I ate breakfast this morning at a New York restaurant called Balthazar.
Balthazar is hot with the cool crowd, which is a bummer, but if you get there early enough you can get a table. The dining room is classy, the food and service are good, and as far as hip New York eateries go, it’s not fantastically expensive.
So I am, for the most part, a fan of Balthazar.
But there’s one thing that really irritates me about it.
The bosses at Balthazar, for reasons that mystify me, have a longstanding practice of making some poor guy stand in the small men’s bathroom in a tuxedo and provide “services” to Balthazar clientele who use the bathroom. These services include:
* Turning on the sink water for Balthazar clients who approach the sink after peeing
* Wiping the sink after each use
* Handing Balthazar clients who have washed their hands a paper towel to dry them with
I suppose it is possible that there are some Balthazar clients who actually regard this as something positive or helpful — the mark of a fine establishment.
But, wow, am I not one of those clients.
I always forget that Balthazar makes a guy stand in the tiny bathroom all day, so whenever I open the Balthazar bathroom door after breakfast, I am hit by the same series of unpleasant emotions: Annoyance, guilt, pity, uncomfortable invasion of personal space, and then… extortion.
First, as I squeeze through the tiny space between the attendant and the door, I think, “Ugh, I forgot about this. Why on earth does Balthazar do this?”
Then I think, “This poor guy, who just had to announce my entrance into the bathroom by greeting me graciously, has to stand in the bathroom all day. That’s a terrible job, and now I feel like I’m contributing to making him do it.”
Then I think, “And now this poor fellow is going to have to stand there, three feet away from me, and watch me pee. And he is somehow going to have to do that while not feeling degraded and uncomfortable. Meanwhile, I’m going to have to stand there and pee in front of him. What if it takes a few seconds? Am I going to start to be embarrassed about that? What if it then takes a few more seconds? And so on. The poor guy is going to have to stand there and pretend not to notice.”
Then I think, “And after that will come the worst part. I will have to walk over to the sink and watch him turn on the water for me before I get there. I will think, ‘Thanks, but I actually don’t need someone to turn on the water for me. First of all, it wastes water. Second, it makes me feel like I’m the kind of guy who dreams of being rich enough to be able to pay someone to turn on the water for me.’ The poor guy will talk to me while I’m washing my hands, while standing 6 inches from me. Then, after I wash my hands, he will hand me a paper towel. And then he will expect a tip.
And, then, at that point, I have an internal debate with myself: Should I really give him a tip for providing a service I hate that I don’t want that takes exactly 5 seconds? Should I really encourage this annoying practice by rewarding it? Should I really support what is, in fact, extortion-by-guilt?
Then I remember that it’s not this guy’s fault that his idiot bosses make him stand in the bathroom watching people pee all day. The poor guy is obviously doing that job because he has to do that job. I always feel bad for people who have no choice to do bad jobs because they have to — because I happen to be lucky enough to be able to do a job that I love. And that internal dialogue makes me think that, yes, I should tip the poor guy, even though I not only didn’t want the service he provided but actually found it invasive, embarrassing, and annoying.
I go through this internal dialogue and series of emotions every time I enter the Balthazar bathroom. And it makes me hate Balthazar and never want to come back. And then, over time, I forget the Balthazar bathroom experience, and remember only the dining room and meal. And then, eventually, I go back.
But this is a terrible practice — this “bathroom attendant” thing.
It is never helpful.
It is never anything other than uncomfortable and degrading.
It is never a “service” that I look forward to or enjoy.
So I am hereby appealing not just to the bosses at Balthazar, but to restaurateurs and hoteliers all over the world, to eliminate it.