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RESTAURANT NOTEBOOK

Chocoholic Guinea Pigs

September 28, 1986|COLMAN ANDREWS

Put down that dish of Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip? Decline that wedge of Chocolate Decadence? Say "No thanks, Frenchy" to that coupe of mousse au chocolate ? What are you anyway? Some kind of dope fiend?

It's a well-known fact that everything good to eat or drink causes cancer (and, incidentally, that nothing bad to eat or drink does: They tell you to stay away from charcoal-broiled steaks and too much coffee, but they never say a word about mashed parsnips or nonfat milk). Now, from France, comes the news that chocolate contains an amphetamine-like drug--phenylethylamine--that can be addictive and that can make you pretty darned testy at the thought of being cut off from the stuff.

Two eminent toxicologists at the Hospital Fernand Widal in Paris, Charles Faure-Bismuth and Emile Grouzmann, have reportedly induced clinical addiction to phenylethylamine in laboratory animals, and have also studied the habits and physical health of 22 human "chocolatomanes"--citizens who consume more than 100 grams (about 3 1/2 ounces) of chocolate a day (and sometimes as much as 500 grams or 17 1/2 ounces). According to their findings, remarkably, the 22 chocoholics were not overweight, despite their huge additional daily calorie intake--a fact apparently explained by phenylethylamine's stimulant effects, which seemed to encourage increased physical activity, including sports and sexual performance, compulsive reading and tidying up, and extended working hours--among participants in the study. It was also noted that the 22 showed signs of anxiety and depression when told that they would be deprived of chocolate for a time. One French newspaper, in reporting the findings of Faure-Bismuth and Grouzmann, called chocolate "le speed nouveau . " Consider yourself warned.

I don't want to turn this column into "Restaurant Tipping Notebook" ("Restaurant Tip-Sheet"?), but readers' comments on the subject do keep pouring in, and restaurant tipping is obviously something diners feel very strongly about one way or another (and often find very confusing)--so I think it might be reasonable to devote a bit more space to the matter.

One of the most curious letters I've gotten on tipping comes from Patricia J. Smith of Santa Monica, who claims that restaurant prices have increased out of all proportion since the late '70s, and suggests that 15% or 20% is thus too much to tip today. "Reduce the tip to 10%," she writes. "It's only fair." Well, now, in the first place the cost of almost everything --houses, cars, medical care, insurance, etc., etc.--has gone up quite a bit in the past six or eight years, and I simply don't believe that restaurant prices have increased by a higher percentage. (Such price increases, after all, reflect higher costs in other areas that restaurateurs are forced to pay.) Anyway, if food cost more to you , it'll cost more to restaurant employees when they go out to eat as well--so their cost of living has gone up, too.

But Charles Craig, a waiter at Orleans in West Los Angeles, has another good reason why 10% isn't enough: "On an average," he reports, "I walk out with 65% of my gross tips. . . . That's because I'm responsible for tipping five categories of service personnel from the tips I make: a busperson, the bar, the front desk or hosts, the kitchen expediter (the real hot seat) and the food runners. All of them deserve those tips because each plays an invaluable role in the running of (the) restaurant."

Craig also notes that Orleans, like many other restaurants, now adds a mandatory 15% service charge for all parties of eight or more. The reason? "On the average, 60% of larger parties (leave) no more than 10%. Someone who is responsible for $25 of a check tosses in one or two dollars toward the tip, either assuming that the slack will be picked up along the line or . . . (thinking) that even if he leaves a bad tip, it'll reflect on the faceless group rather than on (him)."

Edna P. Baker of Pasadena and Sharon Langerman of Los Alamitos raise an interesting question: "It seems unfair (writes the latter) that a server in an inexpensive diner should receive less in the way of tips than someone at a fancy restaurant. Sometimes those in coffee shop do more. . . ." Both Baker and Langerman ask why the strict percentage rule should be adhered to--not, I gather, because they want to top some servers less, but because they want to tip some more . For what it's worth, I was always taught to tip a higher percentage for a small check in a coffee shop--so that I'll leave, say a quarter for a $1 check, or a dollar-and-change for a $5 one. Does anyone else have any comments?

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