Inegalitarian restaurants

Or maybe you’re a senior staffer for Steve Scalise, the second-ranking Republican in the House. The aide usually pings his usual server for one of his usual perches: table 10 in the main dining room. It’s the corner booth with a privacy curtain—the “rock-star table,” ever since Bono sat there. Only tonight he’d prefer a booth in the bar area. Trouble is it’s packed.

Not to worry. “A maître d’ always has a table in his back pocket,” Arnaud says. He adds the Hill staffer to the reservation system, and a bar booth with a reserved placard is his.

For these diners and the other VIPs on the books this evening—a congressman from Kentucky, a former media exec, a concierge from the W Hotel, a smattering of cherished regulars—the restaurant is extra-accommodating. Its maître d’s spot their special customers instantly, greet them by name, and immediately whisk them to their tables. Good cop, good cop…

First, the hierarchy. Because this is Washington, many restaurants naturally have a pecking order for their top clientele. All VIPs of Le Diplomate, the French brasserie in Logan Circle, are dubbed “PPX”—personnes particulièrement extraordinaires—and tracked in real time on a kitchen whiteboard as they dine. But some, such as a neighborhood regular, are classified as “TTA,” for Try to Accommodate. Others are “MA,” for Must Accommodate, including Jill Biden; Gérard Araud, the outgoing French ambassador; and Jim Abdo, the developer who basically rebuilt 14th Street. An MA commands a table, stat.

At Rare Steakhouse in downtown DC, former managing director Justin Abad categorized semiregular VIPs as “soigné,” French for “handled with care,” and those who came in three to five times a week or held multiple functions at the restaurant throughout the year as “super soigné.” The lower tier would often be treated to a complimentary Prosecco, while those handled with extra care—select media figures and lawyers, for instance—might be given a free shellfish platter on occasion.

Here is much more by Jessica Sidman.  Have you ever wondered why at some places, and no I do not mean the old El Bulli, it is so hard to get a table at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night no matter when you try asking?  Those tables are being rationed by status, or if you are a very regular (and lucrative) customer of some kind.

And yet almost everyone still seems to think that restaurants are super-cool, correctly or not.


I know how to cook so don't visit restaurants except on special occasions. I pity those who visit restaurants to actually eat a decent meal. In the USA, unlike parts of the developing world, there are no 'family restaurants' where you can eat good and cheap. Neither are there in the Philippines, where restaurants try and make good money off each plate (good food is expensive, hard to find).

If we're doing food snob, I know how to build a fire, so I don't need a Traeger.

Filipino Cuisine:

The ultimate contradiction in terms.

Ruff, ruff! 🐕

Run! The Fillipino cooks are coming!

@Dogs... but pace: (highly recommended, says TC! Reservations not accepted last I heard)

We know what professor Cowen likes.

Here is what I like:

"When it gets really busy, the staff whips out the trusty clipboard and leaves it at the front desk for diners to sign in as they arrive and, yes, everyone has to sign in. There are few people who haven't heard about how Arnold Schwarzenegger tried jumping the line at Bubba's and got told he'd have to sign in and wait his turn just like everyone else."


"Arnold Schwarzenegger stormed out of Bubba’s when they wouldn’t seat him ahead of the line out the door—the restaurant doesn’t take reservations. He missed out on the sassiest waitresses in town and to-die-for BBQ. Soak in local flavor at breakfast—everyone from guides to the mayor loves the Worker’s Special. Thursdays at lunch there are free cookies."

Lol. Entitled Rich White Republican man tried to cash in his white privilege. God Bless our SJW brothers and sisters in Montana.

Arnold was a sub-Coasean fool. He should have simply paid the top of the line to yield their spot to him.

Kamala Harris puts ice in her wine.

And her great grandfather was a slave owner in Jamaica.

I need to correct myself, reading comprehension is lacking in America, and I was quoting without checking, but it didn't pass the smell test, the reality is that Harris' great grandmother is a descendant of a slave owner (Hamilton Brown) who ran a plantation in Jamaica during the first half of the 1800s.

If we go back far enough, everyone had a close blood relative who was a slave or owned slaves. Or, quite possibly, both.

I wonder if our general sense that prehistoric humans lived egalitarian lives in relatively unstratified clans is a fantasy...

In general, I agree about the irrelevancy of the sins of ones great-great grandfather, but given the upcoming reparations, it would seem fair that blacks with slave owner ancestors pay up before me, whose last slave owning ancestor probably was 1000+ years in the past.

I agree. And yet, the mere existence of "blacks with slave owner ancestors" will probably make some people's heads explode.

