A Tribute & Toast to Boston Food Blogger, Carolyn A. Grantham-”LimeyG”

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 04/13/2014

Carolyn Grantham’s life was celebrated today at Story Chapel in Cambridge, MA by her family and friends with elegance, class, dignity, humility, humor and champagne. Based on Carolyn’s final wishes, I’m sure she would have enthusiastically approved of the champagne corks popping in the chapel.

Carolyn has been blogging about food (“Writing About Eating”) since the fall of 2006. I’ve followed her journey on and off since then, occasionally exchanging emails and comments about blogging, food, and restaurants. The journey on “LimeyG’s” blog includes trips to Spain, England, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Montreal, San Francisco, Texas, Florida, and yes, the Big E in Springfield, MA. Her food adventures cover everything from humble street foods like Australian meat pies, to foie gras at Au Pied de Cochon.

LimeyG, September 5, 2009 [describing cromesquis de foie gras at Cochon]:

They look innocent enough, … But here’s the deal: They’re cubes of foie gras, breaded and deep-fried. The breading becomes an impermeable shell and the inside turns to liquid.

To eat, you put the whole thing in your mouth, close your lips, and bite. And suddenly it’s as though the entire inside of your head is bathed in warm, soft, rich, deep, soothing liquid.

It actually, literally, seriously brought tears to my eyes.

On January 16, 2011, Carolyn announced on her blog that she had been diagnosed with cancer:

Got some interesting news this week: I have squamous cell carcinoma in my mouth. It’s very treatable and has a high cure rate, which is good. The bad, of course, is that treatment is aggressive and sucky: two or three rounds of intense chemo, followed by seven weeks of radiation.

So what do I have to look forward to? Loss of appetite, changes in my palate, zapped tastebuds, zapped salivary glands, a raw tongue and throat.

Yes, there are a ton of other side effects, but whatever. These are the ones that bug me the most; what will life be like if I can’t enjoy food?

Carolyn’s new journey, including hospital food, medical treatments, and her relationship with her husband, Diego, was chronicled in a poignant Boston Globe piece by Bella English on March 11th 2014. In a very humbling, moving and inspirational piece, Carolyn shared several experiences with Bella about the new challenges she faced with eating, especially in restaurants:

Kate Grams is the nurse practitioner who has been with Grantham since her diagnosis. Her admiration for the couple is deep. “She has suffered horribly, been in incredible pain, disfigured, can’t go out, and can’t eat, which is one of her great joys,” says Grams. “But she has kept an amazing outlook and been game for any therapy and any kind of torture we would dish out.”

…As long as she could sip through a straw, she would take her food that way. “Food is important to me,” she explains. “It’s part of who I am. I didn’t want to lose that bit of independence, that control.”

…She was having to puree her food into liquid form, and when she went to restaurants, asked chefs to do the same.

Some restaurants were very accommodating, and others were not so kind when she requested that they prepare a dish exactly as they normally would, and then throw it in the blender. Carolyn had one nightmare restaurant encounter that brought her to tears when a chef abruptly said no. According to Bella, Carolyn wrote that her experience should serve as a guide to other chefs, “Sometimes a diner will need a little extra accommodation. Please don’t be offended if we need to crush your delicious, carefully created vision. We’re just hungry.”-LimeyG

We’re just hungry.

That quote ripped through me. Eating is such a simple pleasure that so many of us take for granted. A significant focus of my project includes making suggestions about how and why customers should demonstrate empathy and compassion for service industry workers. Thank you to Carolyn for graciously reminding us that mutual respect is a two-way street, and that hospitality includes trying to understand where unique requests are coming from (and saying yes) before judging and/or saying no.

On February 19th, Carolyn tweeted, “Guess I’m beyond the help of modern medicine,” and linked to her blog post, End of the line that included some moments of great joy, accomplishment and fulfillment in her life. I recommend that you read her full blog post.

On February 22nd she demonstrated that her delightfully irreverent sense of humor was still intact when she tweeted, “Spent the morning sorting clothes to give to charity. Now I have to hope I don’t need any clothes.”

A few days after Carolyn passed away, her friends on Chowhound and Facebook noted a message from Carolyn delivered via her husband, Diego:

Carolyn left instructions I now quote verbatim: “In lieu of flowers, Carolyn has asked that you have an excellent glass of champagne; tell your family how much you love them; buy yourself a book you’ve been meaning to read; do one nice, small thing for a stranger.”

To Carolyn.

