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Bad Behavior at a Restaurant Bar?


Chris Amirault
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I'll try the Laptops vs. Vibe question: laptops are still at the point in their adoption rate/functional evolution to where people of drinking age are primarily doing "work" on them, not recreatin'. Of course there are exceptions.

When I see someone working on a laptop (and laptops are easy to see vs. notebooks and newspapers...I think it's that glowing screen thing), it reminds me of work in ways that reading a newspaper or writing in a notebook doesn't. If you've got a calculator and you're writing in a notebook, that's different, I might start to think about work, but more likely I wouldn't even notice.

My point is: usually, I'm not going to a bar to think about work or be surrounded by people who look like they're working. Unless I'm at the airport. If I walked into a neighborhood bar intending to have a relaxing drink and saw a couple of businesslike people laptopping, I would be incented to go elsewhere because I don't find that to be relaxing. And it's not like because it's quiet that it's invisible. Part of going to a bar is people-watching, and I'm liable to see you more than once, laptopping away, reminding me that I've got emails to respond to.

+++

Also: While everyone probably has a paper notebook of some sort, or a newspaper (or can get access to one), not everyone has a laptop. Some people choose not to, some people can't afford them, some are intimidated by them.

Computers still make some people uncomfortable, to the point where some don't like to watch other people working on computers. As someone who can easily spend 16 hours a day in front of a laptop, and who has been carrying around a laptop for almost 15 years now, I don't fully comprehend this, but I appreciate it because I've met enough smart, generally non-technophobe people who feel this way. Some people very close to me would definitely be turned off by a couple of laptoppers in our favorite bar.

Edited by markemorse (log)
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I should point out that I don't think Chris was out of line for giving it a go, nor do I think he should have asked permission. It was probably 50/50 that it would have been okay. As far as I can tell, it went just as it should have gone.

--

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What I also don't quite understand, and what no one has really gotten to here, is the reasons for which a laptop computer destroys this vibe.

In addition to the reasons I gave above--relaxing atmosphere and not an extension of the office--there are a couple of others as well. I understand that there are people who feel the need to be tethered to their work/offices no matter where they are and while I don't really get that either, I understand that those people exist. It's just that when I go to a bar, trying to relax, buying a cocktail for probably 3 to 4 times what it would cost me if I made it at home using the same ingredients, I simply prefer not to be around people like that if I don't have to. No laptops, no cell phones, no Blackberries not even text messaging if possible. I don't even want to share my table or bar space with people who can only drone on and on about "what they do."

Clearly, had I been Charles Baudelaire or Scott Fitzgerald, drinks in hand, penning away on a pad instead of on a screen, many people feel I'd have fit in better than I did. For many, many reasons, I'm neither Baudelaire nor Fitzgerald, but let's focus on the technology for now. Is this just Victorian-era predilection for the writerly arts and era-appropriate technology? Or are laptops fundamentally, like, a total bummer in ways I don't comprehend?

No need to compare yourself to those hacks Chris since we love you just the way you are. :wub: Besides you smell so much better than those guys since, well, er, they're dead. :smile:

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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I think the guy handled it as well as he could have.  It's never easy to tell people they can't do something in your establishment that they clearly think is or should be okay (my first reaction upon being approached would have been to immediately close my laptop and apologize).  And, of course, no one likes being told those things.  Among my cocktail-world friends, I've known some who have had to ask customers to close laptops or put away work, stop playing cards, and even to either start ordering drinks or free up the seats for the long line of waiting customers.

I think this is a really good point. It's hard in any line of work to say anything that might ever so slightly convey to another person that their behavior is not OK. It does hurt to hear these things, and responses can become heated. People quite reasonably don't like it to be implied that they were seen as behaving rudely. I'm faced with this dilemma in my own work sometimes and I would love to hear suggestions about how to do it with as little offense as possible.

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I wonder if the policy has anything to do with not wanting to deal with the consequences of someone (waiter, bartender, customer) spilling The Last Word all over a customer's laptop?

I can see the merit in discouraging laptop use in bars, but I think I would agree that letting it slide once, while informing the customer of the policy, and having a nice chat as to the rationale (over a friendly drink) might have been a better path to follow.

Robin Tyler McWaters

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I've got to say that I don't think anybody was guilty of "Bad Behavior at a Restaurant Bar."