Probably a very large proportion of American blacks have (relatively recent) slave owner ancestors. I wouldn't be surprised if it was larger than the proportion of American whites.

I think the vikings were doing their thrall thing until at least the 1300s.

For me, and most Jews, you'd have to go back to the days of David and Solomon to find a slave owner in my family. We were not slaves in Europe, nor were we slave owners. But you knew that.

Well, Jews were quite prominent in the slave trade, if it matters

These 5 for $5.99 tacos had no line, and so I feel happy, no jealousy.

These VIPs have trade-offs in their lives. Maybe food better than these tacos (maybe!) but they need staff and way too much coordination to get it.

Poor, poor, VIPs.

Prices are signals. At $1.20/taco the signal is you're eating spiced crap made by a couldn't-give-af worker being paid crap.

I like it. Others too. Solid 4/5 stars on Yelp, for 150 reviews.

Corn tortillas, chicken, onions, cilantro, green salsa. All cheap inputs. Possible to screw up, but not here.

Actually, you may recall a "controversy" when it was noticed that Yelp users were giving taco shops and exclusive restaurants the same 4/5 rating. I see no contradiction, rather a lesson that happiness can be bought high or low.

If Yelp were smart, they would separate signal value from food value.

People might already be giving an answer which approximates Utility.

I got hungry in the middle of doing the yard. And whose sweet voice should be coming from the university-affiliated public station on the car radio? Why, Tyler Cowen's. And some kid called into say they shouldn't oughta let a guest like T.C. appear on the interview show without, ya know, another expert countering all his claims on behalf of big business. He said, what about those towns that have been hollowed out by corporate America? (Well, he didn't put it quite that way, but that was the gist.) And I felt a little sad, because I am utterly sympathetic to his concern; but was disappointed that his first tenet of engagement was to complain that the guest was being permitted to speak unchecked, and to request additional "experts."

Tyler's response was that we are at or near full unemplyment, full stop.

I then went in to get my taco - my taco was portobello mushroom, grilled corn, caramelized onions, guacamole, cotija cheese on double corn tortillas - and didn't hear the rest. I sat outside and read "Capturing the Electron," which I'm pretty sure somebody on here recommended.


That's a good taco.

"A maître d’ always has a table in his back pocket"
How can a table fit in someone's pocket?

"For these diners and the other VIPs on the books this evening—a congressman from Kentucky, a former media exec, a concierge from the W Hotel, a smattering of cherished regulars—the restaurant is extra-accommodating. Its maître d’s spot their special customers instantly, greet them by name, and immediately whisk them to their tables"

Isn't it royalism? Isn't America a Republic?

It's not actually in his pocket. It's by the door .. to the kitchen or the bathroom. And as people are re-slotted, someone gets pushed down to it.

But they reserved the table first.

it is royalism. you'd think the postmodern architecture would bring a swoon of contrast to high end restaurants. Yet at eleven Madison you need an "invite" or wait like a sucker on a Hamilton list. Worse still, you often see people having business meetings at these restaurants! We live in the Olympia and York age of fine dining, where you can get hit with a frying pan for eating alone.

If you want fine dining alone, show up early or late, not when the place is likely to be crowded.

I've eaten at Eleven Madison (not alone) and had no difficulties. Fortunately, it was a business meeting and I wasn't paying the bill. Restaurateurs are neither saints nor ogres, they are businessmen trying to make a profit.

So that is it. Economical royalism writ large.

I had gone to college because I didn’t have the inclination to move to D.C. like my girlfriend. She had a pixie haircut, rode her bike to get groceries, played musical chairs with silverware. When I left, Baltimore faded as if a port to a seaman. I had no agenda, not really any vision, nor much of a problem with loss, but the opposing crowd, the banners, blood that was drawn, I never took for granted. I relished in the applesauce of elbows and forearms and the consistency of interval and notation as we all eventually look up to the glare of the iron rim, at the end of which is an all-knowing square.

>Isn't it royalism? Isn't America a Republic?

This is worse. It's Royalism with a Republican facade.

For example, Joe "Lunch Pail" Biden used to brag all the time about how he'd take Amtrack back home on weekends. The part he'd leave out was that Amtrack would actually hold the train for him if he was running late.

That's sad. American should overthrow their masters.

" Isn't America a Republic?"

Republic 0 - Human Nature 1.

Even when those gatekeepers don't exist, the regnant will find a way. I remember that when I was a law clerk on the Louisiana Supreme Court, my judge's favorite restaurant was Galatoire's, which famously does not take reservations for its main dining room. My judge would send me out at 11:00am every day to hold a place in line for him, for when he came ambling down Bourbon a little after noon. Perhaps a different meaning of habeas corpus than I expected to learn.

