Monday, October 13, 2008

The Waiter Index

So, when looking for 'real world' examples of how the 'credit crisis' is affecting 'real people' NPR turned to a mailwoman this morning who, naturally enough, knows a lot about her 'clients' and their financial status simply by the color of the envelopes and the magazine subscriptions that they receive.

This got me to thinking about another economic index, one that is no more scientific, but in many ways, as sophisticated. I do, in fact, think that 'apocryphal' indicators like these have considerable value when trying to make sense of something as complicated as political theory and economic practice, since there is a 'reality' factor missing from stock derivative equations that is required for actual understanding of the marketplace. Greenspan understood this; Bernanke does not.

Of course my indicator is the 'Waiter Index' (WI) and the scale is anything but numeric. As such, it's best illustrated with a restaurant story.

Last Saturday night, we had a group of, shall we say, 'well off' people sitting a one of the prime tables in the restaurant. Oh hell, I'll just say it, they were some fat (literally) cats from Dallas or Houston who were in town for the game and were staying at their second (or third) home in Lakeway. These guys are the ones whose asses are in the fire right now, and the way their semi-blocked hearts are doubtless pounding these days, I am sure they'd have rather been at home drinking beer and eating burgers than dropping a few more dimes at H______.

Nonetheless, they found themselves at table 14 on a Saturday night, facing the ever-difficult dilemma for the rich these days: what wine to choose.

"He's only got a couple of things here that are not on Main street", said fat cat number one to fat cat number two as he passed him the wine list. Standing right beside him, I listened despite being ignored.

"Well," I offered helpfully, introducing myself to the table this time, since he hadn't bothered to look up and/or even acknowledge my presence so far. "I have a lot of wines that are not very well known but I can assure you, they are quite good." I said.

"The Neal Cabernet, for example, isn't a 'Main Street' wine, but I think you'll be impressed with it." I was making eye contact with a woman across the table when the host--I'm being generous--finally looked up at me and warned, with a raised eyebrow and his most indignant-with-the-help posture, "Don't be condescending, now. Would you bet your tip on it?"

First of all, I found it telling that he considered my comment to be condescending, as he clearly intended to corner the market on that commodity all evening, and obviously would brook no insubordination from a servant. Whether or not he realized that his guests could see the irony of his position was immaterial, for this lord of the manor, the important part of the exchange from his perspective is to show that he know how to keep these people in their place. It's a common phenomenon, known quite well to servants in every walk, and it just comes with the territory. We keep our cool and our jobs.

Telling too, was his comment about the tip, since he also clearly regarded his perception of the quality of my service as the determining factor for his largesse.

This too is typical of rich people who have never been taught how to properly interact with servants, especially waiters. They still think, as do most people, to be honest, that they have the right to determine how much I will will make based on how well they perceive my service to have been.

Now, it's doubtful that my host would have allowed his 'clients' (or whatever he may call them) to decide how much they would pay him for his services (and everyone services someone, do not forget) based solely on their perceptions of his effectiveness, or he wouldn't even have been at the table at H______ on a Saturday night.

The host eventually chose a bottle of Jordan Cabernet, a wine right off Main Street. This is likely due to the fact that it cost ten dollars less than the wine I'd recommended, but also I think, more fundamentally, because he was trying his best to associate himself with the more common wine. How ridiculous is that? A safe choice in these uncertain times. Decisions like these are at the heart of the financial crisis. Is it any wonder that this thing is melting down?

Individuals with no more heart and or common sense than the pompous fool at my table are trying to save their sorry asses by saving ten dollars on a bottle of wine and stiffing the waiter to boot.

The WI shows Obama leading by the narrowest of margins.

No comments: