January 22, 2007

Birthday Bashes Boycotted

Posted in Food, Games, Personal, Random Oddments at 12:34 pm by Calico Jack

I had quite a few birthday parties growing up, and my parents always worked hard to ensure that my friends and I had a great time. Usually there were only a couple of ingredients necessary for an awesome party: friends, cake and ice cream, and occasionally some sort of activity–whether mini-golfing or going to the roller rink or rock climbing…or even just staying at home and watching a movie or playing games.

As I got older, I stopped having the formal parties with their invitations and gifts given, and instead preferred to simply have a few friends over to stay the night. Some of my fondest memories growing up are from my friends and I bringing all of our Star Wars MicroMachines together (which, let me tell you, is a gigantic collection), spending several hours dividing up hundreds and hundreds of figures and ships into miniature armies, and having a gigantic Star Wars battle that lasted well into the next morning. Such battles often ended with a few sleepy-eyed preteens valiantly defending each side’s prized Millennium Falcon playsets from the hordes of Jedi and stormtroopers who were swarming the ships. Small plastic missles flew in all directions, knocking a dozen Rebel Troopers to the ground with one blow. TIE Fighters swooped overhead to perform recon against the enemy on the other side of the living room, and dozens of dead and wounded Luke Skywalker figures were scattered everywhere (because, as we all know, Luke didn’t become powerful until the end of Return of the Jedi, so when it came time to take turns picking the figures we wanted for our army, we always chose the green lightsaber Lukes first instead of the Hoth or Dagobah ones).

Those were the some of the happiest times of my childhood — and there are a lot to choose from. Today, however, parents have turned birthday parties into competitions. What once was an excuse for children to eat lots of cake, give presents and play games has become, in many households, a lavish production costing hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars. The children become spoiled, and the host parents can now thumb their noses at the other parents who were unlucky enough to spend a few hundred dollars less for their children’s parties.

Some parents are standing up and refusing to get caught up in this tsunami of materialism. From Yahoo News:

Birthdays Without Pressure is taking aim at the oneupsmanship that drives moms and dads to throw parties that will really, really impress the kids and the other parents, too.

“We feel there’s a kind of cultural runaway going on right now around the birthday parties of kids,” said William Doherty, a University of Minnesota professor of family social science who had a hand in organizing the group, launched publicly earlier this month.

Birthdays Without Pressure has started a Web site and launched a media campaign.

Among its suggestions for more modest, stress-free party planning: Hold gift-free parties, with a note on the invitation that says any presents will be donated to charity; eliminate theme parties and gift bags for the guests; instead of organizing elaborate activities, let kids play outside or hold a treasure hunt; and invite children only, not their parents as well.

I don’t agree with all of the suggestions listed. I often had gift-free parties; but as a seven- or eight-year-old, I wouldn’t want to see my friends give me gifts and know that I promptly had to give them away. And small gift bags are always nice thank-yous for the more formal parties…just don’t go over the top. Still, it is nice to see some parents who realize that these contests (because that is what they are, honestly) miss the whole point of having a birthday party for their children–to celebrate the passing of another year in their lives.

Let them eat cake. It’s all they need to have a great time.

August 16, 2006

Applebee’s, Atrocious Food, and Automatic Gratuities

Posted in Food, Personal at 11:26 pm by Calico Jack

Last night I went out with a large group of co-workers to our local Applebee’s. The company was great, but our experience at the restaurant wasn’t very good. After the waiter took our orders, it took a long time for the food to arrive, especially considering that the restaurant was only half-full.

I had ordered a bacon cheeseburger, but it definitely wasn’t worth the $6.99 that I paid. The bun was soggy, the hamburger patty was lukewarm, and the bacon was limp. My friend Nicole had the fiesta nachos platter, but when it arrived the melted cheese was caked over, as if the dish had been sitting out for a long time. And others had problems with their food too.

After all of us received our entrees (at the same time, which might be part of the reason why quite a few of us had crappy food), the waiter left and didn’t come back once to see how we were enjoying our food. Nicole became so disgusted with her platter that she had to flag down a passing server, because our waiter was nowhere to be seen. The server apologized and promised to return with another fresh platter of nachos, but she had to wait a while as the rest of us finished our meals.

Two minutes after the server went into the back room to tell the cook to make another platter, our waiter magically reappeared and asked us how we were enjoying our food. He said, “I heard that you guys were having problems with your food. I’m very sorry, and I promise we’ll get you fresh food right away.” I almost laughed out loud, because he had done nothing to help us out. He hadn’t bothered to check on us, and a different server had already gone into the back to fix the problem.

When all of us had finished eating, we were handed our bills. There were nine of us at the table, but three sets of couples who combined meals. However, because we were a party of nine, Applebee’s had added a 15% automatic gratuity onto each of our bills. And they helpfully provided an extra space if we wished to tip more than we had already been charged.

Now, I know that this is standard practice for restaurants in dealing with larger parties, but it still irritates me to no end. I wouldn’t mind the assumption that I owe the waiter 15% if the food had been good and the service decent, but they were neither. Why should I be required to pay a certain percentage for a bad experience at a restaurant?

