A Legacy of Kindness, Humility, Grace, Gratitude, Mad Talent, & Love. Boston Celebrates the Life of Widely-Loved Bartender, Tenzin Konchok Samdo

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 2/1/2019

Tenzin Konchok Samdo

March 17, 1978 – January 27, 2019

It is extremely rare to meet someone with the radiant spirit and kind soul of Tenzin Samdo. He was a force, one of nicest people I’ve ever met, in and outside of the restaurant/bar community. His infectious warmth and genuine hospitality surpassed his amazing ‘bar scientist’ skills. Tenzin was a unique inspiration, ‘good people’ to the core.

This compilation of reflections and tributes commemorates the love, respect, and appreciation that so many of us have for Tenzin so that Mila, Tenzin’s son, and his family will always have a sense of how many lives Tenzin touched and the love that will endure forever.

Aside from observing the mutual love Tenzin and Mila had for each other, one of my personal favorite memories of Tenzin was feeling his fierce pride defending his team and advocating for his industry brothers and sisters after a BU professor berated them on Yelp. From my conversation with Tenzin in November 2017:

…the 17+ year industry veteran was adamant about protecting his co-workers and restaurant industry colleagues, and sending a clear, strong message to customers that abuse of service industry workers, or anyone, is not ok. Tenzin: “This isn’t about me. I’ve taken a lot worse abuse over the years. I can take it. I was more upset that my co-worker was being insulted. I think it’s important to stand up and protect our own people and our industry brothers and sisters–to raise awareness and let people know that Yelp threats, and unacceptable, abusive behavior will not be tolerated. I just want it to stop.” 

Tenzin was a gentle, loving soul, and I love the fact that he stepped up, and spoke up for his extended restaurant family.

@squirrelsofmischief: Tenzin has always represented the very best aspects of our industry. His kindness and genuine interest in hospitality was always truly unrivaled. His ability to focus and highlight minor details without losing sight of the big picture will forever be inspiring. He used his powers for good. He used his reach to unite people. He put a spotlight on things in our world that aren’t awesome, and offered up solutions instead of dwelling on what is. His range of focus was astounding. An eye on the past. An eye on the future. Fully present in the moment. A real life super hero if I’ve ever met one. He set a bar, not just for service but for how people should treat each other. Be humble. Be kind. Give thanks. Lift people up when you can. Seek knowledge. Chase ideas. Hustle! Be like Tenzin. Thank you @bostonmixdrink. #teamtenzin for always.

@cafeartscience: One of the most inspiring, innovative, and caring artists in the beverage industry, our beloved Tenzin Samdo passed away yesterday with his family and friends by his side. The impact that Tenzin had not only on the bar scene in his adopted hometown of Boston, but worldwide via his impressive following is beyond compare. He gave his passion for helping others and advocating for a better world to all that he did, from creating a cocktail list inspired by endangered species to bring awareness to climate change, to fostering communities in every space he inhabited, to lending support whenever needed, to most importantly, raising his son, Mila, who recently turned eight. A Tibetan refugee who grew up in northern India, Tenzin embraced his culture by embodying the Tibetan motto, “be kind,” which is evident to all those lucky enough to have come in contact with him over his short, but impactful career. The @cafeartscience family will always remember Tenzin’s lasting contributions to the bar program, his appreciation of art and beauty, and his kind spirit. Most importantly, Tenzin believed in family-first and his family appreciates all of the good thoughts and well wishes…

@chef.carolina: Kind of at a loss for words, from my very broken heart. But I know you would tell me to “keep pushing darling.” To never let anything get in my way. To practice patience and positivity without exception and only let good vibes in. I watched you constantly push the limits. So I followed along. I admire you, I’ve always believed in you and you’ve ALWAYS believed in me no matter what. Thank you, Tenzino! for being my incredibly loving friend unconditionally, industry family, and a giant inspiration and influence in my life and career. You’re truly the real deal. I love you forever! #teamtenzin #restinparidise

Café ArtScience: In less than two decades, Tenzin has built a career as one of the most talented bartenders in the country, marrying a unique sense of aesthetics and cocktail storytelling with a spirit of kindness and generosity. His kind heart, positive attitude, and incredible ability to foster community are evident in those who have volunteered to lend their support.

@jdstone27: On Friday, March 28, 2014, I spent the early afternoon with this wonderful man at Trade taking pictures of him and his drinks for my column at BostonChefs. He was one of my first subjects and if you knew him, you know why. I was an amateur journalist, he was a generous and interesting person. That’s a good recipe for writing. We’d been acquaintances, then friends through our work in the neighborhood. We shared a mutual interest in Buddhism and had friends in common outside of the industry.

One night, years ago, I’m out alone at Drink, with probably no real spending money. These were lean, tough times. I asked for my check and the bartender said to me, “Tenzin took care of your check, Justin.” In all of my years as a customer, that had never happened to me. Sure, people buy rounds, managers comp checks, but this was a silent and humble gesture of generosity that I’d never known. I was stunned, and went looking for him. He was gone. I’ve never forgotten this.

On June 21, 2018 I was in Rhode Island for work and reached out to him to apologize for not coming by to see him at Café ArtScience. This was his message, our final words. “It’s our consequences of growing up. I’m very happy for you, brother. Seems like you got the perfect job. You deserve everything you earn. We’ll come across our path very soon. You are awesome.” It was never about him, the light was always projected outward, all day, all night.

I’ll miss him. We will all miss him. Please make a donation if you haven’t yet.

@privateerrum: Every detail @bostonmixdrink put into his work would touch your heart and make you feel honored, from the simplest expression to an ornate masterpiece. His drinks were art made personally for each guest, temporary, and to be experienced through every sense. The Hut on Mitchell Road, he named for the street that leads you to our distillery. Most who drank it might never know this but for those he served who did come to visit and noticed this detail they would get an ah-ha moment that his drink would deliver days, even weeks and months later to that guest. It was a delight to see them piece this together. Every bit of his work was thoughtful.