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Tipping and Dating

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Personal Pet Peeves

Posted: 03/27/2014

I’m often reluctant to post anything about tipping because my project is not about tipping, and the topic has been discussed, dissected, and debated ad nauseam. However, last night I was contacted by Zoosk, a dating site, and asked to give an ‘urgent’ response to three basic questions for a blog post published today about dealing with dates who are bad tippers. Here are my quick responses:

  1. Why is tipping a must? Tipping is a must because it’s part of our social contract in America. It’s only mandatory for people who believe in doing the right thing. If you think it’s trendy, hipster, or counterculture to pull a Mr. Pink, then you’re a DB. Be grateful that you can afford to eat out and leave a good/fair tip. “Cough up some green!!!” (Reservoir Dogs)
  2. How does a bad tip affect the server? Bad tips adversely affect servers, bartenders and support staff because most, if not all of their income is derived from tips. Their ‘base pay’ is often two dollars and change, and usually nets out close to nothing after taxes. There are exceptions in some states and in some restaurants. Non-tippers often attempt to justify their assholery with tired refrains like, “If you don’t like serving, get a real job.” Oftentimes getting another job isn’t a simple task, and believe me, serving is a VERY real job.
  3. What is the minimum expected tip? In my world 20% has always been the baseline for good service. A lot of cheap fuckers will tell you that servers expect more and more every year. That’s bullshit. When I started bartending in 1983, 20% was the norm. I usually tip more out of respect for fellow industry workers. Serving is a grind.

The Zoosk blog post only quoted some of what I said about tipping 20%. What is your baseline tip for good service? Have you ever ended a relationship because someone was a bad tipper?


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Yelp Responds to Flagging of “Ugly Pizza Box,” 1-Star Review

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Personal Pet Peeves

Posted: 01/6/2014

This is why people REALLY hate Yelp.

When I posted about the Yelp review by ”Nikki R.” who awarded 1-star to a Boston restaurant because they gave her an “ugly generic” pizza box , I was certain the review would fall victim to the infamous Yelp algorithm, and be removed quickly.

To the contrary, not only has the review remained, but Yelp has defended their decision not to remove it. Here is their response to Craig Caplan, a Yelper who flagged the review:

We’re writing to let you know that we’ve evaluated Nikki R’s review of Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant that you recently flagged. Based on what we see in the review, we can’t confirm that the user has a conflict of interest with the business.

If a review appears to reflect a user’s personal experience and opinions, it is our policy to let the user stand behind their review. We’ve decided not to remove this review, but appreciate you bringing it to our attention.

Business owners can address concerns or misunderstandings via their Business Account by posting a public comment or sending a private message to the reviewer.

The “pizza box” review by Nikki is the first and only review he/she has made, Nikki has no Yelp ‘friends’, and no picture in their profile. Nikki has also not responded to the 3 direct messages I sent.

Now about that algorithm

I have invited Luther Lowe, Director of Public Policy at Yelp to respond.

Luther Lowe responded on twitter with this cavalier sentiment, “If you don’t like 1 review, there are 47 million + alternatives.” Now that’s customer service!!

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First-Time Yelper Gives 1-Star Review Because of “Ugly Generic” Pizza Box

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame

Posted: 01/2/2014

Ok, I’ll take the bait. The pizza at Lincoln Tavern in South Boston is very good. I know because I enjoyed a few free slices that the good folks at Lincoln donated to volunteers when they hosted a tremendous charity event a few months ago.

I’m not sure what vacant, rookie Yelper, “Nikki R.” thinks about the pizza at Lincoln because the twit didn’t mention it in their 1-star review, but they did mention the pizza box:

“was SO disappointed last night when i got a pizza to take home and it was in an ugly generic box.. what?!?! what happened to the lincoln pizza boxes? everyone loves walking home with a lincoln pizza box and everyone knows where you got it from. hm”

The post reminded me of comments made on Eater Boston by a guest who attended a free, pre-opening, ‘friends and family’ night hosted by one of the Boston area’s best restaurants:

“Tried ribelle tonight and was not impressed. Loud, weird paper over windows. Not a larger enough menu selection for vegetarian or kosher diners. I won’t be going back.”

The “weird paper” the anonymous ‘friend’ or ‘family’ member was referring to, was brown paper taped over the windows because the restaurant was closed to the public!!

I sent Yelper Nikki the following direct message:

“Do you really think it’s fair to give a restaurant 1 star because they ran out of pizza boxes? Yelp drives people to or away from restaurants, and obviously 1-star ratings can have a detrimental impact on restaurants. If you owned or worked at Lincoln Tavern, would you be amused by the 1-star review?” (I’ll update if they respond.)

Maybe it’s a ruse, or maybe Nikki is just looking for a little attention, but restaurant workers have a right to be frustrated and angry when anonymous dimwits fuck with their livelihood. It’s not funny.