Chris did nothing wrong to go in and open up his laptop and begin to work.

The owner did nothing wrong by telling Chris that he (the owner) has chosen not to have laptops be a part of the atmosphere.

Had it been I, I would have said, "Didn't realize that was the policy."; hit "save"; finished my drink and left.

I don't get what all the fuss is about, frankly.

It just seems so simple to me.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Right. But we're just not talking about a "cool cocktail spot" here. We're talking about a local hot spot that has been alleged, though not proven, to offer good cocktails.

This is my point about grandiosity. According to Merriam-Webster: "grandiose - characterized by affectation of grandeur or splendor or by absurd exaggeration." This guy has a neighborhood restaurant in Providence and is acting like his bar area is Pegu Club at the cocktail hour instead of a half-empty neighborhood restaurant bar in Providence after the dinner hour. Please.

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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Right. But we're just not talking about a "cool cocktail spot" here. We're talking about a local hot spot that has been alleged, though not proven, to offer good cocktails.

This is my point about grandiosity. According to Merriam-Webster: "grandiose - characterized by affectation of grandeur or splendor or by absurd exaggeration." This guy has a neighborhood restaurant in Providence and is acting like his bar area is Pegu Club at the cocktail hour instead of a half-empty neighborhood restaurant bar in Providence after the dinner hour. Please.

So does that mean he can't aspire? Just because he's in Providence? My mother always said "start as you mean to go on". Once he gains a reputation for allowing laptops or whatever, he's going to have some trouble retracting that when/if it becomes a "cool" cocktail place.

He wasn't rude, which would have been another story, and maybe worth trashing the guy all over one of the Internet's most visible food forums, (as you point out, it's Providence, a smaller place, and he and his bar have been named,so this could cause him some grief). The place was half empty not empty so others could have seen that it was allowed and assume they could bring their laptops next time. And yeah possibly he could have been more direct, but I'd bet there's several people posting on this topic who don't do confrontation, or handle awkward situations well, especially when they have to explain that it's something that they don't want to allow. Maybe he felt signs would ruin whatever ambience he wants to create. Maybe he's never had this issue come up before. This place is his "dream". He's got the right to shape it any way he pleases, and again, he wasn't rude.

I"m with the others who would have just said, sorry, no harm in trying, finished my drink, paid and gone somewhere else that was more conducive to laptop working.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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He wasn't rude, which would have been another story, and maybe worth trashing the guy all over one of the Internet's most visible food forums, (as you point out, it's Providence, a smaller place, and he and his bar have been named,so this could cause him some grief). 

I'm not sure if this is implying that I've trashed him here, but in case it is, I'd like to clarify that I offered up this question precisely because I wasn't sure what to make of this. As I said, I think his position is defensible; I just disagree with it.

I'll also add that Mike has been invited to participate in these discussions -- via a friendly card sent through the USPS. (No email address for him or the restaurant, natch.)

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Sure he can aspire. The Velvet Tango Room in Cleveland aspires, and succeeds. It's a true cocktalian destination with a significant wow factor. Not that I had any trouble using my laptop there to instant message Janet Zimmerman: "You're not going to believe this place . . ." But this place in Providence is not, according to everything I've been able to read about it, even remotely in the category of VTR, Pegu, etc. It's a neighborhood restaurant with a bar area. I guess Chris was just the wrong kind of neighbor.

On the tangent: the restaurant has had more than its fair share of defenders here, and the owner is welcome to respond. The word is out: no laptops, we want a certain atmosphere. That may very well appeal to some people, in which case this is great publicity for the restaurant. For me, it's a clear sign that when I go to Providence this place isn't going to be on my short list.

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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I was reading this today and I agree with Marlene and with Jaymes. This was no big deal and making it one here seems overkill.

Chris admits the fellow was in no way rude. So what is the big deal? Perhaps Chris and Mr. Shaw are just doing their e-gullet duty to introduce topics that will drive comment and reply.

And Marlene has a point that this action certainly does not seem to warrant this place being ripped on EG by some, including Mr. Shaw.

If Chris was just interested in folks reaction to the situation I believe the question could have been posed WITHOUT naming the place.