Rachel Leah Blumenthal: We followed you from bar to bar because of your talent, creativity, and humor, but most importantly, your kindness. I will never forget the many late nights I spent at Artscience inhaling clouds of strawberry negroni vapors or trying your incredible animal-inspired cocktails or getting chased around by a drink-serving robot. Any night that Joel and I found ourselves remotely close to Kendall Square before midnight, we had to pay you a visit; any time we had friends in from out of town, we knew we had to bring them to meet you. Thanks for being amazing, Tenzin Conechok Samdo.

@whiskeyface80: This fucking hurts. I miss your smile, your excitement when one of us reps walked in….We didn’t go in to sell, we went in to learn.. I love you T. And tonight (at Café ArtScience) was an example of how loved and cherished you are in our community. You’re a legend, a friend , an example for us all. Love one another…. ❤️

Ran Duan: In the Chinese culture we burn money to send off to the after life…it’s a somber celebration as I raise a glass to Tenzin…health is something we can take for granted. No matter how rich, how happy or how successful you are, in a blink of a eye it can all disappear. In an industry that is based on gluttony and over imbibing we forget to take care of ourselves. This is a wake up call…in the final weeks before Tenzin passed he kept mentioning to me to take care of myself. Enjoy the moments and stop worrying about the future. To take time off to celebrate life and spend with family. Tenzin was a spark in our bar community ,a rising star who wasn’t even at his peak and passed way before his time.  I ask all of you to honor Tenzin by taking care of yourself as health is an expiring commodity and without proper maintenance in a blink of a eye it can disappear.

@jacki_mo: Heartbroken over the loss of such a great friend and true force in this world. Tenzin, you defined what it means to surprise and delight. Always generous, warm, creative, caring, and so much fun. Taken too soon. His smile lives forever in my heart. #teamtenzin

Robin Robinson: For those of you who didn’t know Tenzin Conechok Samdo, you missed a brilliantly wonderful human being, kind, thoughtful and a joy to be around. Nick Korn introduced me to him on a trip to Boston and here’s what he created while we sat there. So on top of his humanity, he was a true craftsman with a fun outlook on life. One of the more joyful experiences I’ve had at a bar.

DJ Ryan Brown: One of the kindest and wisest souls our Boston and Global Hospitality Industry has ever seen, Tenzin Samdo aka @bostonmixdrink , has transitioned onward after a fight with cancer. Your intelligence was transcendent, your love was radiant, and your heart was seemingly forever full and open. I’m not gonna talk about your award winning cocktails but you were a true artist full of compassion and empathy and creativity at every turn of the road. That – to many, including myself – seems like an impossible and unattainable way of life, if not at very least because of our own personal struggles. You studied and you worked and you built it and and you lived it. I will cherish our memories working together (motherfucker chose EPMD – “Strictly Business” for one of his walk up and fight songs for a cocktail competition I DJ’d), healing together, growing together and the times we were able to break bread together. I will reflect deeply in your honor.

To the sweetest man:
May the wind always be at your back and the sun upon your face. And may the wings of destiny carry you aloft to dance with the stars.

@km0436: I’m incredibly saddened by the passing of my friend, Tenzin yesterday. He welcomed everyone who came to his bar as if they were his personal friend that he hadn’t seen in forever. It’s a feeling that can only be described by the people who knew him. The first time I met him he greeted me like an old friend (even after I ordered a caipirinha while he was in the weeds) and made me feel welcome. On my birthday, several months later, he brought me a caipirinha in a foot long martini glass with candles burning. He remembered. He always remembered. And we will always remember him.

@blacktending: “I’m a bartender—making drinks is what I do for a living, why not send a message through it?” – @bostonmixdrink. The single most inspiring experience I had as a bartender in 2018 was at Tenzin’s bar, @cafeartscience, full stop. His team was warm and inviting, he was humble and gracious as a host, the drinks didn’t feel forced, and the technology utilized was more than just a kitschy sideshow that distracted from the lack of hospitality in the room, and it was cheeky (I mean a taco scented margarita…).

I’m grateful to have experienced the man in his glory, feel honoured to have stood behind his bar (the cleanest I’ve been behind, ever.) and happy I spent an hour I could have caught up on sleep listening to him lecture on futuristic tequila tiki cocktails with @mixecutive.

If you’re unsure of why I’m posting this google search “Tenzin Samdo,” look beyond this week’s posts and note how we lost an inspiring human being who used his platform and voice to educate and be an instrument of change.
The world would be a better place with more Tenzin’s, right now it would be a better place with just one.

Unite and spread the word! Please help us support a beloved friend, colleague, and father by sharing your personal stories of Tenzin’s hospitality and the art of the cocktail that he so passionately adored. We are doing what little we can to make sure that his fostering of community continues, and to treat him as he has treated so many of us over the years, with fierce loyalty and unwavering generosity.

Pramy Yadav: “My religion is simple. My religion is kindness”- The simple words of the Dalai Lama were the complete embodiment of the life of my dear friend, Tenzin Samdo. I first met him while organizing a charity event, and I was struck by his enthusiasm and willingness to help. He created such special recipes incorporating the spices of India, and his knowledge and understanding of chemistry was so unique. His ability to make you feel utterly tranquil in his presence was special. His smile overtook the room. And his love for his son, Mila was everything. He was truly a beautiful soul and I will miss him greatly.

Corina Haley Miller: Tenzin Conechok Samdo was a wonderful human with a heart of gold. He made all those he encountered feel special. He loved his craft, and was an excellent father to precious Mila. His talent and his love will be greatly missed by many. Wishing you peace if you knew Tenzin.
Hoping for a bright future for Mila. And sending prayers to the family and those closest to him in his final days.
We all love you brother!! You have inspired many. This earth will not be the same without your joy and light. Blessings be with you. Xoxo

Chad Fox: We lost one of the finest humans I have ever known. Tenzin Conechok Samdo was such an amazing soul, everywhere he went and everyone he saw was touched by this wonderful, kind, smart, caring man. Tenzin you were a great friend and a force in this industry, you will be greatly missed and always loved. Rest in power brother.

