lulu, hillsider companion

lulu, hillsider companion

Friday, February 26, 2016

Beautiful Albarino from Lee Family Farm in Monterey; 9th Circuit Court of Appeals screws up tip-sharing tradition for us; and True Crime in the West

If I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that we are, indeed, deviating more and more often from the original intent of this more-or-less regularly written letter, which was conceived as a means of communicating informally with friends and clients regarding the goings-on in our professional realm, that being the food and beverage/golf areas of the hospitality industry, focusing specifically on the West. That remains a major part of the effort, and always will.

However, over the past year we've found ourselves focusing on other matters, such as sporadic attempts to convey to our readers the charm and attraction of our home ground, that being the foothills and mountains of far Northern California. And, the more closely we've looked at our surroundings, the more frequently we've been struck by things that we only noticed in passing before, situations and events that for one reason or another we feel compelled to examine more closely, and perhaps comment on here. Further, for whatever reason, over time it has begun to be clear that there are people out there who have an interest in these letters despite, or maybe because of, these detours. We now have a group of regular visitors/readers that stretches across continents and oceans: not only our own country, but England, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France, Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Romania, Mexico, Poland, Canada, Venezuela, the Philippines, and perhaps some I don't know about. We;re pleased about that, and appreciative, and it points up the fact that people all across the world are interested in the American West, probably for a hundred different reasons.

So, I suppose we'll continue doing what we're doing, and see where it takes us.

Having said all that, I have to get back to basics for a moment and acknowledge a wine we just stumbled across several days ago, purely by accident, but which we're really happy that we found, that being Lee Family Farm's Albarino. We've touted albarino here before, most notably that of New Clairvaux Vineyards in tiny Vina, near Chico. We like New Clairvaux's style a lot. Lee's take is significantly different, however, and equally impressive in a very different way, which is likely due both to fruit sources and to winemaking styles . This is an interestingly complex wine from front to back. Medium gold color, with a busy but pretty and intriguingly structured bouquet of dried apricots, lychee, and vanilla, leading the palate to believe it is going to get something that is significantly different from what actually comes next: the fruit is rich, lemony, and focused, with the apricot notes from the nose returning along with some white peach, kiwi and a bit of a green-olive undercurrent that pins things together. Finish is tropical, and makes perfect sense in context. Overall, a remarkable wine, and a great bargain at the $17 price we paid. I'm going to buy several more tomorrow, and would urge you to do the same. Have members/customers you want to do a favor?; turn them on to this wine. You're welcome. It's interesting and important enough to mention that Lee Family Farm is a label owned/produced by one of our favorites, that being Morgan Vineyards of Carmel. High rent, for sure, but the wines are surprisingly reasonably priced, and always good value.

Something else I've become aware of lately is the fact that we have a bunch of weird crime here in California. Now, being a native Texan, I know more than a little about weird-ass crime and criminals, but I have to admit that California, particularly Southern California, has at least as much and maybe more than even Texas. Seems that way, anyhow. I think the main difference may be that Texas seems to have more crime committed by and/or against rich folks than does California, although both states appear to send equal numbers of the poor (read minorities) to prison for long terms for seemingly minor offenses. And, for some reason, California seems to be an environment that breeds more arsonists per capita than anywhere else in our great country, at least at a casual glance. Some fascinating stuff goes on, though, in both, no question about it. For the present, though, we'll focus on California, since Texas Monthly magazine has a pretty good handle on the nonsense in Texas. Of all the murders, kidnappings, and other stuff currently in the public eye in California, for instance, we have our choice of many, many cases to look at, one that fascinates me is the recent conviction in San Francisco of Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, head of Chinatown's Ghee Kung Tong, of 162 counts of racketeering, murder, and assorted other crimes. The case nailed a number of other more or less high-profile folks, too, including state Senator Leland Yee, a member of one of the state's most influential families, who was convicted of corruption as a a result of his association with Shrimp Boy, among other things, including arms trafficking. There's no need to dig too deeply into the case here; check it out on the L A Times' website, if you're interested in details, as their coverage of the case was outstanding. Bottom line is that we'll take a look at some of these really fun cases as they float to the surface, so stay tuned if that sort of thing interests you. Thank the Lord for California.

Last, but far from least, is the news that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just ruled that tip sharing. or pooling, is no longer an acceptable practice for restaurants, hotels, clubs, or any other establishment doing business in any of a number of states, including California. This is, in our opinion, wrong-thinking and uninformed for a number of reasons, and is going to cause financial pain not only for employers wishing to see that all their employees are fairly and equitably compensated, but also for a whole class of workers who contribute at least as much, if not more in many cases, to customer satisfaction as anyone else in the house. I'm speaking of the "back-of-house" workers, the cooks, pantry staff, dishwashers, bussers, and all related, who labor to create and send out the food and clean up the accompanying messes, that brings paying patrons off the street day after day. Diners and bar patrons do not generally return week in and week out for the pleasure of a waiter's company or because they like the decor; rather, it's the quality of what's on the plate, more often than not, that causes them to drive across town and sign the check over and over again. Other factors play a role, certainly, but great food and drink overshadows all else.

Problem is, the folks out front are the only employees who typically have the opportunity to meet and interact with the guests, thereby creating for themselves the further opportunity to generate a tip, thus substantially enhancing their take-home pay. It is not unusual, at least where tips are not pooled and shared, for these front-of-house employees to create for themselves a situation where they are making two or even three times as much as those in back who make it possible for them to do so. Fair? No, I think not.

For those of you who aren't struggling to make a living in the hospitality industry, the concept of tip-sharing, or pooling, simply means that all tips left by customers/members/guests (or whatever you prefer to call those folks who pay you good money for what you do) go into a common fund rather than to the individual server or bartender who served the party. Then, prior to paychecks being written, the fund is divided up among all (or most, depending on the policies of the individual house) employees; the percentage of the pool  each employee receives is determined by the application of some formula created by the owners/management, and will vary from place to place depending on the particular philosophy of the house. If you're a Republican you may turn red in the face and scream "Socialists!", and maybe you're right, but so what? It levels the playing field and gives everyone the chance to be fairly compensated for their contribution.

And, as you might have imagined, a fairly large number of lawsuits have been filed over this practice, most of them contesting management's right to participate in the sharing of the pool, and rightfully so. In most cases management and supervisory staff make several multiples of what the average hospitality worker earns, and have no business dipping into the tip pool unless they are performing the same jobs as the line workers, which is rare, indeed.

Unfortunately, the 9th Circuit seems to have taken the position that the only person entitled to a tip is the one to whom it was directed by the customer, thereby effectively telling the back-of-house employees that their contributions don't count. That's wrong, pure and simple. However, it puts management in thousands of restaurants, hotels, resorts, clubs, coffee bars, and wherever else in the position of having to try to find a way to make up for that pay cut to a critical segment of their workforce, and one with a collection of skillsets that far exceeds, in certain positions, that of anyone working out front. (Sorry, wait staff; you know I love you, and you also know it's true.) Given that most restaurants work on razor-thin margins already, that almost certainly means that we can expect to see significant increases in menu pricing almost immediately. Operators are searching for alternatives to raising prices, because they understand the repercussions, but there aren't many, if indeed there are any at all that make sense.

This is a problem of major proportions, believe me, for those of us who have spent our lives trying to be the best restaurateurs we could be, which also means taking care of our employees as best we could, and giving them the opportunity to live full lives free of the worries associated with living on the financial brink. We will follow this closely.

More rain coming tonight, breaking up a string of beautiful spring-like days. More soon, and hope you're paying attention to all around you...