They’re Keeping A File On You (And Sharing It)

No, not the government. Well, okay, yes, the government. But also the restaurants:

Increasingly, restaurants are recording whether you are a regular, a first-timer, someone who lives close by or a friend of the owner or manager. They archive where you like to sit, when you will celebrate a special occasion and whether you prefer your butter soft or hard, Pepsi over Coca-Cola or sparkling over still water. In many cases, they can trace your past performance as a diner; how much you ordered, tipped and whether you were a “camper” who lingered at the table long after dessert.

“We will write if the person is kosher or can’t eat shellfish,” said Ed Schoenfeld, who owns RedFarm in the West Village. “And we take note of the people who sat for six and a half hours last time, so next time we are sure to give them an uncomfortable seat.”

Read More.

I long for the day when every restaurant in the land just knows that I want a pitcher of water delivered to my table so I never have to worry about my glass sitting dry. I essentially take a drink between every bite and so need either a really attentive server or a pitcher. Few follow through with the pitcher even though I try to warn them I’ll be driving them crazy (or frustrated the whole meal) if they don’t.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Alex Songe

    I tip well, particularly places I frequent. I have a large frame and big long hair. I’m noticed, somewhat, so I sometimes get reputations that last for a few months. It gets me much better service.

  • F

    Restaurants. Gee, when did they get with the program? Various retail has been doing this for, like, evar. And all sorts of other businesses, financial institutions, FB, …

  • Jesse M.

    I think that the businesses with personalized hospitality are respectful and attractive to customers (all else being equal), but only when they feel that the information should not be shared with third parties (which would be disrespectful and respulsive to customers).

  • mikmik

    As someone that had some deadly allergies to certain foods, that part is great, and wouldn’t mind at all if that was shared. As long as they don’t start asking about political views, it seems harmless. Well, not if they also share things that are subjective or due to possibly special circumstance like, “This person is cranky” or even if you didn’t tip that time. There may be reasons for one time, or rare behaviors, but they wouldn’t know that.

  • machintelligence

    It’s nice to see that there is someone else out there who drinks a lot of water. I have been known to adjust the tip based on how well they keep the water glass full.

    • Daniel Fincke

      I try to avoid punitive reductions in tips except in cases of egregiously bad service. But I do tip more for more water.

    • RW Ahrens

      I agree with the rarity of tip reductions. Servers often make a very low regular salary, so I tend to tip well, assuming the service is good or better. (My wife was a worker at a hotel restaurant when I met her, so I have some idea of how bad (and good) it can get.)

      Also, I have a fairly solid $5 base tip for meals, even if the diner I’m at has a low breakfast price. I’ve often paid as much or more for the tip than the meal, as I feel nobody should be penalized just because they work at a cheap diner.

      That can change if the service sucks, of course, but in my experience, that is rare. Service is often better at the cheap places then mid-priced restaurants.

      YMMV, of course.

    • Anna Johnstone

      Over here (UK) service is included in the price of the bill. If it’s really awful, I’ll make them take it off, but will often leave a couple of quid for the server, if it’s good. However I like to be left to eat my meal in my own time and find it intensely irritating when waiting staff hover or try to rush you on because they have overbooked, but when you do need them, the staff ignore you.

      It seems to be a custom that they deliberately double or triple book tables based on an assumption that people wont show up which means restaurants end up full to the gunnels, and diners are hurried through

    • N. Nescio

      I’ve also worked in a fine dining restaurant that kept guest notes. If you drank a lot of water where I was, there was likely a note in your profile that pointed this out, so that servers who had never taken care of you before you would already know to keep your glass constantly filled, without you having to repeatedly point it out – come to dinner a couple times a month across a 4-5 years and imagine how old it gets having to remind the server every single time that you drink lots of water and don’t like going dry.

      As another commentator stated, OpenTable is an invaluable tool for helping to maintain a consistent dining experience no matter who is serving your table. We noted things like special occasions, guest behavior, food preferences and dislikes, and most importantly allergies. We cooked for several people who knew they could safely come eat our food without dying because we noted allergies in all caps and made sure that us in the kitchen knew about it, every single time.