Sanjeev Yadav: Tonight at Cafe ArtScience, we celebrate the life of Tenzin Conechok Samdo, @BostonmixDrink a remarkable gentleman, a kindhearted soul, and a dreamer who was living his very own dreams, while spreading love, thoughtful advice and wisdom all the while with a big smile on his face……that was Tenzin Conechok Samdo!! Rarely do such people cross paths in our lives and we can only feel the blessings and privilege of knowing such a person as Tenzin. For all the success, hard work and dedication that he put forth to achieve his own dreams, his greatest passion and most important achievement, was his sweet and gentle son Mila….he was his world and Tenzin devoted his life to him! Tonight, we gather at Cafe ArtScience, where his artistry and creativity came to life and where he was able to also share his wisdom and always lend a kind ear.. Though he has left us all to soon, his memory, his wisdom and his life will forever serve as a reminder that the kindness and love that we put out into this world can make a tremendous impact…..Mother Theresa once said, “There are no great things, only small things with great love. Happy are those.” Tenzin’s life was about spreading love and kindness one person and one drink at a time….so please let us support his family and his son during this difficult time ahead and more specifically allow his son to have the educational opportunity to pursue his dreams!

Susan McGrale Casale: Tenzin will always be one of my brother Ryan’s best friends. He has been so good to our family since Ryan’s passing-Please join me in supporting this beautiful human-if there was ever a time when you would give to a stranger it is now💕

Food & Wine: Boston Mourns Loss of Legendary Bartender Tenzin Samdo

Boston Magazine: Boston Restaurant Community Honors Late Bartender Tenzin Samdo

GoFundMe: His professional recognitions include Boston Magazine’s “Bartender of the Year” for 2018; Thrillist’s, Zagat’s, and Eater’s top Boston bartender awards; Nightclub & Bar’s June 2015 Bartender of the Month; and reaching the final 10 at Punch King’s Competition at COCHON 555.Most meaningful to Tenzin, however, was a small interview on “Voice of America” translated into Tibetan and broadcast to his father’s community – a true testament to his belief in the importance of family.

The impact that Tenzin has had not only on the bar scene in his adopted hometown of Boston, but worldwide via his impressive following is beyond compare. He has continuously poured his passion for helping others and advocating for a better world into all that he does. In Tenzin’s own words, “By consuming the cocktail, you’re destroying the art, but you’re left with the memory. It’s a reminder that life isn’t permanent, but it can be beautiful.”

In a beautiful celebration of Tenzin’s life at Café ArtScience, that felt like an industry homecoming, Dhondup Phunkhang read the following statement from Tenzin’s younger brother, Tenzin Jampa Samdo:

Friends, loved ones and family –

It is an honour and privilege to pay tribute today to my older brother.

Tenzin Konchok Samdo was remarkable in so many ways. He lived his life to the fullest and touched so many people during his short time here with us. We all have special memories of him that we will carry with us – memories we will always hold dear.

Allow me to share some of the special memories that I have of my brother – memories that personify him and his life well lived.

Kunchok was truly devoted to his craft, but most importantly to his colleagues in the service industry. He called them his family and he really meant it by showering them with love, kindness and support in any way he could. Grateful for his position within this family, he always helped make it easy for the newcomers to join.     He was warm and welcoming to all around him, and he honoured the  guests who came before him.

He loved his son, Mila, fiercely. From the moment Mila was born, they were  a team. Kunchok’s devotion to him was limitless. 
 
During the last few difficult months, Kunchok didn’t respond much to anyone when they would talk about his health and wellness. He just smiled, nodded and kept to himself mostly.

However, when anyone brought up his work, he would so brilliantly light up and get this huge jolt of energy and be ready to discuss the art at length – he was so animated you’d think he was perfectly fine.

He so loved what he did and made you feel the passion he had for it.

Thank you to everyone for coming here and thank you to all his colleagues at Cafe Art Science for this incredible gathering. We all know – it meant the world to him that this was happening – both for him and for Mila.

And, as you will all likely know, because Kunchok told the story of Tibet  whenever and wherever he could, he came from a proud lineage – from a  people who have been oppressed and exiled from their own country.  

Kunchok knew – we didn’t come here to stay. We came to one day return to  our land.  

At this time, we are gathered here to help guide his spirit back to the land of  his mother, father, and his ancestors – back home to Tibet.    Thank you.

@justin42arch: Something pretty remarkable happened last night, 1/30/19 at Café ArtScience. Something that will stay with me my whole life. Last night we celebrated the life of a truly amazing human being who left our world, and his wife and young son way too early. The celebration raised money for Mila’s education fund. When I got to @cafeartscience an hour after the event opened, they were already at standing capacity and we had to hang out (with 100+ others) next door (for an hour and a half) at @lelabcambridge until people left). I wouldnt be surprised if 1,000 people total came out for this celebration. 

And as I looked around waiting, I saw people smiling. People hugging. Former coworkers reuniting. IG connections meeting in person for the first time. Young people, old people (me), whites and minorities, famous chefs and college students, people in suits and people in sweats, lovers and ex’s, straight and LGBTQ. I SAW LOVE. No hate. No strife. Just pure KINDNESS.

Tenzin did a lot for our Boston/Cambridge community, the restaurant and bartending industry, for awareness of extinct animals, for pushing mixology into art and technology, for being environmentally responsible, for his family. And now, after life, he continues to make this world a better place for us and our children.

Thank you to all that came. Thank you to all that donated and continue to donate. Thank you to those that organized and volunteered. And thank you TENZIN for making us all and our planet better. 🙏

@bigmike2047: The celebration of Tenzin’s life at Café ArtScience was an all-encompassing room full of respect, love and support. “In the end only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

@tiffanifaison: I keep coming back to kindness-true kindness. Aside from being a ridiculously talented leader in our industry, he was kind. It’s easy to find platitudes of it in our industry, but often difficult to find the real deal. Tenzin was an ambassador of true kindness- and therefore hospitality. His example shines bright, let’s follow that star.

Please feel free to add your tribute to Tenzin in the comments. Thank you.

