First a word about tipping, that event at the end that puts the whole thing in perspective. And it goes like this… based on how far (above or below) the amount called “fifteen percent” gets addressed by the customer, your friendly bartender pretty much gets his job rating. It’s his performance barometer. If it’s way above he did well, if it’s way below he did poorly, but if it’s still below when he actually did well and nothing is left on the bar but the customer’s fingerprints, well, that customer’s either cheap or the guy’s from England!
Like the one perhaps in this story I’m about to share with you…
It was Tuesday night when this event took place, when these two guys entered this bar in midtown Manhattan, and the two of them couldn’t have been more unlike in style. The one guy, the Englishman, was somewhere in his mid to late forties, had a mop of salt and pepper hair some guys would kill for, and a tan that said he obviously moved around the planet. He wore a tailor-made, charcoal, pin stripped suit, a starched white shirt (open collar), and a pinkie ring and watch that backed up the performance. Distinguished but with a flair is how one would describe him.
His companion, on the other hand… this guy who apparently worked for the Englishman… was somewhere in his mid to late thirties and all rock and roll. His head was shaved to a stubble, tattoos encircled his neck like tortured hieroglyphics, the ring he wore found a home in his ear and his suit was the color of lava long after drying. Subdued and brownish gray, one shade darker than the jersey he wore underneath it. He was Michael Stipe to his boss’s Ralph Lauren.
These guys had just started coming to this place, with three or four visits under their belts, and had always drunk up a storm on each of those visits. The Englishman always drank Guinness with an Amaretto back, while the young guy handled an Amstel backed by a Jameson. And in spite of the fact they drank gangs of this stuff they always remained well behaved and acted like gentlemen, except, that is, when it came time to pay the bill. The tip was always the part where they fucked up the game.
Now it stands to reason if you’re going to be a regular you have to understand what the deal is when it comes to tipping, else you’re always going to leave a frowning bartender in your wake. And more important, on each of your subsequent visits, you’ll be met with a far less friendly greeting and the whole dynamic will gradually slide down the drain. So whether you’re from London, Bolivia, Guam or Vladi-fucking-vostok, if you’re consistently coming up short, the rules of engagement just have to be drawn which is exactly what this bartender did last Tuesday when the bill came due at a hundred and forty three dollars.
The Englishman, who always paid the tab for these two, just stared at the thing when he got it, while his friend was off to the bathroom giving back Amstel. And seeing that the man was perplexed at the total, that his tan was starting to wane, the bartender approached and asked if he wanted it explained to him. Their shooters had apparently been doubles that day so every beer had an eighteen dollar accompaniment.
“Oh no,” said the Englishman, maintaining his savoir-faire and gentlemanly decorum, “this is fine, I understand.” Then he paid with a card and drew a line through the “tip” space. And when his friend returned from the men’s room, the Englishman got up and took his turn in the head. Well, this being a rather big tab, dear reader, and based on past performances paid by the Englishman, the bartender took advantage of his absence and figured it was high time he laid down some ground rules to the American.
“Listen, my friend,” he said, “I don’t mean to embarrass or insult anyone, but your friend just drew a line here through the tip space. And based on…”
“Oh no” said the guy, “he’ll do the right thing, don’t worry. He’ll tip you in cash.”
“Well, to finish what I started to say, he never does the right thing, he always leaves just barely ten percent. Now I don’t want to make a big deal out of this but since you’re from here I thought you should be aware of that. Because I gotta’ tell you, if he doesn’t do the right thing tonight I’m going to have to say something and I don’t like doing that. Especially since your friend’s a really nice guy. So maybe you can finesses this thing before it comes to that, whaddaya’ say, pal?”
“Oh wow, man, I had no idea. Yeah, I’ll take care of this. And I’ll be cool.”
“Good, because you guys are pretty good customers now and I want you to keep coming back, it’s just that we have to straighten this out if we’re to continue here. Know what I’m saying?”
“Yeah, yeah, I hear ya’, man. No sweat!”
Well, surprisingly, when English came back from the men’s room, he threw a twenty on the bar and that was that. And since twenty was almost fifteen percent the bartender scooped it up and readily thanked him. No conversation necessary. But then something happened that has to be a first in the bar business.
The two of them got into this big discussion… the Englishman and the rocker… and the Englishman seemed to get more perturbed by the minute. Or at least that’s what his brow revealed which was furrowed in a knot of concern. Until finally, after a good ten minutes of back and forth the Englishman raised his hand and summoned the bartender. “Excuse me, Sir,” he said, “would you come for here a second?” Uh-oh, thought the bartender, here comes confrontation!!!
“Yes, Sir, what is it?” said the bartender, ready to hold his ground yet keep his cool.
“My friend and I would like to do you a favor,” said the Englishman.
“What?” said the bartender. “I don’t understand.”
“I said we’d like to do you a favor. See, I happen to own a clothing store that does custom-made garments for men, and we’d like to make you a couple of shirts and a vest. Would you like that?”
“No, no, I’m serious,” said the Englishman, his brow now smooth and color returning to his cheeks.
“But why?” asked the bartender, “I don’t get it.”
“Because you always take good care of us, you happen to be a nice guy, and it’s something I can do, that’s why.”
Well, needless to say, dear reader, the bartender didn’t see this one coming at all. He was flabbergasted. I happen to know this bartender well and this was one of the few times he was ever speechless.
But he finally spoke. “Hey, man,” he said, “if you’re serious, well, um, I guess so. I guess I’d take some shirts but this is incredible.”
“It’s our pleasure,” announced young Guinness with a Jameson back. “Here, here’s our card, we’re over on Madison Avenue just a bit north of here. Come in and ask for me and I’ll start the ball rolling.” And with that the three shook hands and out went the two.
What in the hell just happened here? thought the bartender. How did a discussion about “fifteen percent” get to something like seven hundred dollars worth of clothing? This English guy’s not cheap… he’s not that typical Brit for a visit who gives a bad name to the rest… this guy’s just unaware or needed some tutoring. Or something!!! But Jesus, Mary and Joseph, two hand made shirts and a hand made vest? This is amazing! Well… pip fucking pip, old chap, here’s to merry old you and merry old England!!!
Ahh, but now that it’s all said and done, dear reader, the question is clearly this… knowing this bartender as I do, is he really going to take them up on this generous offer? Is he really going to enter that fancy store (probably in polo shirt and jeans), and stand there while they measure his ass for splendor? Is he really going to go from off-the-rack… your typical “wash and wear” fare… to something that’s made to his very own specifications? You bet he is. I’m scheduled to go for a fitting a week from Monday. 🙂
Over and out from Bar-land… ta ta!
PS: Hah, I just thought of something. Do I tip the tailor after he’s finished my shirts? Good grief, what’s the protocol here?