      Of course, that also means that we knew who table-camps, who likes to get ridiculously drunk, who sexually harasses female service staff, who steals flatware or doodles on the linen tablecloths, who is a bad tipper or treats their server like a personal slave, who seems oblivious that bringing their screaming child into a fine-dining restaurant might disturb the other guests, and who likes to habitually send things back.

      It’s good to know to push screw-capped wine to a guest who almost inevitably sends his first choice of wine back as “corked” in an attempt to impress his date of the week. It’s good to know in advance to have some distracting snacky things for a bored kid who isn’t old enough to understand things like “dining out” and keeping still in a quiet dining room.

      At the kind of restaurants where you pay for a consistently high-quality experience, making sure that guests’ needs are met is absolutely essential. Servers’ collective memory (which is pretty damned good) isn’t enough for some places.

  • Tracey

    I don’t go out to eat often, and when I do, it’s usually at a small, family-owned Thai restaurant. I tip well. I don’t act like a jerk. I get great service. The servers know what the family likes and are comfortable enough to joke with us–one child doesn’t like tomatoes, so the server offers to bring ‘a plate of tomatoes’. I pay in cash, so I doubt there’s any official record.

  • jws1

    The technology used to keep track of guest history is called “Opentable”, and it’s an invaluable tool that allows for greater, more personalized service. It also allows for better “mapping” of the evening.

    I serve in a fine-dining restaurant – I am not putting a goddamn pitcher on your fucking table because I am not a fucking hayseed. I will simply, and quietly, visit your table more often with pitcher in hand, always assuming that you will need it. It’s not a big deal.

    • Sercee

      It irritates me to no end when servers come by constantly to top up the 2 inches of water I had since they were last at my table 5 minutes ago. I won’t likely reduce me tip for it but I may decide not to come back. While I understand that, for the server, it’s simply an attempt at providing more attentive service, if I ask for a pitcher of water instead so I don’t have to be bothered all the time then that’s what I want. I was a server for 6 years, it didn’t put me out to do it either way.

  • Paul E. Ziegler

    Restaurants may be just getting started but Google has been doing this for years (their customers like to think you will want to see their ad). This is more than just the paid ads you see at the top of the any search. They also track you web surfing. You can tell that an ad is targeted to you by the little blue triangle in the upper left corner of an ad. And, yes, they do look at you politics (see ). In my opinio the best book on this subject is David Brin’s, The Transparent Society written 14 years age.

    • muzakbox

      The Kiln People also dealt with a completely transparent society. I love David Brin! I’m excited to know other people read him too.

  • xjustos

    which WORLD-VIEW will not exist, sh*thead?


    5000 whining atheists vs the Great Prophet

    how the divine pen of Michel N. crushed the international atheist movement

    one applicant right here…

    get the POINT, Randi….

  • Stevarious

    I essentially take a drink between every bite and so need either a really attentive server or a pitcher.

    Right there with you. I have one favorite restaurant that I visit regularly simply because they are obliging about this point, and I tip well.

  • John Morales

    Here in Oz, tipping is not the done thing.

    (When I’ve been to countries where it’s expected, I found it extremely awkward (medieval and cringe-worthy, even!) and extremely offensive to my sensibility)

    • Outrage Zombie

      So do Australian servers get paid regular wages? Here in the US, servers get paid way less than minimum wage, as the tip is considered to be part of their wages; it’s freaking asinine, as it puts people who work a a demanding job at the mercy of random strangers, but there you go.

    • Mogg

      Waitstaff are paid regular wages in Oz, and depending on where they are may also get weekend penalty rates. Tipping even a nominal amount is therefore an expression of appreciation for better than average service, rather than an expectation.

    • John Morales

      Outrage Zombie, yes, in my experience.

      Some people tip, particularly in upmarket establishments, but it’s entirely optional.

    • N. Nescio

      That’d be true except for the part where the employer is legally required to make up the difference when tips are low, bringing the servers’ hourly rate to minimum wage. Them’s the breaks: you have busy nights and make bank, and sometimes on slow nights you essentially waste an evening making minimum wage. On a good night in a high-end restaurant a front server can walk out of there with more than the kitchen staff make in a week.

