September 2nd, 2004

In Northampton? Really?

Henning reports on his visit to Cold Stone Creamery’s newly opened downtown Northampton shop. And I’m stunned. Flabbergasted. Blown away.

My puzzlement isn’t to do with why someone would go to a chain place when Herrell’s (which sells some of the best ice cream you will ever eat anywhere) is right down the street. Henning answers that question.

Nor do I want to get into the whole tipping for counter service thing. OK, well I do, but just a little. I always say I’m not gonna do it, but the thing is you can’t help it. You fell like such a fink if you don’t. I mean, the kind of service one tends to get at counters in Hamp (more on that in a bit) should make it a good bit easier to resist the instinct to tip, but still … . I will say this: I wish there were a way to get everyone to stop tipping for counter service. My theory is that if we all just didn’t do it, shop owners would have to increase what they pay their workers rather than getting us to cover for their cheap asses. Then they’d raise prices to make up for the wage increases. But, get this, those of us who tip would actually end up spending less than we do now, because we’d no longer be subsidizing the cheapness (or, let’s face it, wisdom) of those who refuse to tip for counter service. Everyone would make out better in the deal (except the people who don’t tip now, and, you know, screw them). And the quality of counter service wouldn’t dip any, because, let’s face it, it just can’t get any worse.

What I can’t get over about this Cold Stone place is the idea of the singing. They sing, Henning says, if you tip them well. (Debbie offers some qualifying thoughts on this.) The employees, that is. At a downtown Northampton shop. They sing. Sing. For tips.

Now, let’s set aside how inane this practice is and how annoying it absolutely has to be. (Never mind that this is a chain. Never mind that there’s world-class ice cream around the corner. I won’t go near the place because I’d end up killing the staff.) Let’s set aside, too, Henning’s accurate observation that this has to be degrading for these workers. My question is, where the hell did they find these people? People who sing for tips. Who have come to work in a downtown Northampton shop. I don’t even know what to do with this information.

Now, if you’ve never been to downtown Hamp, you maybe don’t understand what I’m getting at here. The point is, as I started to note above, in most downtown Northampton shops, you can hardly get the workers to take your order. They’re slow. They’re surly. They’re interested in just about everything but helping customers. They’re often too cool to be bothered with helping customers. Of course, they still expect a tip. But they’re not gonna so much as thank you for it. Forget asking them to sing (they save that for when they rehearse with their bands that never play out anywhere, because they don’t have the energy — after a long day of ignoring customers — to go out and book a gig).

So who are they, folks? Where do they come from? And do you think there’s any way to spread their attitude while maybe, you know, axing the singing bit? Any thoughts? Henning? Debbie? Anyone? Anyone?

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