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Bad Behavior at a Restaurant Bar?


Chris Amirault
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For the first time in my life, I've just been kicked out of a restaurant -- or, more specifically, out of a restaurant bar. You, my peers, are the jury.

The joint in question: a small neighborhood place called Loie Fuller here in Providence RI (no link -- it is the hip that dare not speak its website) that has been heating up some food boards but at which I have had only one odd, ungood experience.

My crime: having a laptop.

I decided to give LF another go because Providence is desperately in need of a cocktail bar (click here for handwringing) and Mike Sears, the owner, has a reputation for being something of a cocktail nut. I also needed a place to finish up an article I'm working on, and I've long enjoyed writing in restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other neighborhood joints in town when home constrains. Finally, in a city that has had many of its best community-minded restaurants & bars for writing evaporate in the last decades (Leo's and Blue Point leap to mind), hope springs eternal.

So tonight, a Wednesday, I sauntered into the half-empty place after the dinner rush with my bag, indicated that I'd be sitting at a small table in the corner of the front room bar, and ordered a Negroni. I sat down at the table, pulled out a folder of research, and opened up my laptop.

At the moment that my network connection clicked in and my Negroni arrived, owner Mike himself came up to my table. In that inimitable style that so many in the hospitality industry seep, Mike proceeded to kick me out without kicking me out. He insisted, for example, that I was welcome in the bar as long as I didn't use the computer, and when I indicated that I was there to drink and write (a time-honored combination, to be sure) and asked whether I should stay or leave if I had to do that, he refused to answer. Instead, he told me that he had decided not to have a television in the place, and he met with a resigned smile my suggestion that a silent laptop pointing into a room's corner was different than a TV booming out across the bar.

This dodge ball continued for a bit, with me looking for clarification and him trying to avoid the confrontation his policy demanded. Finally, knowing that I could plunk down with a beer (and the HDTV Celtics game) and my laptop at the Hot Club, I shrugged, packed up, and left.

I now sit in that venerable Providence dive, nursing my UFO, watching Kevin Garnett, and asking for you to weigh in. One final note: we're talking about a neighborhood restaurant here, not Alinea. This is the sort of place that wants to be a community destination, and had I pulled out a legal pad and click pen, five'll get you fifty that I wouldn't have been accosted by my erstwhile host. Which side are you on? Rejecting the evil glow and the subtle pitter-patter of the keyboard on the one hand, or hospitably treating those neighborhood denizens who choose to work with such technology while imbibing on the other?

Judge me -- lest ye, internet users, be judged.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Not defending him or anything - if he doesn't want laptop users there he should just come out and say so - but is the place big enough that it could survive many tables of people nursing a couple drinks and working on their computers? I know that's a reason why a restaurant I worked at refused to install WiFi - we were 40 seats and casual but in a neighborhood where the students would have driven our per-table averages down to nothing had we allowed them to sit there. Restaurants that aren't huge have to either turn tables quickly or make a lot of money off lingerers - and often people working on something tend to linger without buying much.

As Steve Martin once put it: "It's a profit deal!"

Just a thought. The guy could just be a jerk.

"A culture's appetite always springs from its poor" - John Thorne

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It's fine to defend him. I think his position is defensible. I just don't agree with it.

No, the place isn't big enough to have many tables nursing a couple of drinks and working -- though the packed, wifi-ed Paneras around the area suggest that having people there isn't such a big business dilemma. However, the owner could have said, "Listen, we're quiet now, and you're sitting at a bar table. [No food served there, that is.] If we fill up, you've gotta take a hike." That I would have understood.

I'm telling you, it was the aesthetics. I cracked open the glowing laptop of doom.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Should the bar have such a policy, perhaps it should be posted somewhere in plain sight to avoid such confrontations.

That being said, while a laptop is less intrusive than a television, it's not as quiet as a pen. I don't see a problem with the policy, and I would not have been offended had I been told to put away my laptop. I might still have left if I had really wanted to work, but I probably would have stayed and enjoyed my drink.

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This laptop is, I assure you, as quiet as a pen, and the click-clack would not have been heard above the general din. Besides, I hadn't typed a letter.

The problem here isn't the noise. It's the concept, or perhaps the light, or, I dunno, my poor grooming and percussive flatulence.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Judge me -- lest ye, internet users, be judged.

did you plug in your brick and have wires strung hazardously? did you spread out obnoxiously? this is a bar, right, not a restaurant (or the bar section of a resto)? if no, no and yes, then i think the patron overreacted. gee whiz, does he ban blackberries too?