      People want to talk about ‘pity the poor underpaid servers’, they ought go back and talk to the kitchen. Slow night? You’re clocking out & going home early and the salaried sous-chef who’s working 9am-1am 6 days a week is now cooking for multiple stations. Busy night? You’re getting your ass kicked and still making likely minimum wage or a couple of dollars an hour better, and unless the kitchen gets tipped out (and unless the restaurant isn’t holding that money for weeks & using it for cash-on-hand), you’re not seeing a dime extra. Unless you’re there on a stage, in which case you’re working just as hard as everybody else, doing all the tasks they don’t want to do, and not getting any pay at all.

      Is it fair? No. Do I hope it gets better? Yeah.
      Hope in one hand, and all that.

  • Bret

    This is all part of a massive conspiracy where they are going to take our steaks and bacon, and we won’t be able to do anything about it!

  • eric

    No surprise. You don’t think Safeway is giving you that discount card because they think a 5% price cut will get you to stop going to Giant, do you? Those cards are for tracking purchase history.

  • Sercee

    Many businesses mark things up so they can give their customers a “reward” of “lower prices” or “premium service” in exchange for your deets. I used to rail against this (I still can’t stand the idea of being tracked by anyone for any reason) but it’s not a battle worth fighting anymore since it’s already well lost. I just do my best to ignore or divert the onslaught of incoming advertising, try to make decisions based on my actual need rather than what is being hammered into my subconcious (I wish I knew how successful I actually am with that), and make a point not to give real or updated information to anything I sign up for so I can still receive products and services without being gouged more than I have to be. I still pay in cash as often as possible.

    That said, statistics and advertising are valuable, so I try to make them earn it since I know I can’t truly avoid it. I am very courteous and cooperative with local businesses that I feel are deserving and a good fit to my lifestyle.

    Anyway, good on them for getting into the game, I guess.

  • Trina

    Yeah, no tipping in Australia but I understand the minimum wage in the US is ridiculously low so I would have no problem tipping if over there. I’ve been a waiter for a few places and wages are between $18-25 an hour- so if I was getting tips as well I’d feel pretty special!

    The downside of that of course is that there are jobs (pizza delivery for pizza hut) that pay per delivery, not an hourly wage, and nobody tips you so you end up making $12 an hour.

    What’s the minimum wage in the US?

    • Kevin

      Min. wage depends on the state but usually around 7-8 dollars/hour. For the service industry, its usually around 2-3 dollars/hour usually with the requirement that the company is to make up for any difference if the server doesn’t make enough in tips to reach the regular min. wage, but I’m not sure how often this gets enforced/brought up. This is why not tipping is such an asshole thing to do in the states. The price you pay is not included in the meal so you are shortchanging the server; even if the service is bad, its usually not that bad. Also, there’s been some mention of raising the min. wage due to inflation, where if we pegged it to inflation it would be around the 13 dollar mark. However, I don’t see that happening soon since we are focused on job growth, regardless of the quality of those jobs.

  • Stevarious

    The downside of that of course is that there are jobs (pizza delivery for pizza hut) that pay per delivery, not an hourly wage, and nobody tips you so you end up making $12 an hour.

    What’s the minimum wage in the US?

    It depends on where you live and what kind of work you do. The federal minimum wage is $7.25. In a few states it’s slightly higher – the highest is Washington State with $9.04/hr.

    In some states, they’ve specifically passed laws that allow them to have the minimum wage lower than the federal limit. For instance, Georgia’s minimum wage is $5.15/hr. Most states also have special laws that allow employers to pay ‘tipped’ employees, like waiters, a much much lower hourly wage. For instance, in Georgia, the minimum wage for a tipped employee is $2.13.

    That’s the main reason why I find people who do not tip so contemptible in the US, even though it’s a non-issue in other countries. For most wait staff, that measly $5 you leave is twice as much as their ‘employer’ is paying them to be there. Working as wait staff in the US is typically a demeaning, soul-grinding affair, where some days you barely make enough to cover the bus fair you paid to show up on time.

