Letters to the Editor
Our name was brought up in a negative context in [“A Decade of Daysies,” August 8]. I can understand how Seven Days would be upset about the possibility of ballot stuffing, though a computer glitch seems a more likely explanation, as I can’t think of anyone who would have the motivation, time and stupidity to fill out that many identical ballots. But to call us and another business out as if we were participants in a scam was pretty upsetting, to say the least. Maybe that wasn’t your intention, but it is certainly suggested by your comments.
The other conclusion that can be drawn from your comments is that we are too obscure to have earned the award. Certainly it would be fun for Furchgott Sourdiffe Gallery to win a Daysie, but we have been successful for 21 years without one.
Editor’s response: We never intended to implicate Furchgott Sourdiffe — or Liquid: Hair for Men, which was also mentioned in the intro — in the bogus-voting incident. We simply wanted to illustrate how a surprising set of ostensible winners led us to double-check our data and ultimately discover that we’d been scammed. Furchgott Sourdiffe is a great gallery, but BCA Center has won the Daysie for best art gallery by a huge margin nearly every year since this competition began. We would have been surprised to see anyone defeat it.
The race for attorney general between incumbent Bill Sorrell and challenger T.J. Donovan has been lively and informative [Fair Game, August 15]. If it’s a fight, it’s been a fair and civil one. But there is a new combatant in the arena: super PACs.
Inviting super PACs into Vermont elections is like allowing a third, stealth boxer into the ring — in this case to gang up with Sorrell on Donovan and his insurgent campaign. It’s understandable that Sorrell wants the help. He’s been out-hustled, out-fundraised and generally outmaneuvered by Donovan’s campaign. If a “knockout punch” is landed in this competition, it’ll either be by Donovan (on the issues), or an out-of-state super PAC (on the money) — not Sorrell.
Ultimately, Vermont voters will decide how much influence super PACs should have in our elections. But, if out-of-state super PACs with secret donors are the ones left standing at the final bell, Vermonters interested in campaign finance reform and clean elections should be booing.
Christopher J. Curtis
Time for T.J.
[Re “Come Judgment Day,” August 1; Fair Game, August 15]: Our current attorney general was appointed — not elected — by Howard Dean in 1997. For the first time in eight elections, AG Bill Sorrell is facing a serious challenger in Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan. From 1993 to 2001, I served as defender general, quickly learning that we have a criminal justice “non-system.” There is no consistency in practice. County state’s attorneys are free to pursue justice as they see fit. The state’s AG is, as AG Sorrell so often states, the state’s chief law enforcement officer and prosecutor. Nonetheless, the AG has not provided meaningful leadership to assure a systemic and fair approach to criminal justice.
When AG Sorrell took office, the Vermont Department of Corrections had 1128 persons in custody and a budget of $50 million. During his tenure, the number of inmates doubled and the corrections budget grew to $140 million. The AG has not attempted to bend this curve, despite ongoing legislative efforts.
By contrast, State’s Attorney Donovan has initiated innovative programs to divert defendants, who overwhelmingly have mental health issues and alcohol and drug addiction, and are poor. T.J. has utilized and touted both the mental health and drug courts that operate in Burlington but are not available in all other counties. He reserves our scarce correctional resources for violent felons who present true threats to public safety.
I was really impressed by the quality of writing in “Drawing the Other Side” [August 15] — the clear and intelligent movement through D’Ann Calhoun Fago’s life and work. As it happens, I was there in my studio at Studio Place Arts when writer Megan James was looking through the exhibit, and I noted that she was taking a lot of time looking at each of the works. That doesn’t always happen, even with reporter/reviewers! This attention is apparent in her descriptions of the work.
Janet Van Fleet
Instead of being snarky about former Mayor Kiss while reporting on the performance of Mayor Weinberger during the Occupy protests of the governor’s meeting in Burlington [Fair Game, August 15], Andy Bromage should have Googled the news about the near riot last November after the death in City Hall Park. He would have found articles and videos showing that Mayor Kiss wasn’t in a bunker somewhere writing press statements about how supportive he is of the rights of protesters; he was standing in the rain in the middle of it all, defusing a volatile situation. This is something Albert Petrarca and Jonathan Leavitt (who, in the past, accused Kiss of being a warmonger) also ought to keep in mind before they denigrate Kiss. Supportive as I am of the Occupy movement, to me, some of them only appear to be professional protesters, hanging around with Magic Markers and poster board, trying to get on the news. And the Vermont media, lacking the ability to see beyond their noses, are only happy to oblige.