Eater National recently ran a piece about Anthony Bourdain’s interview by Amazon’s David Blum for a Kindle Singles Interview. The piece included a comment from Bourdain about Yelp:

“Some chefs borrow money, they do everything they can, they kill themselves, it’s the culmination of a career working 100 hours a week or more. They finally open a place and within eight minutes of opening, some asshole has posted on Yelp, ‘Worst meal ever.’ You can understand why they go insane…”

Yes, we can…


Permalink | Posted in Customer Hall of Shame | 17 Comments »

Taking Care of Our Own-Boston Bartender Alex Homans

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 11/15/2013

The Boston bar and restaurant community is tight-knit, and very generous with their time and energy when it comes, to cooking, mixing and serving for many great causes. Now it’s time to help one of our own.

On October 21st, bartender Alex Homans was riding his bike to work at Fairsted Kitchen in Brookline’s Washington Square. The restaurant was still a week away from opening to the public when Alex was peddling in, hoping to work on some new cocktail recipes. As we all know, life can change on a moment’s notice, and none of us are exempt.

Alex was cruising down Beacon Street when a car pulled out in front of him. He crashed into the side of the car, went straight up into the air, and landed on his back. Alex told me that wearing a helmet probably saved his life, but he still suffered a separated shoulder and a fractured vertebrae. Fortunately, the prognosis is good. After spending a few days in the hospital, Alex is looking at approximately 6 weeks of recuperation at home, followed by 1-2 months of physical therapy before he can return to work.

I found out about the accident from Daren Swisher, a friend, bartender and co-worker of mine. Alex has many restaurant industry friends who are rallying together to help him. He’s been in the industry in the Boston area for almost 10 years, including stints at Alchemy on Martha’s Vineyard, Flora in Arlington, Myers and Chang-South End, Russell House Tavern and Temple Bar in Cambridge, Backbar in Somerville, and now Fairsted Kitchen in Brookline.

In many instances, when you work as a server or a bartender, if you’re out of work, you’re out of pay. Insurance often doesn’t cover down time. There was a police officer at the scene of  the accident, and the driver of the car was clearly at fault, and cited. Longer term Alex should recoup some compensation/damages, but near term he could use some help.

If you are in a position to help, here are a few ways that you can:

****11/21 Update: Go to brunch on Sunday at Park in Harvard Square. From the Grafton Group who owns Park:

After a successful Sunday Brunch introduction last weekend, the team at PARK in Harvard Square has decided that round two on Sunday, 11/24 will benefit a friend and Grafton Group alumni, Alex Homans. All food proceeds from brunch will be donated to Alex as he recuperates from a recent bicycling accident. PARK’s new brunch offerings include Chef Mark Goldberg’s spirited interpretations of morning favorites like sourdough pancakes peppered with bacon or sausage in “The Collegiate” and a homemade hollandaise spiced with Old Bay for the “New England Bennie.” Brunch is available from 10AM-4PM and reservations are appreciated. For more information, please call: 617 491 9851.

#1- Tweet or Email Alex to say hello and/or offer to help;  Twitter: @ParkmanHomans Email: Homans@gmail.com.

#2- Go to Fairstead Kitchen at 1704 Beacon Street in Brookline. Introduce yourself to Andrew Foster, Patrick Gaggiano & team, order a Vin d’Orange ($6), and proceeds will go to Alex. Fairsted will be serving the Vin d’Orange (Alex’s creation) until further notice.

#3- Go to Backbar  at 9 Sanborn Court in Somerville, say hello to the Sam Treadway, Joe Cammarata & team, and raise a glass to Alex.

From the Backbar Facebook Page:

This week please come support our friend and former bartender here at Backbar: Mr. Alex Homans! Our drink of the week is a Time Out for Alex ($10), it’s a blue daiquiri with Bacardi Heritage, fresh lime, aged blue curacao and a little sugar! All proceeds from the drink will go to Alex who needs a little help from his friends due to the fact that he will be out of work because of a bike accident last month, leaving him a long road to recovery.

(Monday night, 11/18, is the last night you can purchase a daiquiri for Alex. Thanks to Heath Davis and Bacardi for their donation.)

#4- Go to flora restaurant in Arlington, MA and purchase a Brandy Alexander. According to Mary Jo Sargent, 100% of sale proceeds from Brandy Alexanders with steamed milk will go to aid Alex’s recovery.

#5- If you work in a restaurant, run a drink special for a night, or throw a few bucks in at the end of the night and send it to Alex. You never know when one of us is going to need help.

#7- Stay tuned for updates. There’s a Boston fundraiser in the works.

#8- If you’re aware of any fundraisers/benefits in the future, please email me and I will consider posting them on my Server Not Servant Facebook page, Twitter, or dedicating a blog post to them.

In an era of so many crowdfunding campaigns and platforms, here is an opportunity to do something specific and direct (w/no admin costs) to help one of our own. Please do something if you can.

Thank you very much.

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