, and I've defended, use 2. As far as I'm concerned, use 2 is indistinguishable from paying more for something better. I still consider use 1 unethical, assuming that the person in a position of trust is supposed to treat everyone equally with no favoritism of any kind. I don't consider a maitre d' at a restaurant to be in such a position of trust.

Obviously, it's a bribe because it's pocketed by the employee rather than passed up to the employer.

That's how front-of-house restaurant employees are predominantly paid in America.

Employees take home tips, too.


Seriously. The maitre d' isn't a public official in charge of a public or legal duty - this isn't a building inspector we're talking about.

I suspect any bad feelings around tipping the maitre d' for a table come from lack of knowledge of the custom - someone who doesn't go to good restaurants regularly or is from another country where customs are different.

It's not a tip. A tip is what you pull your wallet out and count your bills for while giving it to the person. This is a bribe you secretly slip someone because you're circumventing the normal wait every other patron must endure. You're not "following a custom", you're secretly taking advantage of one person's greed and everyone else's patience and trust. If you did this at the DMV your fellow motorists would probably murder you in the streets.

You do this in Mexico to get out of traffic stops. Is it a cultural custom designed to get preferential treatment? Yes. But it's also called bribery.

Pulling out your wallet and counting out the bills while giving it to the person? I certainly hope that's not how you tip in a good restaurant.

There's a reason why your check comes in a little folder that can discreetly hold cash. It's the same reason why you don't hand the money to the server directly and why you show some tact when approaching the maitre d', and it's got nothing to do with 'bribery'. Splashing around money indiscreetly has always been gauche.

then, why is it done under the table?

To protect the illusion of fairness displayed to diners who get line-jumped.

That money doesn't go to the business, it's pocketed by that one person.

Same for table tips - the owner gets no additional money if I tip the waitress well for attentiveness and competence above and beyond the standard for that class of restaurant.

Look at it this way - the owner has X tables and Y seatings per evening. Let's say P is the number of people who want tables, R is people with reservations, and S is the number of people who show up looking for a spare table. So long as S > XY-R (which implies P > XY), the manner in which customers are selected from S doesn't really matter that much[1].

In fact, "willing and able to tip hostess" is not a bad customer differentiator - the subset of customers who are willing to pay for a seat are more likely to be willing to spend big bucks on the meal and are more likely to be in a hurry (possibly letting you turn that table an extra time if you're lucky). It's only really a problem for the owner if the hostess is ignoring more clear signals that the guy's a big spender.

[1] - Since Most Valuable Customers likely have reservations or would get preferential treatment without tipping the hostess.

So, that should be X plus Y above. Apparently plus signs are HN-ese for italics.

I agree, but that's precisely why the maitre'd has an interest in protecting his reputation: it may have repercussions on his relationship with the restaurant owner/employer. Do you think the guy accepting the tip wants diners going to the owner and complaining how they waited an hour to be seated while a tipper line-jumped?

I had a similar experience a few years ago in London where the night clubs were well known for their strict enforcement of "no collar no entry" policy. I did remember to wear a shirt that night but forgot to carry my passport, and I was blocked by a sumo-looking security guard at the club door. Upon suggestion by a friend who lived in London for many years I slipped a £10 note under a random business card I found in my wallet (pretend to be a valid ID) and approached the security guard.

"Here's my ID" I said, and showed a tip of the note under the card. "Show me," said the security guard and casually took both the card and the money from my hand. After pretending to check the birthday details for 10 seconds he returned the card (but not the money) to me and said "have a good night!"

Many comments speak of 'establishing a relationship' and 'getting an inside man'. Would it also not work the other way, in certain cases? Person A moves into a locality. Couple of days later visits a nearby restaurant. He is asked to wait; and he witnesses Person B flashing some greens (or blues, if on the other side of the planet ;) and getting in jumping the wait-list. Person C follows suit and does the same. Person A finds it insulting, and leaves. The establishment just lost a potential regular considering that he resides nearby.

Also, would service providers prefer a person who tips modestly (but consistently) over someone who tips generously once?

Sebastian's comment above mentions an experience in Vietnam. From what I have seen, in certain establishments/places in regions where stronger currencies (e.g. $/£) trump the local currencies (e.g. INR), it is not uncommon to find the local populace being treated with mild neglect in spite of them being(equally if not more) friendly and respectful; while a great deal of preference would be given to those who stand out in the crowd and can afford to tip more. (I know; many can sense a hint of racism being dragged in. But as unfortunately sad it is, it indeed happens at times. I hope visits to Mysore/Goa/Hampi can relate to this)

And about dressing, it reminded me of http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/hodja.html#eatcoat

tl:dr; Money speaks; nay, screams. We just have to get over this fact.