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The problem here isn't the noise. It's the concept, or perhaps the light, or, I dunno, my poor grooming and percussive flatulence.

Without seeing the place, it's difficult to judge, but I think the owners are trying to project a certain image--they have a little bar to which you can come for a drink with some friends and have some intimate conversation. Or come alone, and be content with your drink and your own thoughts. And laptops (and I would think any other form of electronic equipment) probably, in the owner's opinion, mar that image. Sure you might be working quietly, but when other people enter the bar, they see a guy using a laptop (even if you're in a quiet corner, you can probably be seen by some people). And that affects their image of the place, too.

This opinion is based on what I imagine the bar to look like and feel like, though. It may look or feel very differently from what I'm imagining, so I could very well be wrong. In Japan, I often go to little restaurants or coffee shops where laptops or people talking on cell phones would be very out-of-place. They aren't gourmet high-brow places, but are just little places where one can go and be quiet, or enjoy other people's company. When I have work to do (marking papers--not done on a laptop), though, I can usually be found at Starbucks (mostly because it's one of the few completely non-smoking places in Japan).

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I can't imagine ever being bothered by someone else writing on a laptop computer. Not even at Louis XV, no less a neighborhood place in Providence. It strikes me as a petty, out-of-touch move to alienate a customer on that basis. Surely the owner has something better to do than exercise his inalienable right to make arbitrary and capricious rules for his half-empty bar.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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did you plug in your brick and have wires strung hazardously?

Um, no.

did you spread out obnoxiously?

It was a standard-issue café table, so such a thing is impossible. Laptop open, manilla folder with Jeff Berry's Taboo Table atop.

this is a bar, right, not a restaurant (or the bar section of a resto)?

It's the bar -- a separate room at the front of the restaurant itself.

Without seeing the place, it's difficult to judge, but I think the owners are trying to project a certain image--they have a little bar to which you can come for a drink with some friends and have some intimate conversation.  Or come alone, and be content with your drink and your own thoughts.  And laptops (and I would think any other form of electronic equipment) probably, in the owner's opinion, mar that image.  Sure you might be working quietly, but when other people enter the bar, they see a guy using a laptop (even if you're in a quiet corner, you can probably be seen by some people).  And that affects their image of the place, too. 

I think that's exactly right. I and my laptop didn't conform to the restaurant's image.

When I have work to do (marking papers--not done on a laptop), though, I can usually be found at Starbucks (mostly because it's one of the few completely non-smoking places in Japan).

Sure -- but you probably have excessively squeaky red markers, don't you? Admit it!!

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I can't imagine ever being bothered by someone else writing on a laptop computer. Not even at Louis XV, no less a neighborhood place in Providence.

But you're a writer, and it's probably something you've done (brought a laptop to a bar/restaurant/coffee shop and used it). So you might not be bothered by it, but it doesn't mean others won't be.

Would it have bothered me, personally? Probably not. But sometimes I wonder why people always need to do something rather than just sit and do nothing. What's wrong with relaxing and enjoying your own (or other's) company? What's wrong with a place that tries to encourage such behaviour?

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I imagine that most owners of bars and restaurants have extremely strong personal feelings about the atmosphere they want to create; whether or not they are realistic or correct about their clientele only time will tell.

Recently my family and I left a crowded restaurant within about two minutes of sitting down. We had reservations and had heard only great things about the food. We just didn't like the atmosphere. It was cramped, super noisy, with very uncomfortable seating. When we mentioned the noise level to the waitress she shrugged and said that was how they liked it, that they were trying to create an atmosphere where people were having a good time. Indeed, it seemed like they were. I was put off, but my husband reminded me that that was their right and that this type of "buzz by design" is more and more common. We could stay for nothing but the promise of good food, or we could leave and find something more comfortable and conducive to talk.

I'm sure Mike could have found a much friendlier way of discouraging your laptop use and not lose a potential customer or get talked about online, but perhaps he was thrown by it, or perhaps he is socially awkward. Not a great trait for the owner of a bar. If you care enough you could go back without the laptop some evening and chat him up about it. It does occur to me though that using a laptop in an eating establishment after work hours may not be looked on kindly except in the most low-key neighborhood type of place. A laptop has too much soothing click and not enough buzz. Perhaps you were nursing where you were supposed to be nursed.