To the topic, I see nothing wrong with what the fellow did. He was not rude. If a no laptop in the bar policy causes some to take the place "off their short list", there is a Starbucks on every corner.

And I have been tossed out of several bars in my time. All were for justifiable reasons.

Edited by lancastermike (log)
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I

If Chris was just interested in folks reaction to the situation I believe the question could have been posed WITHOUT naming the place.

I think this i s where I'm coming from, and I agree. There's a valid discussion to be had as to whether laptops should be allowed in bars or not, and the pros and cons. I just don't see how naming the place and the owner was particularly helpful and in fact could be hurtful, in a situation that was minor at best.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Perhaps Chris and Mr. Shaw are just doing their e-gullet duty to introduce topics  that will drive comment and reply.

And Marlene  has a point that this action certainly does not seem to warrant this place being ripped on EG by some, including Mr. Shaw.

If Chris was just interested in folks reaction to the situation I believe the question could have been posed WITHOUT naming the place.

Wait a second. What possible value is there to not naming the place? The forums are chock full of posts by members naming restaurants where they had negative customer-service experiences. You may have a personal preference that such complaints be made generally and anonymously, but that's certainly not a community preference or rule here. When a member has tried to work it out with management (here, Chris was confronted directly by the owner) and has a complaint that raises issues of general interest (here, that is most certainly the case), it is preferable to name the restaurant. It's difficult to have a discussion like this one without being able to refer to the specific restaurant. By naming the place, Chris gives everybody the opportunity to say, "I've been to this place and I think laptop use there would be totally inappropriate," or "I've read up about the place online and it seems ridiculous that they'd force that choice on Chris." I believe Chris has been as transparent as possible here.

I'm very pleased that we provide a forum where members can take concerns of this sort into the court of public opinion. There was a time when the average citizen would have had no recourse but to suck it up. Today, restaurateurs need to be aware that the next person they treat poorly may be an active participant in online discussions, or a blogger, or both. And I'm proud of the fact that the eGullet Society community in most cases fully explores both sides of an issue, as we have here. It so happens that Chris and I agree here, but you may have noticed that other members of our team, like Charles, disagree. We are all better off for having this discussion. I think you can defend the owner's position, as the majority of people posting on this topic have, without accusing me or Chris of having ulterior motives.

That being said, I think it's far more productive to focus on the issue at hand than to look for conspiracies and agendas. To me, it is amazing that anybody would think the better move was not to allow Chris to do his writing and then mention to him afterwards that the restaurant prefers no laptops. I think the no-laptops policy is ridiculous, but the key issue for me is the profound lack of hospitality displayed in the scenario Chris has described.

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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I have to side with the owner, although it would be nice if he hadn't been wishy washy about it.

Is this just Victorian-era predilection for the writerly arts and era-appropriate technology? Or are laptops fundamentally, like, a total bummer in ways I don't comprehend?

Yes, they are. Laptops do not say "place to enjoy myself." They're equally as annoying as televisions, cell phones, and Gameboys. Get a notebook, and a few good pens. They're more romantic and mysterious.

Clearly, had I been Charles Baudelaire or Scott Fitzgerald, drinks in hand, penning away on a pad instead of on a screen, many people feel I'd have fit in better than I did.
I've read that Fitzgerald used to piss himself while drunk. I doubt the owner would have appreciated that any more than the laptop. :wink:

ETA:

But for myself, I find the idea of a guy scribbling a few things on a legal pad a whole lot more vibe-appropriate -- especially in a darkened bar -- than the glow from a laptop and some guy tapping away.  Pecking away on a laptop in a bar is just too reminiscent of middle managers on business trips sending emails from the lounge at Holiday Inn.
Exactly. Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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To me, it is amazing that anybody would think the better move was not to allow Chris to do his writing and then mention to him afterwards that the restaurant prefers no laptops. I think the no-laptops policy is ridiculous, but the key issue for me is the profound lack of hospitality displayed in the scenario Chris has described.

To me, it's amazing that anybody would think that it was OK to come into a half-empty bar where I as a hypothetical patron am enjoying the hospitality of a quiet beverage far away from all things office-ly, and plop down within 10 feet of me, open up a laptop and get to work. But I guess that's where (as Dave Mason once said) we just disagree.

ETA: sorry, don't have time to do this post justice.