In the restaurants the articles describes, they can afford to alienate a few people. There will always be more people to replace them. It was written in New York when the economy was booming.

Looking at it from a market perspective, there is a limited supply of something (ie. seats at a table at a reasonable time), and a demand. It's then not a surprise that getting a table costs you more. The only surprising thing is that it seems suprising!

When there's a limited supply of anything, naturally the price will rise. In every other market, there is no benefit to being "first in line" for the product - the price is the price.

Why not have an auction system for getting tables? Whenever a table becomes free, the maitre d' asks everyone to bid on the table. If no-one bids, then whoever is first in line gets it. That seems like the fairest system - no-one can game the system by bribing because it's all completely open and honest.

Why don't any restaurants do this? As a bonus side effect, you'd probably attract the people with more money to spend, as they figure they can guarantee themselves a quick table. Also, this allows the people that really want to go to a restaurant to splurge on getting the first available table, while someone who doesn't really care might leave and go somewhere else.

Basic market forces causing the most optimal distribution of a limited resource.

-- Ayjay on Fedang

  And it hadn’t cost me a dime, merely the willingness to indicate that I
  would tip for service.
This is an interesting line, because it indicates the author redefined, in his mind, what he was doing: he wasn't bribing anyone, he was merely tipping beforehand. Suddenly, the practice seems much more acceptable, to the point where I wonder why I'm instinctively against it.

I guess the answer is that we should consider a stark difference between bribing someone for 'services' that aren't at his discretion to provide, such as a police officer dropping a bill or a government employee granting a permit, versus bribing someone for services that really are at the discretion of the person being bribed. The rules for being seated at these restaurants are informal rules and no laws are broken in bending them a bit.

As a result of this article, I feel much less unfavorably about 'bribing' random personnel of companies. I wonder how long that will last.

In Vegas where at check-in, if you slide a 20$ bill with your CC & passport and ask for "any complementary upgrades", you can get a free room upgrade. If you do a quick search you'll notice how common this trick is, and the success rate for most hotels is in the 80-90% region.

A common definition of intelligence, or at least part of the definition of intelligence, is "the general mental ability to learn and apply knowledge to manipulate your environment." I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that this type of tipping "hack" applies.

There is something similar with hotels, esp. in a place like Vegas: show $20/$50/$100 at check-in, and get an upgraded room. Google "twenty dollar trick".

Not that I've had the nerve to try it.

Saw it. I guess there is a disconnect between the rate charged and the room assigned in hotel management systems. I could fix that pretty quickly with a few queries.

Your comment is a little unclear, but it appears you think room rates are fixed.

They're not at all - they vary pretty much the same way airline tickets do. Hotels are a bit less obvious about it because the often have display rates.

(Varying rates is especially common in places like Vegas where there is usually a huge oversupply of rooms, but hotels make money from other things, ie, gambling)

In Vegas in particular, hotel-casinos will comp you a room if you gamble enough--and interestingly, the EV on that gambling sometimes compares favorably to the cost of the room.

I know they're not fixed, but it seems there is zero information conveyed from the purchasing system to the hotel management system, which conveys what was originally sold.

I first encountered this story when Steven Pinker retold it at an Authors@Google talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBpetDxIEMU

About 40 minutes in, Pinker talks about the psychology, linguistics, and game theory of bribery and talks for a few minutes about the article.

Despite how effective this generally is, I feel dirty every time and I hate doing it.

Seems unethical to me, strictly speaking.

Sure, everyone's doing it. Doesn't mean cheating someone else out of their fair share is right, though.

It's an interesting question, and to me a real ethical gray area. At my favorite bar, I usually tip very generously, and all the bartenders know me. I tend to get my first drink free, and if I stay for a while, often a shot with the bartender later. For those, I tip extra big - not quite, but almost, the cost of the drink. For a while I felt bad about "taking advantage" of the system. But in fact I think this is part of the system, because every bar needs regulars, and since people like me and I don't cause trouble, my patronage is useful even to the owners (though they may get less revenue from my drinks). I also think this may constitute a sort of perk for the bartenders - to be able to give free drinks to a limited number of friends probably makes them enjoy their job more. I do notice that after I get a free one the bartender makes some sort of note on a piece of paper near the register, so maybe this is an official part of the system.