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Traditional Full Service Restaurant Models 2019: A ‘Day of Reckoning’

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Rules of Engagement

Posted: 1/21/2019

The Server Not Servant blog and book project has always been about facilitating conversations, in addition to sharing my personal experiences and opinions. This guest post, shared with permission, was originally published via Medium by the former owner of Tawla, a San Francisco, CA restaurant that closed after a little more than 2 years. I personally find the piece to be a refreshing, candid, “behind-the-curtain” look at the trials, tribulations, and thought processes behind an arduous journey in an overly-romanticized industry. A must read for aspiring restaurateurs.

Despite the backlash, and tinge of inherent hubris, in my opinion, there are too many important issues raised here not to share the post. Some issues are specific to San Francisco, but many will resonate with restaurateurs, staff, and customers everywhere. Respectful comments will be published following the piece below. It would be especially insightful to hear from former employees of Tawla. Thank you.

Why SF Restaurants are Suffocating

That Saturday was the last day for our lead line cook. He’s one of the last three people left from the original 25-person team that joined us when we opened Tawla more than two years ago. We saw him grow, take on more responsibility and become a critical part of our team. We also got to know his family and celebrated with him the arrival of his fourth and last kid. Six months ago, he was asked to leave his rent-controlled apartment, another Ellis Act victim and yet another loophole that many landlords exploit to get rid of tenants with rent control. Forced to move, our cook, his wife, and four kids, one younger than 6 months, have struggled to find a place to live, spending more than four months moving from one friend’s couch to a cousin’s couch. We thought hard about all the ways we could help from tapping our networks to find a more dignified temporary place for our cook to stay, to figuring out how to pay him more without having him lose access to different low-income programs for which he currently qualifies. We gave him time off to go search for housing and sign up for the different city-run seminars that are required to qualify for low-income housing. Yet, on those lists, he was never with the highest priority. There were always many others with higher risk and urgency ahead of him in the queue: seniors, those with disabilities, and families with more dependents, and the list goes on and on.

This has become almost a cliche story you hear in the restaurant industry. When I set out to open a restaurant in San Francisco’s vibrant restaurant market, I thought I’d employ all I’ve learned from an MBA from a top school, the rigor of an engineering education and a decade and a half launching and managing some of the most successful businesses for Google and other tech companies. Furthermore, I wasn’t naive to think that I knew better than all those who’ve been tenured in the industry. I actively sought out the mentorship of many titans who’ve been generous with their time and knowledge of the industry. So I opened Tawla, a restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission district. I hoped Tawla would provide a fresh lens onto the culinary cultures of Turkey, Greece and the Levant area that is more humanizing. With food being a most humanizing lens, Tawla was a restaurant that aspired to present the home-cooked food of that region while sourcing local ingredients from farms and purveyors, creating a healthy environment for our employees where they can thrive, be reasonably priced to many, and be a good citizen in our neighborhood. In today’s San Francisco climate, that all seems like a tall order and very few restaurants that don’t belong to large restaurant groups will be able to exist without compromising on one or more of these dimensions.

Over the past two years, it was quickly and often apparent that there’s nothing that a small and young business in SF could do to make the city a living option for its employees. There is no amount of money an owner could pay an employee within the economics of a small business to allow their employee to live within the borders of the city or even within a reasonable radius that doesn’t have them traveling for two-plus hours a day to come to work. This is the reality of where we live. Our line cook’s story is one of numerous we’ve personally experienced within our business, and we hear so many similar stories from other food-and-beverage businesses. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, this shouldn’t be news to you.

We, among others, tried to be innovative. We tried to go the ‘service charge inclusive’ route, automatically including 20% in every check. Currently, tips are only allowed to be claimed by ‘anyone involved in the chain of service’, which includes all Front-of-House (FOH) staff from servers to bussers, to runners and hosts, and excludes anybody who works in the back-of-house (BOH), cooks, prep staff and dishwashers. Unlike a traditional tip structure, the service charge model allowed us to distribute supplemental pay more equitably. That also allowed us to give our employees private healthcare instead of relying on the broken Healthy SF system which has proven to be very hard to navigate by our employees who try to file claims and only applies within San Francisco city lines, which means no healthcare for most of our employees who cross the bridge to where they live. Additionally, we subsidized commuting expenses and offered healthy staff meals to all employees while at work. Our hope was that at least, by doing that, we’d help our team keep more of the money they make knowing that they don’t have to spend money coming to work and they don’t have to spend money on healthcare.

The current situation is dire, saying the least. The front-of-house hated the above pay scheme because they too were struggling in SF, maybe not as bad as our BOH, but they too could not afford SF’s high cost of living. With the service charge, our servers were making $38 per hour (hourly base + hourly service charge) or the equivalent of $70,000 to $80,000 a year if you were working for us full-time. If we assume you’re spending about 36% on rent after tax, normally considered a healthy spend on housing, that would mean you have about $1,460 available for rent per month.

Cheryl Young, an economist for Trulia, found that in nearby San Francisco, only 0.1% of restaurant staff can find affordable housing in the city, with the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment at an insane $3,447, according to a 2018 rent report by Adobo. The U.S. Census revealed in March, the median rent in San Francisco in 2016 was roughly over $1,600/month. These numbers are worrisome in a few ways: 1. The egregious rent amount that is required for somebody to live in the city today. 2. The jump in median rent in a mere two years. 3. The $1,600 median rent from 2016 also included rent-controlled apartments which indicates their rapid disappearance.

Ok. So you may be able to make $70,000 to $80,000 annually and you would need two roommates to be able to barely afford a one-bedroom apartment. What about that is dignified when you’re an adult and you have to share a room or be the one who sleeps in a living room-turned-bedroom? This brings us back to our service charge scheme and the reason our FOH staff opposed it. They had to share some of it, though nominal, with the BOH and they don’t get to pocket the whole 20%. But what we thought would be a welcome steady pay that wasn’t dependant on the whims of diners, wasn’t welcome at all. This has been a classic struggle even in pooled houses that tip out the back-of-house. Servers never want to share tips with the BOH and as they get squeezed because of the rising cost of living, that’s even more the case.

Furthermore, we were astonished when employees asked if we could pay them a better wage if they went without health insurance. Luckily that’s not an option! But we realized that when you’re struggling to live, you don’t even have higher order thinking that allows you to plan for the possibility of a health emergency. Without insurance, an average ER visit can cost anywhere from $150-$3,000 or more and if surgery is required, it may cost as much as $20,000.

Due to incessant requests from our team, we moved to a hybrid model. We did a 6% service-charge inclusive and a traditional pooled house tip model. The service charge allows us to continue to supplement BOH pay. The tip pool is shared among FOH. And now, we don’t pay for health insurance completely but instead, subsidize about half of it and kick more of that money back to the team.

This yielded unexpected and somewhat unwelcome outcomes. In order to get a few more dollars in their pockets each pay period, most of our staff opted out of health insurance which now they could since our team shrunk to less than 20 employees and employer mandated health insurance was no longer required. FOH staff now makes $42–48 per hour ($85,000–95,000). You’d think that this would allow us to retain staff but we’re still losing FOH staff to either other jobs that are perceived to pay more, to other occupations or more schooling, or to a different geographic location (city and/or state) altogether.

In the most expensive city to live in the world, FOH may be able to find that unicorn one bedroom, but what about saving, investing in a 401K, having a family, and god-forbid planning for old age?

If you thought the FOH situation is unfathomable, let’s go back to my talented, hard-working line cook who’s his family’s breadwinner and made $24 per hour (base pay + share of service charge) or a little shy of $50K a year working full time for us. How is he going to find a place to live, send his kids to school and feed them? Forget saving! He tried really hard. He made it through the spring semester for his kids’ schools and then he packed up and moved.

Nothing about this yields inspiration or ideas of career longevity. Why would you aspire to build a career in this industry? Why would you strive to grow, be better and progress in an industry that doesn’t reward tenure?

It’s become harder for a person to be in hospitality and in aggregate it’s become harder for the hospitality industry to attract professionals.

And those teachers, students, and artists who also worked in the restaurant industry and made for wonderful staff, already moved out of the city because they can no longer afford to live here.

After you think through solving all your team’s gut-wrenching issues, you think about what this does to the economics of running a restaurant.

Astronomical turnover pushes labor costs even higher.

The situation in this industry has created a mercenary frenzy where everyone is running around trying to maximize what they’re able to make per hour. According to culinary hiring service Instawork, annual turnover in the restaurant business in San Francisco has reached as high as 90% and operators pay about $3,000 to rehire and train a new hourly employee. For context, overall national restaurant industry turnover was a little over 70 percent in the last two years. From our experience, the associated cost of turnover for an employee who leaves us is $2,600-$3,200. This cost includes sourcing a new employee, training them until they’re able to be independent contributors and any overtime associated with somebody covering for that shortage in labor. In total, our business has seen a 10% increase in labor costs due to turnover alone.

The quality of the labor pool is quickly dwindling.

As alluded to earlier, the mass exodus of individuals from this workforce leaves fewer people and less reason for those people to excel. Compounded with financial woes that are often a constant in one’s life, it makes it even harder to focus on one’s job and do good work.

When restaurants are desperate for anyone to fill a role and are concerned to lose people because of the aforementioned scarcity and turnover costs, the staff has very little incentive to do good work, to strive to be better and to keep a high-quality work-product. This, of course, has a high impact on the quality of the product and service a restaurant is putting out there. It has high management costs associated with it as you’ll need more exempt managers to ensure training, quality and to pick up the pieces when the quality is just not there.

The combined impact of high turnover and a poor-quality labor pool has resulted in the unoriginal ‘beet and goat cheese salad’ showing up on 5000+ restaurant menus in the city. A phenomenon brought to light by the San Francisco Business Times, restaurants are creating simpler and less inspired food items that don’t require highly trained or talented kitchen cooks to execute.

What was once a celebrated culinary city boasting creativity, innovation, and diversity, is now quickly deteriorating to ‘me too’ concepts.

Not surprisingly, the most celebrated new restaurants right now are yet another ramen, pizza or pasta shop.

We, like many others around us, have also suffered from employees with substance abuse, employee theft, and just frequent ‘no call, no show’ occurrences. We had an employee who was terminated for embezzling thousands of dollars to pay for his cocaine debt, only to go on and be rehired into important roles at four other prominent restaurants that each, in turn, fired him for similar offenses.

Restaurants are so desperate for talent that no one is going through the proper channels to reference check and validate a new hire’s competency and performance history.

There’s no organizational headspace to think about growth or innovation.

In a people business, your team is the oxygen that allows your business to not only function but also grow. That’s the case for any business in any industry. In tech, where I started and built my career, we understood that really well. The job wasn’t just about getting the daily operational work done but it was also about giving you enough room and headspace to innovate, try new things, and explore new avenues for growth from products to better processes to new business opportunities.

If the economics are such that you’re trying to always keep a small team so that you can do better by them then you never have any slack to grow beyond the ‘survival’ stage.

And the city doesn’t help.

Small businesses are highly taxed with very little value offered for those taxes. When you see what the city has done historically and the extensive tax breaks given to large companies to set up shop in the city, it gives you pause. In addition, the tax code is very complex with a high minimum franchise tax and combined with ‘nonconformity’ policy that allows the state to disregard certain federal tax benefits available to small businesses, the state can be very aggressive in seeking state revenues. In addition, the minimum wage hikes, though are very necessary to allow people to earn a livable wage, in absence of other holistic programs addressing housing and healthcare end up being ineffective.

When it comes down to it, diners today don’t care. Really.

Today’s SF is in love with ‘the idea’ of ‘local’. It is in love with ‘the idea’ of ‘small business’. And it is in love with ‘the idea’ of ‘economic diversity’. But it’s all about ‘the ideas’. When it comes to living those truths, few are doing the work to support those ideas.

To be fair, the average San Francisco resident has changed. People who’ve lived in San Francisco for a long time are moving away in droves, seeking more cost-effective cities to call their own. Those people are the ones that have grown up with this foodie city and have learned to appreciate the product that’s being put forth here using superior produce fresh from the farm and our local purveyors. Those are also the ones who’ve learned to understand the importance of small businesses and the role they play in defining what San Francisco is.