You were working for a lawyer. What did you expect?

Dorsia, how impressive! How on Earth did you get a reservation there?

Let's see Paul Allen's econ blog commenters

You're just now finding this out?

"correctly or not"
Human beings like going to places where status is recognized. Shocker. Well most human beings.

And how can something "correctly" or "incorrectly" be "cool"? Goodness Tyrel.

Not only this, but there are restaurants that are entirely private and open only to an exclusive clientele.

AKA "Clubs"!

Since I belong to one, it can't be *that* exclusive. And the food isn't even good. But they always have a room under $300 when I come to New York, and the reciprocal club arrangements are the really fun part (don't know where to stay in Kuala Lumpur? Neither do I, but they do).

Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.

"And yet"? Isn't exclusivity the thing that makes (particular) restaurants super-cool?

Presumably Tyler would tell us to avoid restaurants that cater to VIPs instead of concentrating on the food.

But what about restaurants that cater to their "TTA" clientele, the try-to-accommodate frequent patrons? There's an implicit contract there of frequent patronage and better service, should those restaurants be avoided? What if one is a frequent patron?

Everybody is doing it, just ask the TSA at our publicly funded airports.

That our elite expect front-of-line treatment is no surprise. What interests me is the low expectations of everyone else. Man, we are like the high school social system nation. If I am at a place that gets too in-your-face about their pecking order, I'm out of there. Life's too short to wait indefinitely while self-important d-bags slither by. Why in God's name would any self respecting person put up with that?

Exclusive dining raises the common man's status because he can tell his friends he ate there and saw xyz celebrity. So it is status raising in his social circle even though he must make way for the Greater Princes.

Yeah I suppose. like I said, life's a continuation of high school.

I'm probably no fun at parties, because the crap just bores me.

"Because of ethics rules, politicians themselves aren’t generally feted with freebies, but as the de facto celebrities in town, they are (generally) coveted and (often) catered to."

That was my thought. It's one thing for a restaurant to give perks to regulars and celebrities. However, when government officials and staff receive perks as a result of their positions, that constitutes bribery. The quoted sentence makes it sound like being "catered to" isn't a bribe. But, it could be. Accommodating privacy requests for legitimate security needs is one thing. However, allowing one to skip the line for a reservation is something of value and no different than a cash "gift".

The story here is not "inegalitarianism". If a private, for-profit restaurant does it, then it must be gaining something. Thus, the alleged "favoritism" is really a trade and, thus, falls under the heading of merit rather than privilege. (An exception would be if staff grant favors to personal friends or family unbeknownst to the restaurant owners, which is a principal-agent problem.) However, when the restaurant is "trading" for a government official's government status, that's corruption, not inequality. The official's status belongs to the people, not to the official personally.

It's no different than cops expecting free lunch at the deli.

Wanted to see if anyone caught that.

The staffer getting preferential treatment is a straight up bribe.

if one assumes they are a celebrity, unless they derive income from it, it compromises their decision-making.. if they do derive income from it, it create a deformation. what's the opposite of risk-aversion? it's risk-love. secondly, all the time people have thoughts that can be considered "off the books" from their point of contact in a conversation or passing by. I'm not even sure what the logical conclusions of considering oneself a celebrity are. if one is a government official, and corruption comes into play, its only because there a societal cognitive dissonance between preference and reality, and the reality is that it cannot be undone. There is a classification problem. There's actually no moral hazard in corruption.

If it works for Harvard, why not the food version of Harvard?

So, 'No shoes, no shirt, no service' signs were easily overlooked when pretending that restaurants were actually egalitarian?

'And yet almost everyone still seems to think that restaurants are super-cool, correctly or not.'

How many people are clever enough to patronize strip mall restaurants following an economist's advice? Talk about a complacent class of Americans who think restaurants that care about status are super cool. while not going to a place serving bushels of fresh caught blue crab in season. Old Bay on hand, of course. (Though I don't honestly know - has Prof. Cowen ever recommended such a place? Like here - - admittedly, it has been decades since last visiting the place. And looking at the menu - wow, how things change when it comes to price - bushels seem right out these days.)

"Have you ever wondered why at some places,...,it is so hard to get a table at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night no matter when you try asking?"

I thought the following sentence of Prof. Cowen could be a suggestion for congestion pricing on restaurants. Too much people want to use the resource at the same time, the perfect case for congestion pricing.

Instead, it's something about how we accept inequality in real life, i.e. restaurants. Then, I would also like to read how me should accept inequality when not everyone can drive along a highway because it's already full.

Late-empire decadence

Must be thanks for the very nice post here

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