I'm not sure if the restaurant business is the same, but I can imagine that the owners anticipate this sort of thing, and maybe even encourage it, since it means their employees get more money and might be happier as a result.

But yeah, it doesn't seem particularly fair, at least the way I was raised to think of it.

I think it's fair. On any given night there's probably quite a few people in the bar who outspend you. But you're a regular. That means that over a long period of time, you probably hand over more money to the bartenders and the bar itself than most people there that night. They are both rewarding and encouraging that behavior.

What you described is the original "rewards program."

"Fair share"? As if each person deserves to be served? Talk about a sense of entitlement. The restaurant will serve whomever it likes. You wouldn't think it unethical for the restaurant to give regulars a friendlier smile, or a specific table they like? If you have a personal relationship with someone, no matter how tenuous, they will give you better service. It's not "cheating." Especially for busy restaurants, there is no reason for them to serve an "average" customer and ignore a "good" customer.

'"Fair share"? As if each person deserves to be served?'

Everyone does deserve to be served. Why? Is it because it's an immutable ethical truth? No. It's because that's our culture. The US is a pretty egalitarian society. It isn't perfect but it's still in our cultural DNA.

A lot of the objection is the issue of slipping the seater a $100. If it was an open auction at the door and everybody had to bid for seats, that would just be the way it is, but in America the act of slipping someone $100 to be seated is basically sneaking out of the egalitarian society into a society of privilege, and the egalitarian among us find that offensive. If you want to buy privilege, which is a perfectly valid thing to do, buy it on the open market, not with bribery.

If everybody engages in bribery, and everybody knows it, the sneaky cheating aspect goes away, though I tend to agree with other posters that this creates a moral hazard. Not being a cultural relativist, I am free to say I believe the egalitarian culture here produces superior results to a culture that accepts bribery routinely. It really does lead fairly directly to things like paying off inspectors to not do the inspections, in a non-trivial percentage of the population.

Just because something is done surreptitiously doesn't mean it's against cultural norms--it may just mean the cultural norm is to be surreptitious about it. Cultural norms are weird that way.

For instance, maybe the taboo isn't against bribery per se, but against conspicuous displays of wealth--"flashing your cash". For instance, it's taboo to openly discuss one's salary or other financial details. You might think conspicuous consumption is a counterexample, but really it works for this point too--since there's no surefire markers of social class and it's taboo to just go around saying "ha ha, I earn 100 times more money than you", people who want to brag about how rich they are buy really expensive things and make sure everyone notices them. (Similarly, since there's a taboo about exposing certain parts of your body, women who want to brag about how fantastic certain parts of their body are wear tight clothing and cleavagey tops.)

If this trick works universally among high-class restaurants in a certain culture (be it the US, New York City, or whatever), it's indeed a cultural norm to do it--even if the norm requires surreptitiousness.

Don't you think it's kind of a dangerous thing when you start saying you deserve something by virtue of the fact you perceive it to be a cultural norm?

"I work hard but was laid off from my job. America is all about rewarding people for working hard so I got screwed. Therefore it's OK for me to rob a bank in order to compensate myself for my monetary losses which society owes me."

Well, not rob a bank per say. But they certainly might feel entitled to receive compensation from the Government.

And how is that different? You're still soothing your problems with other people's money.

In response, I simply lean over and gently light your strawman on fire.

I agree that the language of "fair" and "ethical" seems a bit over-entitled (although I admit, my emotional reaction is one of unfairness and unethicalness).

But I'd like to try to reframe this, to focus on what is lost, and who pays the price.

I value transparency and predictability in (most) transactions; I want shopping to be easy, and so I'd rather pay a non-negotiable $100 for something, versus see a pricetag of $200 that I know is negotiable in the range of 30%-70%. (Admittedly, if we're talking about $100,000, I start being interested in the $200,000 plus haggling).

As such, if I learn that a certain business has a non-transparent cost structure, including this tipping-oriented one, I'm disinclined to shop there. So if I witness you bribing the staff, the business owner loses some of my goodwill (even more if you bribe the staff to cut ahead of me in line), which is a Real Loss for them. I'll acknowledge that perhaps the business owner would rather have the business of the bribing type, for whatever reason (perhaps they're bigger spenders).