Are tips not supposed to be an appreciation for quality service? I always thought that tips were dependant on the generosity of the customer. They are not mandatory; they are optional (although expected in certain situations.) For those who work in customer service industries, they should go above and beyond the minimum if they want a larger tip. And just as people are more likely to give a larger tip if the service is extraordinary, they should be able to tip less if they are displeased. Applebee’s gave us the ability to be more generous, but no matter how lousy the service was we were still going to have to pay a flat rate of 15% — standard for restaurant tipping, but only under the assumption that the service was normal; and ours most definitely was not. Short of calling a manager and becoming nuisances, there was nothing we could do.

Our culture has become so self-important that tip jars are sprouting up in the most unlikely of places. They are ubiquitous at coffee shops, although I’m of mixed mind on this. I pay a lot for a Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino as it is, and throwing in another dollar or so can be a fifth or more of the cost of the drink. And it isn’t like the baristas are paid horribly, that they depend on their tips for income. However, I would feel guilty about not leaving a tip after the barista spent a minute or so mixing my drink, so I usually just throw my change into the tip jar. It makes my coffee awfully expensive, though.

However, I have now seen tip jars at everything from bookstores to gas stations. I’m sorry, but selling items in a store to a customer doesn’t warrant a tip from anyone. Employees should expect tips for providing exceptional service, not for merely fulfilling their job functions. And I would be more likely to give a tip at a store if I’m pleasantly surprised with the attention paid to me, a customer. However, to think that I’m going to leave money in the jar just because the person behind the counter rings up my book and puts it in a bag is ridiculous. However, if they help me find a book that I’m looking for, or go out of their way to assist me, then I’d be more willing to leave something if they had a tip jar out.

I’m not anti-tipping — not at all. In fact, I’m a pretty generous tipper normally. I give a good tip to my hair stylist, although I don’t understand that practice whatsoever. I mean, if I’m paying sixteen bucks for a haircut, and she’s given me exactly what I paid for, why do I give her an extra three bucks? Still, I never fail to do it. I always leave my change at coffee shops, and I give anywhere between 15-20% at restaurants — even more if the service is excellent. What I am against is being forced to pay a gratuity, even though the food was poor and the service lazy. Automatic gratuities, although meant to protect waiters against stingy patrons, completely go against the point of tipping in the first place. It’s a voluntary apprecation for good service. Our waiter didn’t even say “Thank you” as he took our bills…and why should he? He’s guaranteed a decent tip no matter what he does.

It’s time to stand up against automatic gratuities. Adding to the cost of the food would be more honest than getting a bill and seeing an extra 15% added on without your consent. I don’t care if it’s meant to ensure that waiters get a decent wage; removing mandatory tipping would simply encourage waiters to provide excellent service to their patrons. Being a waiter or waitress isn’t without risk; there’s always the chance that they will run into a patron who simply refuses to leave a tip. But if they consistently provide good service, the tips they receive should more than make up for the times when they get stiffed.

And for the record, we won’t be eating at Applebee’s anymore. They just lost nine customers.

Edit: I think I was a bit unclear about my disgruntlement with Applebee’s. I didn’t mean to say that I’m putting a ban on them for life, only that my coworkers and I won’t be eating there anymore as a group. Every Tuesday, we go out for dinner after work, but we’ve decided to patronize other restaurants. A few weeks ago we went to Outback Steakhouse and had excellent service from our waitress; and she received a large tip from us as a result. With so many restaurant options available, we just don’t see ourselves coming back when we have better food and service at other places.

And I’m more than willing to go to a different Applebee’s; I would just prefer not to eat at that particular restaurant again. It isn’t a hard and fast rule, though; if I am invited to dinner with a group I’ll come. But it won’t be my first choice.


Captain Morgan adds: I go to Applebee’s a few times a month, and have never had bad service. Or bad food. While I don’t discredit your experience, I hardly think one bad time is worth a lifetime of self-banning.

And also…..hair stylist? That’s the gayest thing you’ve ever said. I’ve been going to a barber, the same one in fact, since I was 10. And up until last month, he’s always charged $9.50. Now he’s up to $10.50, but that’s still better than $16. And I’ve never tipped him. Probably never will.


Edward Teach adds: Tipping of the hair stylist is entirely dependant upon the type of establishment. In a shop where the person cutting hair is the owner, tipping is unnecessary, since all the income is his alone. In a chain hair salon or a salon with multiple stylists, often stylists are paid a smaller flat rate and use tips to bring their income closer to a decent wage much like a waiter would. This is where you would tip.

On Applebee’s, I agree that one negative experience hardly qualifies a life banning. Also, it sounds like a situation where a manager should have been discreetly contacted. That is why they are there, to ensure good service and quality. Talking to a manager can be done without becoming a nuisance.

August 8, 2006

If Only Money Didn’t Matter…

Posted in Fashion, Food, Random Oddments, Technology at 12:47 pm by Princess Sela

Ever sit around thinking about all of the nifty things you could have if money didn’t matter? Well this post is dedicated to those moments of happiness. This is a list of the top ten “things” I would love to have if money didn’t matter.

