Drinking to Drink - Part VI

I was practically drooling last night after I read this article in the Chron about a group of Bay Area restaurants deciding to include 20% service fees automatically. I could not wait to see that comment field. I could not wait to read the ridiculous, faux outrage from diners about tipping, and how they would never eat at one of the restaurants listed. I quickly scrolled down to the bottom of the page. To my sheer delight, it was everything I hoped it would be.

"Thanks for the list of restaurants not to eat at," one commenter wrote. I read that sentence and then I laughed out loud. I let out a huge, hearty, belly-shaking laugh that emanated from my inner soul. I texted my friend Thad and wrote, "You sir, have fucking balls!" What none of these people realized—too busy scrambling sanctimoniously to make their very important opinions heard—is that these restaurants were rejecting them; not the other way around. Or maybe they unconsciously did realize it and they were reacting to that rejection. What this group of eateries was boldly stating to difficult customers everywhere, behind a cover of economic speak and minimum wage discussions, was simple: WE DON'T NEED YOUR BUSINESS.

The idea of automatically adding 20% gratuity to the bill would instantly weed out all of the people not willing to pay it; first problem solved. Then, of course, it would quickly piss off all the haughty, hard-to-please, super-critical, I-may-or-may-not-tip-you-depending-on-how-I-feel diners who complain about everything and make life difficult.

"Well, I would never eat at a place that charges me a 20% fee just to have a meal," someone complained.

"GOOD!" these restaurants were thinking. "That's exactly the point!" These owners are not interested in these commentors or their business; hence, why they did what they did! These outraged patrons don't want to eat there. These businesses don't want them to eat there. Everyone wins! The fact that these restaurants are outright saying this, however, is really getting under some skin. As an American business you're supposed to bend over backwards for customers. You're expected to listen to all their criticisms, and—most importantly—care about their concerns. To blatantly put your hand out and say: "We have enough loyal customers already who don't mind tipping 20% automatically. We don't need anyone else, thank you," is an affront to cheapskates everywhere. It's a slap in the face to folks who never had any intention of going to your restaurant and tipping you, but now won't ever get the chance.

But there's a message for whisky drinkers buried underneath all of this (actually, a message for consumers of any kind): not every business wants your business, nor do they need it. If a company isn't willing to change, it may be specifically because they don't want you as a customer.

Let me give you a retail example. If a guy came into K&L specifically looking for batch #42 of Aberlour A'Bunadh, didn't see it on the shelf, and asked us to look in the back for that number specifically, I would probably go to the warehouse and have a look. If this situation started happening multiple times a day, however (like it does now on the phones), I would stop doing it. We don't have time to dig through all of our backstock looking for specific batch or cask numbers on labels. Customers are welcome to look through what we have out on display, but I'm not going to call the warehouse, stop one of our operations guys from his important task, and bother him with an endless scavenger hunt. We're too busy for that. It's not to be insensitive, because I understand that people want these specific bottles. It just isn't something that we're interested in spending much time on. If we lose a certain amount of business because of that, then so be it. We're willing to lose that business because, ultimately, the guys looking for specific batch numbers are generally not repeat customers. They're usually guys calling around from store to store, looking for the best deal. It's a stand that we have taken with our customer service department for the purpose of giving better and faster service to the people that are actually shopping with us frequently. By not getting bogged down in boxes, I have more time to spend with customers on the sales floor.

So when I hear whiskey drinkers complain that brands don't listen to them—that whisky companies aren't giving them the information they want—I don't think it's that they're not listening. If anything, they're forced to listen to demands for lower prices, more transparency, and honest labelling all day long from passionate whiskey fans everywhere—via phone calls, emails, and angry blog posts. It's just that many companies don't care about those issues enough to make those particular changes. More importantly, it's not worth them doing what whiskey geeks want them to do in order to capture that particular subset of business. Knowing that many whiskey collectors are not brand loyalists, and maintain a devotion to the cause rather than the company, I don't think many brands want much of that business. Whiskey companies aren't looking for one-and-done shoppers. They're definitely not making whiskey for the purpose of analyzation and contemplation (although they may enjoy it, too). They make whiskey so that you'll drink it, enjoy the way it tastes, and then come back for another. If you're not part of that formula then you don't really have much pull when it comes to demanding better standards. You're already not drinking their whiskey, so what do they care about what you think?

Bar Agricole and Trou Normand are full just about every night. More than enough people are eating, drinking, having a good time, and gladly paying 20% at the end of their experience. Those restaurants are not worried about losing business they don't need anyway. They're focusing on maintaining the standards that have given them the popularity they now possess. By weeding out the customers they don't want, and the burden these people place on their time and energy, they're now giving even better service to their faithful and supportive core of consumers. I think most booze companies are following that same game plan.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll