My DJ buddy Vert Sin was touring through Portland last year and, being from Boise, his bar was not exactly high in terms of what he expected from a pizza restaurant. Still, it took him only minutes to notice what was wrong with P-town’s idea of service.
"Please bus your own tables? What kind of shit is that? I could swear I saw a tip jar up front," Vert muttered.
I responded, "Yes, and if you notice, all the condiments, soda taps, plates and cups are self-serve."
He replied, "What the fuck am I tipping for, then?"
Well, Vert, that’s a good question.
Millenials are a special breed of lazy. Specifically, the less-than-the-time-it-takes-to-read-this attention span variety of lazy. Glued to their phones and willing to show up to work "whenever, maybe," this is a national issue. However, if you are visibly over the hill, living in Portland, working in the service industry and technically able to perform the tasks required to do your job on those days you choose to show up to work without wearing a hangover, chances are, you’re often confused for a worn-out and extra hairy Millenial. If the V-neck Morrisey t-shirt you are wearing is original, stamped with a 1986 tour date and the whole she-bang, you have no excuse to possess a lack of work ethic that rivals that of a generation raised on entitlement, immediacy and hand-outs.
Unless, of course, you live in Portland. In this case, you are most likely reading this column at work while the only customer who isn't friends with the boss impatiently stands near the well, waiting for that I.P.A. he ordered six minutes ago.
This phenomenon, the "why are you bothering me by being a customer" attitude of Portland employees, does not fly in any other region. Here are a few reasons why Portland is the mecca of underachievement, and a terrible example of what happens when you run a business that promotes apathy with weirdness, hiring accordingly.
Customers Are Exposed to More Than the Menu
Waiting at Mcmenimahfuckitspellcheck’s, a Portland staple of terrible service, it took about fifteen minutes for a server to arrive at my table, plop ten menus (including a brochure for a hotel in Bend) in front of me, say that happy hour was going on for the next five minutes and disappear for another fifteen. Upon her return, I was given a chance to order drinks.
"I’ll have that non-alcoholic cider, please," I asked.
"You sure? I think it’s still happy hour, and beers are cheap."
This was her response, to suggest a two-dollar beer instead of giving me a four-dollar cider. Perhaps her customers tip a dollar per song? Plus, it was a few minutes past happy hour, so maybe she wanted to sneak in a six-dollar pint to pad the bill.
Either way, she then disappeared for the second time and ended up behind the bar. While there, she informed another bartender (and the rest of the restaurant) that she can’t get her shift covered this weekend, because Brittany didn’t request a cover, and that it’s bullshit how she showed up at five to work for her, also what’s with the new cook, why is he always splitting up the tabs and tips wrong? Don’t people around here know how to pour a bloody mary, and why doesn’t the bar have any of that stuff they were trying to get rid of on tap, is it moldy again?
Another ten minutes later, I order food, watch the sun set, watch the sun rise, get my food, then I am immediately given a check.
"Your bill is here," Shifty McBitchalot says.
"Okay, thanks," I reply while looking at a full plate of food.
Two minutes later, my server is back to ask me to cash out because she needs to leave early. I pay her cash. Then, as you probably guessed, she presented me with change from her apron while providing me with enough ones to tip... Nah, I’m just fucking with you. I paid with a fifty, she bitched about it to the bartender (tips are really hard to split), then she returned with two twenties and a pile of coins for change. I asked for some ones, she rolled her eyes, disappeared with the twenties and, after I eventually acquired them from the other bartender, she was long gone. But not after bitching about how bad her tips were.
Nepotism Ensures Shitty Service
That neighborhood bar is awesome, until you realize that most of the people working there started out as customers or friends of the bar staff. Considering that, on busy weekend nights, potential qualified applicants don’t get much of a chance to talk to a bartender about how to turn in an application, it is safe to assume that many of these drunks-turned-bartenders are among the best and most reliable pool of potential employees: day drinkers. Yes, the girl who can’t pass a piss test, her artist-slash-skateboarder boyfriend and laptop guy will eventually be changing kegs and asking how to work all that DJ stuff, but only after doing coke with the new owner (the original owner never sticks around, as bars in Portland have the same attitude toward commitment as recently-divorced polyamorous sex addicts).
"Kyle, this guy who moved here from Chicago, is totally gonna start bartending Sunday," says the unqualified manager-slash-son-of-landlord.
Two years later, enter the Kickstarter campaign to save this beloved neighborhood watering hole. Sure, they’d give discounts on already cheap Pabst to their friends (i.e. everyone in the bar except those irritating tourists who keep asking for a menu), hire entertainment via Facebook comment recommendations, run out of stock and keep erratic hours. But hey man, Cascadialand had great pinball. Why’d they have to close?
The ’But They Have Good Food and Drink’ Excuse Used to Visit Strip Clubs is Valid in Portland
To be fair, the city does have some great bartenders, servers and cooks. But for the most part, you can only find good service in strip clubs. Why? Because the lady (or dude) behind the bar is competing with several naked women, loud music and flashing lights. This puts him or her in no place to fuck around on Instagram while customers impatiently wave cash in anticipation of service. It takes years, if not decades, for a customer to make the transition from paying pervert to payroll. If the food is shitty, there’s another spot less than a mile away with under-priced steak.
It also helps that dancers tip out cooks, but only if customers stick around to order food. Same goes with cocktail waitresses who can’t afford to stare at their iPhone while a dancer snatches up their customer and hits the bar for immediate service. Even in clubs with sequels, located on the edge of "that’s too far for Portlandia" territory, the chicken strips and cheese sticks are of the best available quality. I don’t comprehend why the non-nude establishments, for any other reason than some sort of secret society of bartenders who all agree to cap their on-the-clock fuck-givings, are unable to see the potential threat of losing business due to poor service and naked competition. Unless, of course,...
Popular Portland Bars and Restaurants Lose Credibility by Having Decent Service
There is an overpriced, white-people-run Mexican restaurant in Southeast called Por Que No, which literally translates to "why not?" This place serves glorified street food to white hipsters and transplants, after they wait hours in line outside the establishment, L.A. nightclub style, for three-dollar carne asada tacos. In this amount of time (and for a lot less money), you could pack up the kids and drive to Woodburn or Beaverton (or hell, 82nd) to buy food from a real Mexican. Instead, it’s "Hey guys, do you want to wait in the blistering heat and/or foggy-ass rain for an hour for something we could easily obtain elsewhere without all the cultural appropriation and inflated menu costs?" Of course, the only logical way one could respond to this would be, "Why not?"
Aside from Del Taco 2.0, the brunch scene in Portland (yes, there is a "brunch scene" here... still no hip hop clubs, but we do have a thriving industry that revolves around nursing hungover white people) actually prides itself in how long it takes their establishment's off-duty college students to make a fucking pancake. One life hack, however, is a place called Slappy Cakes (located on S.E. Belmont). They have great service, fresh food and for a decent price. However, they are also semi-D.I.Y. in that customers are encouraged to make their own pancakes using a grill attached to the table. By introducing the ideas of manual labor before noon and total control over one’s own diet, Slappy Cakes repels a large percentage of the undesirable manchildren who would otherwise ruin a good pancake thing. They also have the best deep-fried bacon I’ve ever had, and if anyone who works there is reading this, hook a dude up next time I roll through.
The Roxy Now Has the Best Service In Portland
Sometime in 1990whenever, I spent my days drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes at the Roxy. It was a safe alternative to the extra-curricular activities at my high school, and there was a very high chance that one of the waitstaff would end up breaking something over a crackhead in order to remove them from the lobby. If not, drag queen fight. Either way, going to the Roxy was like watching Jerry Springer while eating a sandwich named after a gay porn star; easily the best spent dollar in Oregon. They used to pride themselves on having sassy service, to the point where they’d put it on their menu that the "food may suck, but at least the service stinks."
While working strip clubs a few years ago, I would rotate between that place under the Morrison bridge with the soul food that tastes like a Judas Priest shirt, the Hotcake House and the Roxy (with occasional stops at Boogie’s Burgers, which is rumored to be closing soon, so go eat there while you still can). All of these places had above-decent service at worst, good food, decent prices and employees that didn’t interpret "excuse me" as a slur. Once I switched to day job mode, however, I was exposed to dozens of other options, ranging from food carts to sit-down joints, all of which were utterly horrible examples of why Yelp reviews should be protected as free speech. Hence, I ended up inside the Roxy before sundown one afternoon, was promptly served and have made a habit of it ever since.
The place with Jesus hanging above a jukebox, just feet from a signed photo of a male stripper, sitting across from shirts that say "Portland Fucking Oregon", has the best service in town. No disrespect to the Roxy, but come the fuck on, Portland. A "Big Fat Heart Attack" should not be served with less resentment (and in less time) than your artisan crepe platters or Pendejorritos.
The Customer is Always Wrong
Actual interaction between me and the white girl who I ordered an "extreme tostada" from in some artsy shit shack near NE Alberta:
"Hey, I’d like the tostada, but no sour cream, please."
"Ugh... I’m, like, pretty sure there’s no sour cream, because we have vegan options."
"Yes, I’m actually planning on eating the ground beef tostada, so no sour cream if it has any."
"I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have any, sir."
"Okay, and what do you have on tap?"
"Umm... Corona in bottles, Negro Modela in bottles, Tecata in cans..."
"Okay, so what do you have in pints?"
"Ugh... Just Ninkasi."
"I’ll have a Ninkasi"
"You sure? It’s the IPA and not too many people like it." *
"I take risks, give me one of those."
"Okay, thank you."
About fifteen minutes later, she returns to tell me they don’t have the IPA, but they do have the seasonal. I ask for the seasonal. She returns, "Here’s your tostada, umm, it looks like they put sour cream on it, so I left you a spoon and a plate to dig it off."
Thanks a ton.(*Everyone likes Ninkasi IPA. Everyone.)
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