Posted by: Ali Davis | April 14, 2011

Lobbying and the Bartender’s Dilemma

I was a bartender for a few years.

When I started at my first restaurant, my trainer pointed out a customer to watch out for. The guy liked to give out green handshakes and didn’t like to pay for drinks. He tipped very well and was extremely jolly. But to keep the deal going, you couldn’t treat him like the other regular customers by, you know, charging him.

So he was a regular customer and had a friendly demeanor — which, as I wish fans of Mike Huckabee knew, is not the same thing as actually being a nice guy — and he brought his clients to the restaurant a lot. Management and staff both wanted to keep him happy and to keep his business.

But what made him happy was feeling like such a big shot that he didn’t have to pay for his very expensive cognac, ever. In fact, asking him to do so seemed to make things turn nasty pretty quickly.

I was a service bartender and only dealt with the waitstaff, so I avoided that particular dilemma. But I did see the guy make several staff members uncomfortable, or at least worried about getting fired. His tips were essentially a on ongoing, pressured request for the recipient to screw over the restaurant.

I’m sure management would have explicitly spotted him the occasional drink to smooth the way, but that wasn’t quite what he wanted. He wanted fawning staff and to never pay for drinks.

He wanted dishonesty. Specifically, he wanted to dishonestly reshape the economics of the restaurant: a percentage of the money that would have paid for the drinks went directly to the server and cut the restaurant out of the loop entirely.

I bring it up because I’ve been reading about tax loopholes and lobbying lately.

Essentially it’s a way to tip individual politicians, reap the benefits, and cut the rest of the country out of the loop.

Over 10 years, for example, ExxonMobil paid $138 million in lobbying expenses. Just last year they got a $156 million tax rebate based on tax laws written by the guys they’ve been tipping.

An incredible number of our lawmakers are acting like service staff — dishonest service staff — for major corporations.

I wish they were more concerned about getting fired.

Fun fact: Years after my time, Cognac Guy got busted for drunk driving and sued the restaurant for serving him. Remember what I said about not actually being a nice guy?

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