Edited by markemorse (log)
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I think the no-laptops policy is ridiculous, but the key issue for me is the profound lack of hospitality displayed in the scenario Chris has described.

De minimis, counselor, de minimis

Sorry to offend, I and some others just don't seem to think this issue Chris wrote about is a big deal

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I think the no-laptops policy is ridiculous, but the key issue for me is the profound lack of hospitality displayed in the scenario Chris has described.

I still don't see why it would even be considered a "profound lack of hospitality" to have asked him to stop using his laptop, and find it amazing that it would be considered so.

In this case, Chris was the guest, and Mike was the host. While Miss Manners may tell you that a host's primary role is to make his guest feel comfortable, I think even she would say there are limits. If the guest is doing something that makes the host uncomfortable (to argue if using a laptop should make some feel uncomfortable is pointless, as fact is, it made the host in this case feel uncomfortable), then the host should have the right to ask him to stop as soon as possible.

If I am your guest, and you are my host, should I be allowed to act as I please, regardless of your comfort? If I light up a joint (or even just a plain old cigarette), you can certainly tell me to put it out if you don't like it. But with your argument, since it's already lit, I should be allowed to finish it, and if you refuse to let me, then you are being inhospitable.

Quite honestly, if a guest behaved in a way that made me feel uncomfortable, I would let the action continue if the guest refused to stop, even after I made my discomfort clear. I would not make a fuss, or kick the person out (reminder--Chris was not kicked out in any way--he made the choice to leave). However, that guest would never be my guest again.

Edited by prasantrin (log)
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Mike, it's all de minimis compared to world hunger, but we have this here Society because we care about de minimis things like service in restaurants.

Rona, Chris was not a guest in someone's home. He was a paying customer in a place of public accommodation. It's simply not the same at all, and you must know Chris wouldn't have started this topic if a friend had asked him not to use his laptop in a home hospitality setting -- not that he would have been using the laptop in the first place.

Edited by Fat Guy (log)

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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Sorry to offend, I and some others just don't seem to think this issue Chris wrote about is a big deal

You're not offending me, Mike! When your posts have questioned my food & drink priorities in the past (click), I've taken it in stride. Part of the tussle that makes eG Forums great, methinks.

Sure, this is no more a big deal than the proper composition of cassoulet or the tasting menu at Alinea. But the situation to me (and to quite a few others who are posting to and reading this topic) does raise some interesting notions about what is appropriate or not appropriate behavior in bars and restaurants in the 21st century.

It's clear, for example, that some of us think of a laptop as just another component of social existence, no more intrusive or vibe-blowing than a pad of paper. If I had thought that I was ruining the evening of everyone else in the bar I wouldn't have gone there with the computer. (I'll repeat that I did in fact find a bar whose staff and customers felt no ill will.) I went there because I thought it was a good place, not a place I wanted to punk.

It's also clear that the very presence of this particular piece of technology signifies something really bad to people who go to bars to escape the workplace. The absolutism of many of the positions taken on that side are surprising to me: one laptop leads to another then to a Holiday Inn lounge; silent laptops are compared to blaring TVs. I thought I was going to finish up an article, not disrupt the pleasures of every other person in the place, but from the posts here, it seems I may have unknowingly been on track to do just that. I find it genuinely baffling. To me, the differences between this small computer (I'm using it now) and a pad of paper are insignificant -- and I'm clearly not alone.

I started the topic because I didn't understand what happened and why. I do wish Mike had talked with me in a collegial manner about this policy so that I could understand, and maybe we'll find out that he wishes the same.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I find it genuinely baffling. To me, the differences between this small computer (I'm using it now) and a pad of paper are insignificant -- and I'm clearly not alone. 

Unless your pad of paper has a big bright light in it, the difference is significant. A lighted screen in a dark room is just kind of annoying. In daylight I wouldn't notice it, but at night, in typical light levels in a bar or restaurant, a computer screen really stands out.

"There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then."

-Harriet M. Welsch

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If there's enough light to write with a pad and pen, there's probably enough light such that a laptop screen won't be a beacon. Given that this is a restaurant bar, not a cocktail lounge, I doubt the light level was so low as to make a laptop screen a big deal light-wise. But Chris has been there, so maybe he'll say.

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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