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I'm a big fan of the "my bar, my rules" policy...and not a huge fan of laptops in bars. When I first fell in love with hanging out in bars, they didn't have laptops or cell phones in them, and that's the way I like them. Color me out of touch. :raz:

ETA: unless you're in an airport.

Edited by markemorse (log)
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I don't think using a laptop would actively bother anyone. I think the issue is that a person using a laptop is closed to social interaction in a way that a person with a yellow pad and pen is not. When a room starts filling up with people using laptops, it starts to feel cold, and that's the opposite of what you want in a bar.

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I'm guessing it's an anti camping policy. Sure if the place is empty but it would set a precedence.

I have walked by a local Starbucks with wifi and 45 minutes later on way home noticed some of the same people hacking away. I think Starbucks doesn't mind. If I notice after 45 minutes who knows how long they have been there. How much coffee could they possibly be drinking?

The same goes for people in there reading books. It's a really nice Starbucks, comfy couches and chairs as well as tables and chairs. Hmmn 20 after ten and I suddenly want a caramel machiato.

I hope your happy chrisamirault, I'll be up till Friday. Where the hell is my extra battery?

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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I am happy. I've had two fine weissbiers and got under the word limit for the first piece, plus talked to two other denizens and watched a good basketball game. Sounds pretty neighborly, eh?

Did I mention the free popcorn?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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ETA: unless you're in an airport.

That's funny-- the first thing I thought was that seeing people working on laptops in a bar would make me feel like I'm in an airport. Or a bar in an airport hotel lobby.

I absolutely understand why a bar manager would like to avoid having his or her place become a spot people converge on to do work. It's fine for Starbucks or Panera-- at least it seems to work out for them. I think it's perfectly acceptable to decide you don't want your bar to look like a hive of industry, an effect you can get from a bunch of people pecking away at laptops. Why the manager couldn't have just said that for the future he didn't want you to come in with your laptop, I can't guess.

Maybe if you want to keep writing in bars you should get a Moleskine and, I don't know, a quill pen or something. Maybe a beret and a goatee too. :wink:

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Sure -- but you probably have excessively squeaky red markers, don't you? Admit it!!

Hello?!?!??!?! As a graduate of that bastion of touchy-feely-ness, SIT, that would be a purple pen, and a roller-ball one, at that, so no squeakiness to be found! (Though you can hear sighs of annoyance whenever I read a particularly bad composition, and I do spread out rather obnoxiously, since my papers are all printed on B4-sized paper.)

I looked at that article you linked to about the owner, and he sort of looks like the Brattleboro, VT-type, so I can kind of see where his "no laptop" policy might be coming from.

I don't remember if you mentioned, but will you be returning to the bar someday, sans laptop? And did you at least finish your drink?

Edited by prasantrin (log)
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All things considered - I'm with Mike. Bars and restaurants are for socialising and relaxing - I'm sure you were very quiet and making no nuisance to anyone but for me the mere presence of someone working at a nearby table would make me feel slightly uncomfortable because, oh I dunno, somehow I'd worry about me disturbing them and it would be just that bit more difficult for me to relax. During the day in a coffee shop maybe I'd manage to ignore it - but not in a bar after work.

All that said it's the bar owners job to get the policy across in the right way.

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Hmmm.... I see a lot of slippery slopes here:

I absolutely understand why a bar manager would like to avoid having his or her place become a spot people converge on to do work. It's fine for Starbucks or Panera-- at least it seems to work out for them. I think it's perfectly acceptable to decide you don't want your bar to look like a hive of industry, an effect you can get from a bunch of people pecking away at laptops. Why the manager couldn't have just said that for the future he didn't want you to come in with your laptop, I can't guess. 

I can't either. Again, the place was half-empty and winding down on a Wednesday night, and I was a hive of one. I doubt that other busy bees would have been showing up, but I can't say.

Maybe if you want to keep writing in bars you should get a Moleskine and, I don't know, a quill pen or something. Maybe a beret and a goatee too.  :wink:

Well, I did just fine elsewhere in town with my not-very-beat threads!

I don't remember if you mentioned, but will you be returning to the bar someday, sans laptop?

I'm not sure -- this wasn't a very welcoming experience, but I'd sacrifice a lot for a decent cocktail in this town.