    I used to deliver pizza and a good night was where the tips were so good, I almost made $12/hr. My mind boggles at the idea of getting $18/hr as a waiter – that’s more than I make now!

    • N. Nescio

      mind boggles at figuring out how the hell a small business such as a one-unit restaurant can afford to pay staff $18 an hour!

      (WARNING: Pre-coffee. Math may be garbage.)
      Let’s say that I have a restaurant that does 80 covers a night six days a week and employs 4 servers working from 3pm to 11pm, as well as 3 kitchen staff who work from 12pm to 12am. Let’s assume it’s a pool of staff rotated to avoid paying overtime, and that the service staff receive no tips due to their high wages.

      That’s 68 labor hours at $18 an hour = $1224 in base labor cost every night, and if the place is open six days a week that’s $7,344 a week for a base total of $29376 per month and $352,512 per year. This doesn’t include things like taxes, worker’s compensation, insurance, potential benefits like health insurance for staff (HA!).

      The net profit margin of an average limited service restaurant is 6%, assuming a 30% food cost and 30% labor cost. That labor cost percentage just went through the roof.

      A server working a 40 hour week would make about $34,560 a year getting paid $18 an hour.

      Whereas a server working the same hours making $2.13 an hour and making the rest as tips is a base labor cost of $4089.60. That extra $30,470.40 per staff member has to come from somewhere, and you’re going to see it on the menu. My guess is that the old joke will live on: the restaurant’s staff will STILL be unable to afford to go out to eat where they work.

    • Kevin

      I don’t see where the problem is. They are making only 16$ more an hour and that is split among all the tables they are serving at the time. So lets say they average 2 tables per hour (max 4, but including downtime), its only $8 more per table. I would suspect the business would try to keep the ratio of servers to tables about the same by sending someone home on a slow night. For a table of 2+ people, this is going to be less than what they already tip. It might be a big jump, but it doesn’t seem too farfetched; the customer is already paying it, the tip is simply being transferred to the bill. However, I don’t know how many tables a server averages, so it all depends on that figure.

  • Trina

    Holy crap- minimum wage is $8 an hour? The only place that pays that crappy here is McDonalds, and only its under 18 staff.
    Minimum wage in Australia is twice that.

    When I worked at Maccas, as an over 21 crew person I was on $21/hr, and making the least out of my friends, who all worked in customer service.

    How does anyone afford to live on a minimum wage in America? I can manage it here, just, and I have no dependants or debts.

    • SnowyBiscuit

      That’s the problem — people can’t afford to live on minimum wage in America. The excuse given by libertarians and righties is that minimum wage is “for” teenagers and the unskilled.

      This is, of course, balls, and as far as I’m concerned is just like when men would excuse wage disparity beteween men and women by saying that working women were young and would soon get married and didn’t have families to support.

    • Stevarious

      The only people I know who actually live on minimum wage work 2 (or 3) jobs. That is, get up, go to work, work 8 hours, get off, run to the other job, work 8 hours, go home, sleep, repeat. Usually your days off don’t line up, so a ‘day off’ is a day where you only work at one of your jobs and you can catch up on sleep a little.

      Did it myself for about a year once. It’s not just exhausting, it’s completely destructive. I literally lost a year of my life – almost no interaction with friends or family, no awareness of the outside world (I didn’t know George Bush Jr. was running for pres until about a month after he had won the election), nothing. The only people I ever talked to were coworkers and my then-girlfriend, and her only because I lived with her. Missed my son’s first steps and first word. My health was wrecked because of the huge amounts of stress. I had hoped going in that I would actually get into better shape, that all this running around at and between two highly physical jobs would improve my health, but instead I was sick all the time. (I did lose a lot of weight, though…)

      And what did I get? Enough money to live on. Barely.

      This is of course what certain elements of our government want. Poor people who are too tired to even know about the issues, let alone vote on them.

  • Leafhuntress

    Nescio, you forget that he was talking about australian dollars (allthough google says they’re on par, damn the us dollar has gone down through the years!) & that “job creators” in most/ all firstworld countries do not pay health insurance b/c that’s taken care of nationally, not through your employer.