Friday, May 04, 2007

A penny for your controversy

A controversy has erupted in New York City over 10 cents. The amount isn't in dispute, but the form it should take is a topic of spirited conversation this morning, courtesy of a high-profile story in The New York Times. It seems that a mom-and-pop Chinese restaurant in the Bronx, an area you probably won't see as a backdrop to "Friends," refused to accept 10 cents of a customer's payment in the form of pennies. It was unclear why the counter-server balked, but it was suggested that she didn't want to count that much change, or go through the hassle of placing 10 coins in the till.

The Great Wall Chinese Restaurant later denied the incident happened, but by that time the outraged patron had already alerted politicians, hoping to trigger some sort of official reaction.

Sure enough, a state senator held a press conference outside the restaurant, calling for legislation that would require restaurants to accept any form of legal tender that's provided. Ruben Diaz cast the issue as a matter of discrimination against the less fortunate, presumably because they'd be more likely to scrape together change.

This must be an echo of the conversations that took place when some restaurateur of yesteryear suggested the hitching racks out in front be torn down to provide parking spaces for Model A's. The penny is becoming an anachronism; before long, even wishing wells will be accepting cashless payment via card, cell phone or EZ Pass. The changeover is certainly happening fast in the restaurant industry, but until currency-less payment becomes the norm, why quibble over pennies, one way or another. The place should've either taken the coins, even if they ended up in a help-yourself cup on the counter, or refused them and eaten the 10 cents.

Then we New Yorkers could've spent our time at the coffee machine debating the controversial memo sent by Morgan Stanley to its executives, forbidding them from entertaining customers at a local restaurant called Hawaiian Tropic Zone. The place is the brainchild of famed chef David Burke and veteran local operator Dennis Riese, the one-time owner of Houlihan's. But it's perhaps better known for putting its female servers in bikinis and sarongs, which the old-line financial institution has adjudged to be inappropriate stage dressing for the negotiation of serious business deals. We tried to get our hands on the e-mail memo, but employees were too scared to forward it, given the brouhaha that has erupted. Morgan Stanley has been portrayed as being puritanical, though some media reports say the same no-lei policy has been set by Lehman Bros. and Smith Barney.

At least it's likely that the employees wouldn't be paying in pennies.

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