Monday, March 8, 2010

Gratuitous Liveliness

I think I mentioned this before at some point, but yesterday was the perform of Carmina Burana by the Virginia Consort Festival Chorus, featuring in the alto section one Mrs Velkyal, though obviously under her legal name. The concert was really very good, and after the singy bit, the participants had reservations at a local Italian restaurant called Vivace, which we duly attended. The evening was very pleasant, intelligent conversation, traveled table companions and decent wine and beer - I had Clipper City's Loose Cannon IPA, which was a typical American expression of the style, and perfectly acceptable. No I didn't take a photo or notes as I am perfectly capable of functioning as a regular human being. Mrs Velkyal's wine was also apparently rather nice.

However, last night also brought into sharp relief again one of the failings we have come across in many a restaurant in the US, or at least in those parts we go to regularly, namely that the cost is so distinctly unrepresentative of what you actually get. Basically we had a meal consisting of a pair of appetisers per table, one of which was fried calamari and the other was a "bruschetta" with melted mozzarella and a tomata salsa, and then ordering from a set menu. I had tomato and basil soup, followed by chicken parmigiani, which came with spaghetti marinara, and a New York style cheesecake for dessert; Mrs Velkyal had the same, other than a Caesar salad in the place of soup. The cost for this, plus 3 beers and 2 glasses of wine? $100 plus gratuity, more of which later.

I don't want to appear cheap, but the cost to value ratio in this case was piss poor. It's not that the food was bad, it was just uninspiring and something Mrs Velkyal could rustle up in our tiny kitchen for a fraction of the cost and to a far higher standard - for a start she would make the pasta herself and that alone would make a huge difference. To be fair, the cheesecake was nice, though I suspect it had been bought in before being liberally doused in a raspberry syrup, oh sorry, coulis. The soup was nothing special, my first reaction was that it came from a can and was just dressed with a touch of basil for effect. There was one truly excellent thing though and that was the service, polite, discreet (I hate having a waitress come by every thirty seconds or so and asking if everything was ok) and efficient. I would have happily given her a generous tip, had it not been for the gratuitous 20% unilaterally attached to my bill, or there even being a warning that in certain circumstances such a penalty would be plonked on top of my bill.

While on the subject of tipping and the gratuitous abuse of the customer, I have no objection to being generous in that department, when the service has warranted such generosity, but expecting me to pay an extra 20% for service is just down right wrong. 10% I don't mind paying, but expecting 20% is taking the piss. I guess the thing that really got my goat last night was being presented with the bill, having the 20% gratuity added to it, and there being a line on the credit card slip for an "additional tip" - I recently learned the meaning of being "nickel and dimed", and that's just how it felt, "to drain or destroy bit by bit, especially financially" according to the American Heritage Dictionary.

We still had a thoroughly good evening, but the cost did dampen things a bit, especially given the mediocrity that is apparently Charlottesville's "premier authentic Italian" restaurant. Things though this morning are much better as I sit in my favourite diner in town having a good breakfast, as much coffee as I can drink, free wifi and knowing that my bill for a far more satisfying feed will be a good 90% less than last night, and that is with the generous tip I always leave here, just because it is that good.


  1. I feel your pain. I find more and more that it is very difficult to go out for a reasonably priced meal whose quality can even approach what me and my wife can prepare at home. The establishments that can accomplish this are few and far between. I always hate planning for a nice evening out only to feel ripped off when the bill comes.

  2. Welcome to American tipping culture. One part of the USA I can definitely do without. When the bill gets to three figures, that 15-20% thing goes out the window. Unfortunately the restaurant owners are aware of that, and want to make sure you pay the service staff's salary rather than they provide a fair wage. I'm with you, I tip generously, but it's my decision. The first time I saw that additional tip in addition to the extorted 20%, I'm afraid the waitress knew exactly what I was laughing about.

  3. That "mandatory TIP" thing is one of the biggest rip-offs in the world! (regardless of the rate). It just does away with the whole concept of tipping.

    It's incredible that yanks are so meek that they simply put up with that bollocks.


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