They’re being replaced by a younger, wide-eyed high-earning transplant who’s moved here from rich locales such as New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, and is hungry for the opportunity to work in tech and other fast-growing industries. Most of them don’t understand what’s made San Francisco special including not understanding what it means to support small businesses and what it means to offer a high-quality food product.

This new diner also doesn’t understand what it takes to get produce fresh from the farm daily and why one would want to pay more for it and support “eating local”. He also doesn’t understand the history of small businesses in San Francisco and why they’re an integral part of the economy and makeup of this special city.

The impact is seen when we tried the aspirational ‘Service Charge Inclusive’ model. Diners were so dismayed by it. We often heard “why should I be putting money towards your employees’ healthcare?” or “how come I no longer have a choice in deciding how I pay tips?”. It was always the more affluent who complained, the ones who bought that $200-bottle of wine. This disconnect pained us.

Today’s San Francisco pretends to be a liberal city, but when it comes to having a real impact on people who work in small businesses, the majority are not willing to put their money where their mouth is.

And the service charge model only works if all restaurants do it but everybody is scared of the diners’ wrath. We know it works because that’s how it works in the rest of the world but it only works if the whole industry runs that way.

In summary, if small businesses are the backbone of our economy employing more than half of our workforce, and the challenges faced are moving the businesses away from hiring more people, then what impact does this have on the labor economy and on this city that we love, economically and culturally?

I was asked, if I were to do it all over again, would I? Seeing how our industry has been rapidly changing where the core principles behind what I hoped to accomplish are in question, I don’t know if this would have been an endeavor I could comfortably and confidently pursue.

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Dear Parents-Thank You for Raising Considerate Customers

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Fame

Posted: 9/10/2018

Today’s post comes compliments of Fallyn Taylor, a member of the Server Not Servant Facebook Group:

Dear parents of the group of 5 kids who sat in my section today-

As a server, I don’t really expect much from tables of teenagers. I treat them like any other table, give them the same level of service I would an older couple, but I fully expect to be run ragged and tipped poorly. Your kids knew what they wanted when they sat down. They asked for extra ranch while placing their orders. They kept their voices at a reasonable volume while still chatting and having a good time. They were kind and considerate of the other diners in my section.

 When it was time for them to go, they asked for the bill, 59 dollars.  I ran their card and dropped off the slip for them to sign. I saw them using their phone to calculate what the tip should be. When I came back, they had already gone. They stacked up all of their dishes, grouped together their cups, and collected their trash. They tipped me $12. Your kids made my day. I genuinely hope they come back.

I know this is a weird post but these kids were 9-16 years old and the perfect table. When they sat down another server said something to the effect of, ‘that sucks” (dealing with kids). But they were just so awesome, it made my little heart happy.  😊

Thank you for sharing, Fallyn. SO refreshing to read, and nice of you to take the time to share. I was in a pizza joint at a communal table in Boston, with a gentleman and his 2 young kids sitting across from me. When they were done eating, the man asked one of his boys to bring the tray and trash/recycle to the proper spot, and had his other son help him wipe down their area. In front of both of his children he said, “We want to leave it nice and clean for the people who sit here next, the way we’d want to find it.” I looked at the woman sitting next to me–we were both in awe of what we witnessed. It’s unfortunate that these instances are anomalies. Faith in humans momentarily restored…

Please share your stories and comments below. And please share this post on social media if the spirit moves you.

PS- If you are interested in supporting this Server Not Servant blog, and helping to bring the book to fruition, please see the blue box on the right hand side of this blog post labeled, “Support Server Not Servant” to make a contribution. All donations of $20 or more will include a copy of the forthcoming book. I am also seeking corporate and private book sponsors. Email patrick@servernotservant.com. Cheers-Patrick

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Love Trumps Yelp Coward’s Hate at Boston’s Zia Gianna Italian Bakery & Cafe in Dorchester, MA

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame

Posted: 8/13/2018

Let’s get right to the cowardly curmudgeon’s Yelp review:

I’m appalled a little more every single time I read this horrific, bigoted, hate-filled tirade.

After reading this review on the Zia Gianna facebook page, I contacted the owner, Nino. I wanted to confirm that the laudatory comments on facebook were true, and I needed to verify a few items. Nino struck me as a very genuine man with a good soul. He confirmed that the following words on facebook accompanying the Yelp review received his blessing, and reflected who he is and what his restaurant represents:

“All are welcome at Zia Gianna, even this gentleman. We’d love to show him some kindness from the LGBTQ community because love always wins.”

Nino is a very easy man to talk to, and I believed him when he told me that he “welcomes everyone, and loves the diversity of our Dorchester neighborhood. We love serving everyone.” He is a proud, gay, married man, and his staff is comprised of folks from a wide range of ethnicities, races, religions, and sexual orientations. He said, “it just happened,” and that he didn’t deliberately assemble a staff with diverse backgrounds. He also confirmed that the review was not a “plant” for PR purposes. (I had to ask.)

Nino works front of the house, interacts with most of the guests, and could not recall an upset customer who fit the profile of the vile (my word), “Restaurant T.” Yelper. A little more about our anonymous Yelper friend:

He’s Sicilian. No doubt, just read his Yelp reviews of other restaurants. Here are a few excerpts of his greatest hits (my highlights):

I’m Sicilian, and I usually cook my own food, and therefore I’m entitled to measure how well a Restaurant stands up to the quality of how me and my family prepare our Traditional Cuisine. A lot of places skimp so much on ingredients that most people have no idea how the dishes are really supposed to be prepared.” (Ok, Mr. T…)

“Most of all the other Italian Restaurants in the North End are NOT authentic Italian and they are often “Fusion Style Italian” restaurants which employ either American, French or other influences into their cuisine and sell you small bites at ridiculous prices where you leave hungry for a whole new plate somewhere else.”

“Now that being said, I am not Puerto Rican, I am Sicilian and we are also an Island Nation and have some of our own fried items, BUT even I can tell that this ISN’T Puerto Rican food.”

“This place was one of Boston’s BEST Restaurants in my opinion, and now it’s gone downhill to be worthless just like all the rest of them.”