I guess my conclusion here is that it is unethical for an employee to accept bribes, if and only if they have been given (explicit or implicit) work direction to not do so.

I don't have much to say about whether it's ethical to bribe them, except of course bribing them for unethical gain (e.g. bypassing safety inspections) would be unethical, and maybe it's unethical to incent someone to behave unethically?

Well... it's a spectrum from this to Jim Crow. Obviously it's nothing like it, but in the States we tend to say all forms of discrimination are socially unacceptable in order to avoid any slippery slope issues.

This is exactly wrong. Jim Crow and that spectrum is based on race and other prejudices. It's based on things people can't change (reasonably), and on "knowing your place" in society. This is the exact opposite. This is about personal relationships, connections, sphere of influence. This is not about classism, or racism, or any kind of prejudice.

Why do you find it unethical? I'm not being glib. You can see why I don't find it unethical in posts below.

Many companies would find similar behavior among their employees to be unethical and cause for termination.

For instance, large retailers have strict gift rules in place so that suppliers cannot "bribe" the retail buyers to get their stuff on shelves.

Our Walmart contact in their technology center wouldn't accept a cup of coffee during a site visit, without putting a quarter on the table. They Strictly enforce a ban on gifts and favors, calling it all bribery and grounds for getting fired.

But those are instances where there is no precedent for tipping.

it's not unethical. It's the market economy.

The underlying assumption that being a market economy precludes a market from being unethical strikes me as overly simplistic.

I believe his point was that if you're going to call this unethical, then you have to also consider, say, an inferior television costing $200 and a superior television costing $800 unethical.

No, you don't. The difference is one of transparency. Information about various televisions and their pricing is freely available to anyone who asks, whereas reliable information about the necessity or possibility of bribes is hard to obtain. The end result is a less efficient market.

And a less efficient market is necessarily unethical? I also don't think the situation is opaque: tip well, be genuinely friendly, and you'll receive better service.

People will find a market unethical if it's consistently biased in a way that seems unnecessary and "unfair." In this context, since bribery isn't a common part of American culture, it seems unfair to give an advantage to people who are skilled at it.

The situation you described is very opaque, compared to the television market. How well is "well," and how much better might the service be? The answers vary wildly depending on your manner and the establishment in question, and you're almost never going to know them before you pay.

Except the maitre'd isn't the restaurant, and what he's selling technically isn't his to sell. So as such it's more of a black market for stolen goods. If the restaurant had a stated policy where tables where auctioned off at busy times then that would be different.

You don't know whether it is or isn't his decision to make - that would be between him and his employers.

He may very well have the discretion to bend the rules a bit for the right kind of people to keep the place popular - wealthy people who like to buy their way to the front of the line are also people who are likely to spend more extravagantly on the wine.

Do you think bribing government officials to get preferential treatment is also OK? If not, what is the difference?

Government officials are not a part of the market economy.

It's paying for service, it just goes through unofficial channels. I live in a small college town. I eat at the same vegetarian restaurant for lunch almost every single weekday. I sit at the counter with a book, and make small talk with the cooks and servers as appropriate. I unquestionably receive preferential treatment from them. The cooks sometimes slide me extra food if it's not enough to sell as a full meal, or if someone sends back food that's fine to eat. The servers take my order almost the moment I take a seat at the counter and it's usually served the moment it's ready.

I don't tip extravagantly ($2 for an $8 meal), but I'm friendly, easy to serve and they know they'll see me every day. I get preferential treatment, but I'm also giving them preferential treatment by coming in every day.

You have a right to be treated the same as everyone else by the government. You have no such right at a service establishment - yes, they cannot refuse service for the all of the standard prejudices. But they most certainly can offer a higher level of service to people who pay more.

OK, what about if you employed someone to tender contracts for you and one of the tenderers took this person out for an extravagant lunch in the expectation of influencing the bidding process? Wouldn't that be immoral?

I would think so, yes. But restaurants, bars, massage parlors, etc. are service-oriented places where tipping is already the norm. The precedent for more-money-means-better-service has already been set.

No - it would be a gamble. Immoral, and possibly a fireable offence, would be if your employee actually gave them a better deal in exchange for the kickback - in which case you, as their employer, can deal with them as you see fit.

You only get to choose your government every n years, so as part of their pitch to you, they make a promise (in law) that their officials will not be bribable - any subsequent bribe violates that promise and that law. By contrast, you can choose which restaurants you visit (on a day-to-day basis), so they have no need to make such formal promises or contracts, so they don't. They are then free to offer service x for price y, you are free to accept or reject, and they are free to change it the next day.

