Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 12, 2016

Per Se

Filed under: capitalist pig,food — louisproyect @ 11:22 pm

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From the January 13, 2016 NY Times:

More familiar, but just as transporting, was the risotto, supersaturated with brown butter and creamy Castelmagno cheese. A server appeared with a wooden box and a shaver, and the plate momentarily disappeared under a rain of white truffles. A few minutes later, even more truffles poured down.

Some of those prices came down slightly when the baseline cost went up. With or without supplemental charges, though, Per Se is among the worst food deals in New York.

Mr. Keller was a leader in the service-included model of pricing, although he muddies the waters by leaving a line for an optional gratuity on the check. Just what kind of service is included?

The people who work in Per Se’s dining room can be warm and gracious. They can also be oddly unaccommodating. When one of my guests didn’t like a sample of a red being offered by the glass, the sommelier decided to argue, defending his choice instead of pouring something new. When I asked to see the truffle being shaved over somebody else’s plate, it was whisked under my eyes for a nanosecond, as if the server were afraid I was going to sneeze. I know what truffles look like; what I wanted was to smell it.

Wine glasses sat empty through entire courses. Once, the table was set for dessert so haphazardly that my spoon ended up next to my water glass instead of my plate. Sitting down after a trip to the restroom, one of my guests had his chair pushed back into place with a hard shove. Has the dance teacher been replaced by a rugby coach?

* * * *

From an article by Tanya Gold titled “A Goose in a Dress” from the September 2015 Harper’s (behind a paywall) on Per Se and two other restaurants geared to hedge fund managers.

If the restaurant is a cult, what then is the diner? A goose in a dress of course, a hostage to be force-fed a nine-course tasting menu by Chef Keller and his acolytes. Here the chef is in control. The client, meanwhile, is a masochist waiting to be beaten with a breadstick, spoiled with minute and sumptuous portions that satisfy, and yet incite, one’s greed. The restaurant seethes with psychological undercurrents and tiny pricks of warfare. It is not relaxing.

The dining room: sixteen tables on two levels, with views of Columbus Circle and Central Park. The walls are beige, with hangings that look like oars that could not row a boat; the carpet is brown, with cream squiggles. It is gloomy and quiet, the only sound a murmur. My companion thinks it looks like an Ibis hotel, with a chair for your handbag, or an airport lounge in Dubai.

I don’t think they like the customers. Perhaps they are annoyed that Through Itself charges a 20 percent “service fee” for private dining—Service Not Included?—and does not pass it on to them. (As this essay went to press, New York State concluded that Through Itself had violated state labor law and would pay $500,000 in reparations to the affected employees.) Or perhaps the clients are too greedy? In Service Included, Damrosch rages against a customer who seeks extra canapés: “Extra canapés are a gift from the chef and to ask for them, even if you are willing to pay, would be like calling a dinner guest and telling them that instead of a bottle of wine or some flowers, you would like them to weave you a new tablecloth.” Surely this would be comparable only if your theoretical dinner guest owned a tablecloth factory? The waiter, a man with huge arms, presumably from carrying a city of plates, asks: “How is your drink?” “Watery,” I say, since he asked. Another is brought and he is here again, prodding: “How is your fauxjito?” It’s hard to be afraid of someone who says “fauxjito” with such emphasis, but I think I have hurt his feelings; things are not the same after that. During the cheese course, when I do not understand whether the cheese is an alcoholic or a recovering cheese, he asks me, very slowly: “Do you understand what I am saying?” Each word is followed by a full stop. I have never found servility quite so threatening.

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 One of the country’s best and most expensive restaurants was slammed today by New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman for wage violations. Thomas Keller’s Per Se, whoseadoption of European-style pricing policies in 2005 eliminated the need for diners to tip,paving the way for the espousal of similar policies at tasting menu venues across America, has agreed to pay $500,000 to current and former waiters after an investigation found that it broke state wage and tipping laws.

As part of the settlement, Per Se “neither admits nor denies” the attorney general’s findings. The restaurant, in an emailed statement, called the issue an “unintentional oversight” stemming from a new state rule governing how service charges are levied. The three Michelin-starred establishment also wrote the following in a subsequent statement to Eater this afternoon:

“Our employees were never short-changed and no monies intended for employees were withheld…The Attorney General’s office’s own findings state that the charge was used in part to pay Per Se’s workers their industry-leading wages – a waiter at Per Se, for example, including overtime and gratuities, makes approximately $116,000 a year.”

The violations appear to be confined to a service charge the restaurant was levying on private dining contracts from January 2011 to September 2012, according to court documents. Those same documents don’t allege Per Se of any wrongdoing in its main dining room where there’s no service charge; all food and wine prices there are already reflective of what the restaurant needs to earn to pay its employees, as well as to cover its general expenses. This stands in stark contrast to most other culinary establishments, where waiters are paid as little as $5.00/hour and therefore depend on gratuities to bring their wages up to the New York minimum of $8.75/hour.

Accordingly, patrons of Per Se’s main dining room don’t need to tip, and the restaurant can redistribute its revenues as it sees fit. But when a service charge is levied, as is the case with Per Se’s private dining events, state law is more restrictive on what a restaurant can do with the funds it collects. In early 2011, the New York enacted an order stating that any additional charge on a bill is “purported to be gratuity,” and that restaurants are required to specifically inform customers when those charges on a bill are not used as gratuities (i.e. if that fee is being used to help pay for cooks or managers). A gratuity is the property of an employee, and cannot, for the most part, be used to count as revenue or to compensate non-tipped workers.

1 Comment »

  1. Ecce Douchebag: Richard Cohen on Tipping

    http://coreyrobin.com/2015/10/21/ecce-douchebag-richard-cohen-on-tipping/

    Comment by Todd — January 13, 2016 @ 5:29 pm


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