“This is definitely the BEST place to go for Italian sandwiches in the area (and even better than anything you can get in Boston’s North End), particularly their Meatball and Italian Subs… A lot of places have horrible meatballs (most Americans don’t know what a good Meatball tastes like), I am Sicilian and the way they make their meatballs here for a sandwich they are absolutely perfect and seasoned well and they stay together and taste so good in the Sandwich! “

I sent him the following note via Yelp messenger:

Hello, “Restaurant T.” – I’m writing to inform you that I am publishing a blog post that will include screenshots of your hateful review of Zia Gianna. I almost always try to give folks mentioned in my posts an opportunity to tell ‘their side’ of the story. Is there anything you regret writing in your review? Is there any additional message you have for the owner, staff, or customers that you’d like me to include in my blog post? Thank you-Patrick

[No response as of this publication. I will update if he replies.]

I learned one more thing about Nino when I spoke with him today…

“Restaurant T.” stated: “Anyone who violates our time tested Traditions and Iron-Clad rules of maintaining Roma Invicta, should be stripped of citizenship and even their surname reflecting our heritage.”

In fact, Nino will become a US citizen at a ceremony at Faneuil Hall in Boston on Thursday, August 16th. Please join me in congratulating him in the comments below. Better yet, stop into Zia Gianna and congratulate Nino in person.

————————————————————————————

If you are interested in supporting the Server Not Servant blog and helping to expedite the book project, please see the blue box on the right hand side of this blog post to make a contribution. Cheers-PM

 

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Twitter Tit for Tat on Tipping Etiquette 2018

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 8/12/2018

I shy away from redundant posts about tipping here and on the Server Not Servant facebook page because tipping is not the primary focus of this project. However, we haven’t discussed tipping etiquette in a long time, and Christopher Muther, travel writer for the Boston Globe, wrote a “Help Desk” piece on 7/31/18 that was spot on.

The piece‘If they touch it, you tip it’: The definitive guide to tipping while traveling, included some recommendations for tipping concierges:

There are general tipping guidelines for all US travel services, but, according to etiquette expert Elaine Swann, if a concierge secures you an otherwise impossible show ticket, or a restaurant reservation in an eatery that is fully booked, consider going higher. Swann said consider at least $20 depending on the scale of the task. Ditto for others who transform your trips from exasperating to extraordinary.

And at the end of the piece:

With the help of etiquette experts, the American Society of Travel Agents, and the American Hotel & Lodging Association, we’ve assembled a handy guide for tipping while traveling in the United States. Remember to do your research before traveling overseas.

Who and how much to tip:

• Concierge

Tip from $5 to $10 depending on how involved the request, or a lump sum upon departure. Consider tipping higher if the concierge has gone above and beyond to procure something special. No tip is necessary for directions or an answer to a simple question.

The Boston Globe writer, Christopher Muther tweeted a link to the piece w/the message, “Ever wonder how much to tip the chamber maid? The hotel concierge? Wonder no longer! Here’s your guide to tipping while traveling.”

A Twitter Guy (TG) responded, “1) You didn’t touch upon the pervasive negative aspects of the American tipping culture. 2) You perpetuated the ridiculous idea that people (concierges) ALREADY paid generously to literally sit on their ass & provide help to paying hotel guests should be tipped. Seriously?!”

Christopher: “Hi, TG. I agree there are issues with American tipping, however this article is intended to inform people of how to tip while traveling rather than diving into the politics of tipping culture. That is definitely an entirely different story. This story is the opinion of experts.”

TG: “Christopher, that’s definitely a fair point, and thank you for at least consulting other experts vs. self-interested groups like the restaurant association, concierge assoc., etc. I hope you’ll cover the other story as well.”

Patrick Maguire (PM) response to TG’s original tweet about concierges, “What a sweeping, negative generalization about concierges. And I believe the article did an excellent job of acknowledging many issues that require a deeper dive, like tipping in America.”

TG: “Patrick, I’d welcome your thoughts on why concierges should get tips for doing their job. Do they make at least minimum wage? Also, please explain why flight attendants, teachers, bus drivers, nurses shouldn’t be similarly tipped for their work.”

PM: (in 10 tweets): “The best concierges I have spoken with while researching my #ServerNotServant blog/book project don’t expect tips because many of them are paid well over minimum wage. However, many seasoned concierges have cultivated a network over a lifetime allowing them to tap into their resources to provide the best restaurants, reservations, recommendations, tickets, tours, guides, events, and services their city/town has to offer. Folks who voluntarily tip a concierge realize that they are leveraging the goodwill that excellent concierges have cultivated. 

I believe that savvy travelers recognize that an experienced concierge can save them a lot of time, effort, and energy, and deliver results that exceed what they might have been able to produce themselves. They choose to show their appreciate via tip because of the access a concierge provides them to vendors in their city, the US, and around the world that they might not have via their own network. And I believe that the article and advice is accurate in that it states at the outset that “Tipping is completely voluntary,” and then proceeds to explain that the “guide for tipping” is a result of consultation from multiple sources.

What was recommended 4 concierges in the article, strikes me as well traveled, common sense, common decency, spot on advice. The only real “social contract” around tipping in America is for folks who are paid a tipped minimum wage, as I’m sure you are aware. That doesn’t preclude us from demonstrating our gratitude w/cash when hospitality, empathy, compassion, anticipation or reaction strike us as timely +/or exceptional, especially if we’re a little flush with cash after cashing a check or getting paid. And that can include flight attendants, bus drivers, teachers, or nurses. Some circumstances and employers may not allow cash and a little creativity in the form of gift certificates or gifts might be more appropriate.

I remember bagging groceries on hot, humid days like today (8/6) in Boston at DeMoulas in Billerica, MA in the 70’s and pushing/pulling 2 overflowing carts to a customer’s car, and carefully loading up the car. A buck or 2 was always greatly appreciated, but you learn not to expect it. That’s often what makes giving gratifying, when folks don’t expect it. Most service industry workers I’ve spoken with aren’t even looking for anything ‘extra,’ they just want everyone to be decent, kind people, and to be respectful. Thanks for asking. I initially jumped in because I disagree with your outrage at the article ‘perpetuating’ the notion of tipping concierges for ‘sitting on their asses.’ Obviously, in many instances, they’re doing a lot more than that, and it’s ok to show our gratitude if we choose. Cheers.”