And did you at least finish your drink?

It was not offered gratis to me, and I didn't want to pay money to slam a Negroni while standing up and packing on the way out.

The jury will have to stipulate a definition of rudeness here, as I can't. He was insistent in his initial request that I not use the computer, and he was increasingly insistent as I asked for an exception to be made. That is to say, his request was functionally a demand, one that was delivered with a smile and a friendly tone -- again, in the manner of most well-trained FOH folks.

I'd say that the polite thing to do would have been to say something like, "I see you've ordered a drink, and we're happy to accommodate your work tonight. However, next time, we'll need to enforce our no-laptops policy."

Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Hmmm.... I see a lot of slippery slopes here:
I absolutely understand why a bar manager would like to avoid having his or her place become a spot people converge on to do work. It's fine for Starbucks or Panera-- at least it seems to work out for them. I think it's perfectly acceptable to decide you don't want your bar to look like a hive of industry, an effect you can get from a bunch of people pecking away at laptops. Why the manager couldn't have just said that for the future he didn't want you to come in with your laptop, I can't guess. 

I can't either. Again, the place was half-empty and winding down on a Wednesday night, and I was a hive of one. I doubt that other busy bees would have been showing up, but I can't say.

I think when you are in this kind of position, one important question is that old chestnut about what would happen if everyone did it-- or in this case, if more people did it. And a restaurant or bar owner is evn more apt to see things this way. Places become known for a type of atmosphere and clientele.

Ever done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month?) It's going on right now. The year I did it, the local message boards were full of questions about good places to sit and work while getting out of the house. Word travels, let's just say.

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The jury will have to stipulate a definition of rudeness here, as I can't. He was insistent in his initial request that I not use the computer, and he was increasingly insistent as I asked for an exception to be made. That is to say, his request was functionally a demand, one that was delivered with a smile and a friendly tone -- again, in the manner of most well-trained FOH folks.

I'd say that the polite thing to do would have been to say something like, "I see you've ordered a drink, and we're happy to accommodate your work tonight. However, next time, we'll need to enforce our no-laptops policy."

Ah, Chris. I do hate to disagree with you on this. But....have you ever owned a retail business? The above description pretty much reads as if you walked into someone's place of business, ordered a drink, then did something unusual that no one else was doing, something that made the owner uncomfortable, he asked you with a smile and a friendly tone not to do it, and you were insistent about doing it. I'm not sure that I would've been any nicer about it.

And...also: laptops do bother people in non-work public spaces, I'm one of them. It's like carrying a TV around with you. Socially toxic vibes, even to a geek like me.

ETA: adjective tuning.

Edited by markemorse (log)
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Chris --

The real shame here is that you finally got thrown out of a bar and it was for such a wussy reason. You should have at least taken a swing at the manager or grabbed at the hostess on the way out, just to save face. :wink:

I'm with the "it's the guy's bar, he can do what he want," people. A bar environment is defined by a zillion little vibe-y things from the lighting, decor and staff, to the musical tastes, drink preferences and garb of the patrons. A laptop is a powerful fashion accessory, opening one up in this bar is kind of like Betty showing up for work a tMode in her poncho -- throws off the zen of the space. The kind of bars where people set around working on laptones -- ie, nerds, drones, workaholics and (would be?) intellectuals -- is very different from the hip type of place this bar seems to want to be.

I suggest that next time you edit on your iPhone. :wink:

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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The "it's the guy's bar, he can do what he wants" statement is simply a statement of fact. I don't think anybody would disagree with that, so long as what the guy wants to do is legal. But "it's the guy's bar, he can do what he wants" doesn't justify the action. The action can still be petty, inhospitable, misguided, etc., even though it's the guy's bar and he can do what he wants. It seems to me that zero tolerance for laptops, in a neighborhood restaurant bar in Providence, is grandiose. The notion that "the zen of the space" demands such a Draconian policy in a half-empty neighborhood bar is in my opinion absurd. I doubt you'd be kicked out of Pegu Club in New York -- arguably the best, coolest bar in the world -- for using a laptop off in a corner at a slow time. I doubt you'd be kicked out of the Gramercy Tavern bar -- I imagine Danny Meyer would chew off his own foot rather than trigger the scenario Chris has described. There's no noise involved; it's not a boom box or even a cell phone. The concern that one laptop user is going to trigger a slippery slope domino effect cascading failure seems a bit much.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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