Number 1: My very own private island. This 1 acre slice of heaven is located just off the coast of Australia on the Great Barrier Reef. For a meager $1.2 million you can live a life of luxury which includes a private jet strip, 4 homes on the island, and a weekly mail plane.

Hick's Island

Number 2: Now, what girl wouldn’t want to be the princess of her very own castle! That’s right, for about $365,000 US dollars you can own your very own South African Castle. It’s just minutes from the air port, racing stables, and beaches. The castle sits right on the edge of a lake perfect for fly-fishing (not my favorite “sport”, but I’ll take it if I get my own castle).

South African Castle

Number 3: Pretty and expensive cars are always nice too. Let’s go with the 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet Porsche. 2+2 seater convertible, 6 cylinders, rear engine, 0-60 in 4.7 seconds, track speed 179 mph, all for $98,600.


Number 4: This one is for all the locals out there, a lifetime supply of Dietsch‘s ice cream. I’m not sure the exact money value; however, I’m sure it’s a bunch.

Number 5: Being the fashion loving gal that I am, I am extremely attracted to anything sparkly and expensive…just ask any of my guy friends…better yet, my boyfriend. It’s quite impressive actually, the special ability that I have to say, “ooh, I want that!” and then later discover it’s unreasonably priced. Anyway, this leads me to my love of the Tiffany & Co. Bubbles collection. Though simplistic in style, this beautiful bracelet is priced at $9,000.

Tiffany & Co.

Number 6: As a private university student, I appreciate the “value” of an education, even if it is priced at over $36,000 a year. But what if money didn’t matter and I could attend the most expensive college in the nation. Well, then I’d be attending George Washington University located 4 blocks from the White House. Yearly tuition is a staggering $36,400 excluding costs for room, board, and “attendance” (whatever that means). The university’s tuition recently had a 7.0% increase between 2005-2006. But gosh darn it…..they’re next to all the action.

Well, that’s all I had time for at the moment. Stay tuned for the rest of my list in future posts!

Captain Morgan adds: Good post!




August 3, 2006

Get a shot and lose weight?

Posted in Food, Health and Fitness at 12:40 pm by Calico Jack

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in California have been working on a vaccine that produces antibodies against the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger and can lead to weight gain. Currently, this vaccine has only been tested on rats; but it has provided promising results. When injected with the vaccine, the rats gained less weight, even though they were eating normally. Scientists hope that they can eventually produce a vaccine that would help humans to manage weight gain or lose weight, although there are many obstacles to be overcome before such a vaccine could be viable.

I have an idea: instead of spending inordinate sums of money to create a shot that might help overweight people take off the pounds, why don’t researchers instead use that money to pay for gym memberships? We’ve had how many decades of research into figuring out how to stop the rampant weight gain that is sweeping across the West, especially America; but everyone keeps coming back to the most fundamental rule of losing weight: eat healthier foods and exercise more.

I hate people who claim that obesity is a disease that they can’t control. It is true that some people have health issues that affect their body’s metabolism, such as diabetes. And in that case, it is perfectly acceptable to seek artifical solutions to losing weight. But the CDC reports that over 30 percent of U.S. adults are now classified as obese. I’m sorry, but there is no way that one out of every three Americans has a health problem that causes them to be fat. They do have a non-health problem, however; it’s called “eating too much.”

I saw a commercial yesterday for Burger King’s latest entrée in their line of hamburgers that are way too big for you. It’s called the BK Stacker, and its slogan is “A Mountain of Meat and Cheese.” There is no produce on this burger, just meat, bacon, cheese, and a special sauce. You can order the BK Stacker as a double, triple, or quadruple burger. Yes, you heard me right: you can order a burger that has four layers of beef patties, cheese, and bacon. That is honestly disgusting, but even more disturbing is the nutritional information for one of those beasts:

  • 1000 calories (620 from fat)
  • 68 grams of fat
  • 30 grams of saturated fat
  • 240 mg of cholesterol
  • 1800 mg of sodium
  • 34 grams of carbs
  • 62 grams of protein

That is more sodium and fat than you should be having in an entire day. And people who eat these BK Stackers don’t just eat a burger; they have fries and a soda too. I don’t blame Burger King for selling these monstrosities, but I have no sympathy for people who gorge themselves with food and waddle around like oversized Winnie the Poohs. I was at an ice cream shop a few months ago, when in walked tottered several elephantine women. But they didn’t go for the fat-free sorbet; oh no. They each had a triple-scoop ice cream cone. I sat at a table, licking my single-scoop, and I wondered what kind of example they were setting for their children.

[Edit: Upon further reflection, I decided that the last paragraph of this post was unnecessarily harsh. I don’t want to be rude, and the previous few paragraphs make my point well enough.]

Thanks to Elizabeth Swann for help with this post.

June 13, 2006

Pizza as a health food?

Posted in Food, Health and Fitness, Random Oddments at 9:07 pm by Calico Jack

I guess this is an older story, but Italian researchers are claiming that regularly eating pizza can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Never mind that most pizzas are high in saturated fat and sodium. So load up on the grease! You won’t get cancer, but you will get fat. How’s that for a trade-off?