This isn't "buying" a better table (although that can happen). This is about building a positive relationship with a person. You do something positive for the maitre'd, and now he's on your side. It's more about making a contact with someone "on the inside" and less about making a purchase.

Everyone else waits a few extra minutes, but meanwhile the maitre d's work income is vastly improved while you get a quick seat for a fee. In the end, the net effect on society is probably neutral at worst. At best, no one else even notices and both you and the maitre d' have a great night.

The effect on society can be much, much worse than neutral. If it happens enough, all of sudden it's expected and then people will start intentionally delaying service/making it difficult unless you pay them. (for reference, see any country with petty corruption/bribery problems)

What's the difference between this and say slipping the building inspector a hundred dollars to "not have any problems"?

> What's the difference between this and say slipping the building inspector a hundred dollars to "not have any problems"?

What's the difference between this and paying Southwest $10 to get early boarding?

For that matter, what's the difference between this and patronizing a top-notch doctor whose high prices result in a short surgery waitlist in order getting some surgery done more quickly?

We can bandy around analogies all day long, but when it comes down to it, the actions of private individuals prioritizing private resources for a fee is a fundamentally different thing than the actions of public workers prioritizing public resources for a fee. In the private sector, it's price discrimination. In the public sector, it's bribery. The difference is in who owns the resources that are being prioritized.

>"The effect on society can be much, much worse than neutral. If it happens enough, all of sudden it's expected and then people will start intentionally delaying service/making it difficult unless you pay them. (for reference, see any country with petty corruption/bribery problems)"

A mitigating factor is that restaurant owners/managers will only tolerate this behavior from their employees when customer demand exceeds seating supply. If a hostess has an empty table and refuses to seat a party until they bribe her, she will be fired.

>"What's the difference between this and say slipping the building inspector a hundred dollars to "not have any problems"?"

The hostess's job depends on allocating scarce tables to customers with no good indicators of customer quality. The inspector's job is to only certify safe buildings, and he has loads of indicators to make that determination, and the certificates are not scarce.

That said, I don't see what's wrong with a system where you can pay to short-circuit some slowdowns. It would be worth $20 to me to go from a half-day's wait at the DMV to a 30-minute wait, and I'm sure there are parties willing to pay tens of thousands to put their building plans at the top of the pile (without circumventing any inspections or anything, just getting the next available inspection). The downside to this is that, while it raises revenue, it detracts from government's duty to serve all citizens equally.

In the DMV case, specifically they can hire more workers, or be open the times people actually need to go (outside of 9-5 M-F) by paying them more. I actually tried to do this when I had to take a quick test to transfer my license, I asked if a tester would stay late if I paid extra (the extra insurance on my out-of-state license was awful on my rental, and the wait was 2 weeks), I was accused of trying to bribe them -- but it was a 10 minute test, I'd stay 10 minutes late at work for $20 (or $50 whatever).

(I'm making the possibly flawed assumption that the DMV cares about customers)

I imagine it's mostly down to the grizzly corpses that won't need to be pulled out of the rubble?

My girlfriend looks at me in a way she hasn’t since I surprised her by uncharacteristically demolishing a friend on the tennis court.

That should have been fun.

This is one of the HN's best thread ever. Thanks, thanks, thanks to everyone for sharing.

As Gabriele D'Annunzio used to say: "I own what I've given away."

Here's another thread on HN:


Link to previous discussion


Wildly entertaining read.

someone posts this every six or eight months it seems. And every time it scores the poster hundreds of points. Still a good read. :-)

the article is from October 2000. The restaurant business is so bad right now that there is absolutely no need to bribe.

I am traveling to Chicago and NY on Jetblue's all you can fly. Alinea had a few openings that I was able to squeeze in over the phone. I was changing Daniel and Jean Georges's appointments many times with no problem.

Take the same advice, and apply it to clubs/lounges. Or, anywhere there is more demand than supply.

I had already learned a number of lessons. First: Go. You’d be surprised at what you get just by showing up. Second: Dress decently. Third, and most important: Don’t be ashamed. They’re not, and neither should you be.

I see. If people go along with what you suggest, you don't have to feel ashamed about it. So this guy has no interest in right or wrong at all; he just doesn't want to feel embarrassed. I'm sure this guy will enjoy a lot of loyalty and support when the chips are down.

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