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Revenge of the 1%: Stiffing waiters

January 10, 2013|By Paul Thornton
  • A waiter at Cucina Italiana in Beverly Hills.
A waiter at Cucina Italiana in Beverly Hills. (Los Angeles Times )

As a kid, I was always disappointed at Halloween when a simple "trick or treat" was met by a well-meaning neighbor with a Bible tract in lieu of candy. Sure, I was raised in a churchgoing family, but Halloween was for indulging in sugar, not soul-saving, of all things.

How I wish now that I had made good on those "trick" threats if I didn’t get the treat I wanted. They were warned.

This is what popped into my mind after reading at LAist about the impromptu concertos of the world's smallest violins being played at restaurants across California. Instead of proper 20% tips, some (presumably) wealthy restaurant-goers are leaving behind smaller-than-usual gratuities with a note explaining that President Obama's tax policies mean they have to cut back on their generosity.

How adept the rich are at ruining their saintly job-creating reputation.

I say this not to lob another grenade in the class war lamented by those whose incomes ($450,000 per year for couples) will take a modest hit as a result of the "fiscal cliff" deal signed by President Obama. There are actually perfectly acceptable and convincing arguments to be made for keeping tax rates at their Bush administration levels or, more generally, our entire loophole-laden system of progressive income taxation. I've written about this before, when Herman Cain encouraged the non-wealthy to look in the mirror for reasons why they weren’t like, well, Herman Cain.

I get the message this political tract (how far we've come from Publius, by the way) is supposed to convey: Taxes go up on the rich, and those with money will spend less helping poor stiffs. The waiter is supposed to raise the white flag and end the class war, find common cause with the benevolent job creator and pry Obama from his perch on the far left.

Of course, the note does precisely the opposite: It reminds the low-wage waiter how little in common he or she has with his or her moneyed customer (his or her employer, in the customer's eyes). Such as: Working-class consumers wouldn't just cut back on discretionary fringe spending like tips at restaurants in Beverly Hills or San Francisco; when they cut back, they don't eat at restaurants in Beverly Hills or San Francisco, if they eat out at all. (If I were the waiter, I'd think that the patron was so far removed from the “trenches” to believe that withholding a few bucks in a tip is a decisive enough financial blow to turn me against Obama.) And so on.

Here's a suggestion for those wealthy diners eager to teach their waiters an economic lesson: Try talking. Just because a person has to work on his feet for far less money than you effortlessly make with carried interest and dividends doesn't mean he can't engage in political discourse. Plus, he might learn something -- though it's more likely you will.

Or, if you’re really just cheap and don’t want to tip, save your political tract. The poor and working class don’t need more reminders of how much money they don't have.


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