TG: “Thanks, Patrick, for offering a thoughtful and detailed rebuttal to my admittedly snarky take. I do think our different take on this may be irreconcilable, however, due to opposing philosophies. You feel that showing appreciation for high effort/high expertise is appropriate in monetary compensation. I feel that this ironically cheapens and debases human interactions, and that gratefulness expressed in other ways is more noble and across industries, more fair.

PM: “Please elaborate on expressing gratitude in other, “more noble” ways than “debasing human interactions” with monetary compensation. I’m all for seeking someone out to thank them, talking to their boss, and/or writing a letter or review singling out their ‘high effort.’ I also believe that there’s nothing wrong with the gesture of cash, gift, or gift certificate in the examples I mentioned regarding concierges, teachers, flight attendants, + nurses. My hunch is that the service industry folks wouldn’t feel demeaned. 2 more hypotheticals–If a consumer receives multiple packages a week from online orders and their USPS delivery person does a great job placing the packages exactly where they want them, is it demeaning to give them a card and cash or a gift occasionally or at year end? If you clean your house and leave an unusually huge pile of trash on the curb on pick-up day, is it demeaning to offer the trash crew some cold cash on a hot day? Bonus, if you freak out about going to the dentist (raises hand), and your hygienist uses novocaine and/or topical anesthetics, is it demeaning to give them a card with a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant or retail store at the end of the year? My gut says that if presented properly, most service industry folks would not be offended at a kind gesture that includes compensation.

TG: “I perceive the act of giving money to someone for doing their job inherently a power play, a way of saying, ‘Here, peasant, have a few coins from me, a person in a position of power over you.'”

PM: ” It’s not when a customer in America adheres to the unwritten, but well known social contract of tipping when compensating workers who are paid a tipped minimum wage, like bartenders + servers. In my opinion, it’s a lame ‘power play’ to say, “I don’t (have to) tip,” a la Mr. Pink.”

TG: ” Have you spent time in Japan? It’s so enormously refreshing going out to dinner there. Customers get wonderful service and, in turn, seem to typically show high respect to their servers. No tipping.

PM: “No, but I’ve spent time in Australia where the custom is not as ‘rigid’ as Japan. Australia reminds me of the “tipping included” restaurants in America that have a line on the receipt to include a tip on top of the ‘total,’ similar to Uber and Lyft.”

TG: “I do prefer the AU method to the US method; at least waitstaff are paid a decent base wage there, and tipping isn’t essentially *required*.

TG: “Read up on the sad history of tipping. Read the research on how it exacerbates sexism, discrimination (hint: white women with big breasts make hugely more in tips that short Hispanic guys, and undoubtedly get sexually harassed a lot more, too.)”

PM: “I’ve been living and/or ‘reading up’ and studying tipping for more than 40 years. A lot of the sources of the cherry-picked data + studies regarding the origin of tipping + commingling w/sexual harrassment need to be scrutinized very carefully. More here: https://bit.ly/2ALGbIo”

TG: “Regarding questions about the sexual harassment link…thanks for sharing that page.”

TG: “Also, in real life, nurses do not get tips and (from what my nurse friends tell me, almost never get gifts. My dad–repeatedly Teacher of the Year–probably got an average of 1 gift a year, if that. So tipping is inherently unfair occupationally as well.”

PM: “Thanks for the ‘real life’ lesson. I never said nurses get tipped. And as far as gifts, speak to more nurses, especially those in Oncology or Geriatrics. My father + 6 siblings taught school for a living. Their experiences of gratitude from parents differ from those of your dad.” 

TG: “Lastly, re: delightful surprises… I’m all for it! I gave a big gift card to a server in Singapore once because she was so astoundingly awesome to me. But that’s the opposite of the 20% tip, or “you should give $10 or more to your concierge when…” guidance. PS-You are awesome for doing things like putting in a good word to someone’s boss or writing a letter, review. I am 110% with you on such gestures! I need to do this more myself; I think it’s a powerful gesture and selfishly it makes me feel happy, too :-)”

PM: “I’m with you about letting workers (and their bosses) know when they do a great job. It’s not that hard, feels good, and often takes a lot less effort than the energy that some people expend to complain. Unfortunately, some people aren’t ‘happy’ unless they’re miserable…”

TG: “By the way, I *do* tip generously in restaurants, historically because of the tipped minimum wage, but now out of social pressure in non-tipped-min-wage states :p. And lastly, I’m glad we can both agree re: the awesomeness of unexpected kind gestures to recognize outstanding service… and I think a reasonable consensus on top of that might be that we both hope for a day when no one DEPENDS on tips for their livelihood :-).

PM: “I do hope that, and I thought that Danny Meyer’s ‘hospitality included’ at USHG in NYC was going to add momentum to that movement. The early ‘mixed’/troubling results indicate that American workers, consumers, and culture just aren’t ready for full adaptation of that method. And lastly, like stories, some blog posts ‘write themselves.’ I’ve enjoyed the repartee and have screenshots of every tweet. In the blog post, do you prefer your full name w/link to your twitter or anonymity with a code name? I won’t use ‘Mr. Pink’…” 😉

TG: “Hey, Patrick, it’s been a pleasure…I prefer my tweets not live forever, …at least not with my name on ’em. So if you’d be willing to anonymize them, that would be awesome; thanks! 🙂

It was refreshing to have a ‘conversation’ on social media that included disagreements and testy exchanges result in civil discourse rather than devolve into vitriolic rage followed by blocking each other. Thank you, Twitter Guy.

PS: “Twitter Guy” did apologize for painting all concierges with one brush. That’s the only tweet I didn’t take a screenshot of.

If you are interested in supporting the Server Not Servant blog and helping to bring the book project to fruition, please see the blue box on the right hand side of this blog post to make a contribution. Just don’t call it a tip… Thank you for your consideration. And please join in the conversation in the comments below, and share this post on social media if the spirit moves you. Cheers-PM

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