AG Comes up Short
Attorney General Sorrell’s string of high-profile losses in the federal courts cost Vermont a substantial amount of money and a tarnished reputation [“Come Judgment Day,” August 1; Fair Game, August 15]. The “tobacco settlement” with the 46 states was the culmination of legal battles initiated by the major states. Vermont was a small appendix and in no way did Sorrell play a major role. His claims are false. Vermont got money simply by joining other states. All in all, for his years as AG, his performance is a substandard one.
In Kathryn Flagg’s story “Are Burlington Restaurants Discriminating Against Québécois Customers?” two local eateries said they allow servers to add an automatic gratuity to the bills of French-speaking customers they suspect won’t otherwise leave a proper tip. The idea of an “auto-grat” got a rise out of readers, who, like all humankind, fall into two camps: those who have worked as waitstaff, and those who haven’t.
I’ve heard this complaint a lot from server friends. As somebody who lived in Canada for five years, this sounds like a big misunderstanding. Canadians have very high taxes relative to the U.S. In Québec, when one adds all of their taxes together, it comes out to about 15 percent. Many Canadians I’ve met from high-tax provinces have been taught to simply take the tax amount and use that as the tip amount. That would give you a $3-5 tip on an $80 bill. They just aren’t doing the actual math. Voilà!
As a native Montréaler, I was puzzled by the suggestion that Canadians need educating when it comes to tipping. Montréal and Québec City are known worldwide for the quality of their restaurants. Along with top-notch food comes a level of professional service, as well as the expectation that it be acknowledged with a tip.
I can assure you that tipping is very much “de rigueur” in Québec as it is in the rest of Canada. A 15 percent tip is considered the expected minimum, and I would have to disagree with the assertion that tips are added automatically in Québec; the only instances where I have been subject to an automatic gratuity were when I was with a larger group (much like in this country).
I have been living in New England for almost two years and, while I sometimes miss the outstanding restaurants and service in my hometown, I have had many opportunities to enjoy great cuisine and warm hospitality both in Vermont and in New England. I have also learned that tipping practices seem to be pretty much the same here as they are in Canada. Ultimately, I would have to agree with Mr. Appel’s suggestion that discretionary gratuity policies by restaurants are a bad idea on many fronts.
I also found the following link on Tripadvisor, which (to my surprise) also makes reference to auto-grat tipping in Canada: tripadvisor.com/Travel-g153339-s606/Canada:Tipping.And.Etiquette.html.
Annable works for the Consulate General of Canada in Boston, but the views expressed here are his and not an official position of the government of Canada.
Waitresses have a very bad habit of saying “Do you want some change back?” I am not going to give a waitress a $17 tip on a $3 burger. They must think people are stupid. Also, I have not really seen a waitress on Church Street that deserves any tip at all. They think everyone who sits down at a table is rich, just because they want to eat out. Some of them really make a good amount of pay in the day; plus, they can hide it from the tax man. So what is their beef?
While on the surface these actions might seem discriminatory, they are, in fact, reactions to a very real problem. As a restaurateur in Burlington, I know that this really has an effect on the ability of our tipped employees to make ends meet. A surly and demanding table that leaves no tip can ruin a server’s disposition for an entire shift. This problem doesn’t exist with other tourists, or even other Canadians. Does anyone really need a lesson in tipping customs?
In smaller markets, such as Lake Placid, service is added to all checks. All the helpful pointers will have no effect. This isn’t new. While “rolling out the welcome mat” may seem like a great idea, it puts additional hardship on an already difficult job. I wouldn’t go to Montréal with the idea of eating poorly. Why would you come to Burlington and look for smoked meat or poutine? That’s like going to Istanbul and looking for McDonald’s. Some may say it’s a problem with the language difference, but that’s simply not true. These folks know exactly what they’re doing. It’s called chew and screw.
I’m kinda confused as to where you got this information: “Vermont restaurants pay servers as little as $4.10 an hour, but if hosts, waiters, waitresses and bartenders don’t make enough in tips over the course of a week to bring the wage up to the state’s minimum — $8.46 an hour — the employer makes up the difference.”
This is not true and is the primary reason why Canadians are a problem for tip-wage employees. When you tip me 10 percent, you are essentially saying to me that I don’t even deserve to make minimum wage (which makes me kinda hate you). To be clear: Employers in Vermont do not make up the difference. I, however, don’t support restaurants that allow their servers to add a discretionary auto-grat. That policy is super screwed up.
Flagg responds: Officials at the Vermont Department of Labor confirm that employers have to make up the difference if an employee doesn’t earn enough in tips to hit minimum wage. If a server has experienced something different, his or her employer may be breaking the law.
My wife is French Canadian and we both grew up in Montréal but have lived in Burlington for more than two decades. Our Montréal-born daughter is a waitress in Burlington and often bemoans the fact that Québecers are “frugal” tippers. The fact is they are no cheaper than anyone else; they just don’t know how tipping works in the U.S. compared to Québec.
For a restaurant to condone waitstaff adding a tip to the bill based solely on the customers’ ethnicity is discriminatory and illegal. Pure and simple. Having said that, the waitstaff need to earn a fair living. I suggest that the restaurant put a simple note in the menu of those customers the waitstaff feels may not be familiar with the U.S. tipping etiquette that explains the suggested tipping amounts. Or place a card with this information on the little tray when the bill is presented.
Not ideal, but makes it clear to the customer and will avoid any “issues” when the bill is presented. I for one would never consider paying any amount on a bill that was not fully disclosed before I ordered a meal and, further, would take a huge offense to it.
I am an American who has lived in Montréal for more than eight years. This article made me laugh, and then made me sad. First off, I have never had a tip added automatically at any restaurant in Québec, except when there was a table of six or more — also the policy of many U.S. restaurants. I have no idea what Ms. Hudson is talking about. My Anglophone friends tend to tip in the 15 to 20 percent range and my Francophone friends in the 10 to 15 percent range. It is more cultural than anything else. I see menus in Montréal all the time with notes in French, English and other languages that explain that tips are not included with the meal. I don’t know why that is so hard for Burlington restaurants. There is a way to word it so it explains to non-North Americans what the policy is without insulting Canadians. Also, and this may be a factor, at most restaurants I have been to in Montréal, separate checks are standard. But automatically adding tips because of a perception of cheapness is just insulting. A decent wage is the responsibility of the restaurateurs, not the customers. Even in the U.S., tipping is still considered voluntary.
I think you are demonizing the wrong end of the table in your recent “investigative journalism” about the tipping standards of people from Québec. It’s unfair to say that because they are providing tourism money that they should be allowed to stiff the waitstaff of Burlington. This has been going on for years. My sister worked at Leunig’s in the ’90s, and there were many stories of $3 tips on $100-plus meals from Canadians. My fiancée is currently in the restaurant business, and after several $2 tips, she tries to avoid their tables. I find it hard to believe the tipping standard in Canada is 15 percent, as reported. On a recent trip to Montréal, I noticed the waitstaff positioning themsleves to get our table, as they knew a good tip was in store.
Editor’s response: No one described this story as “investigative journalism”; nor did reporter Kathryn Flagg take a side.
Isn’t this practice simply illegal — a matter of hidden charges? You allude to that position in the article but never reach this conclusion. Though I don’t speak French, if a Burlington server attempted to add a fixed gratuity to my bill without the policy being prominently displayed on the menu, or on a posted sign, he or she would most likely receive nothing, rather than the 20-percent-plus that I usually add. Were this dispute to require the intervention of the Burlington Police Department, so be it. Unless otherwise stated, tipping is at the discretion of the customer. My sympathies to our local waitstaff, who bear the brunt of this misunderstanding.
In last week’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot column about the drive-up window at Akes’ Place, we misspelled the last name of the building’s landlord. He is Robert Senix — not Fenix.