Good for Balthazar for Getting Rid of its Bathroom Attendants

Henry Blodget caused a bit of a stir last week when he penned a diatribe against the bathroom attendants at the New York restaurant, Balthazar. Here’s a sample of it:

I always forget that Balthazar makes a guy stand in the tiny bathroom all day, so whenever I open the Balthazar bathroom door after breakfast, I am hit by the same series of unpleasant emotions: Annoyance, guilt, pity, uncomfortable invasion of personal space, and then… extortion.

I go through this internal dialogue and series of emotions every time I enter the Balthazar bathroom. And it makes me hate Balthazar and never want to come back. And then, over time, I forget the Balthazar bathroom experience, and remember only the dining room and meal. And then, eventually, I go back.

But this is a terrible practice — this “bathroom attendant” thing.

It is never helpful.

It is never anything other than uncomfortable and degrading.

It is never a “service” that I look forward to or enjoy.

So I am hereby appealing not just to the bosses at Balthazar, but to restaurateurs and hoteliers all over the world, to eliminate it.

Lo and behold, Balthazar took his advice. Owner Keith McNally announced today that he will be relieving the bathroom attendants of their duties over the next few weeks. In the end, he said, he agreed with Blodget so the bathroom attendants will be no more.

In finding this out, Blodget reacted on Twitter with remorse and wished that McNally had hired them as waiters instead. But this doesn’t make any sense. If McNally agrees with Blodget and does not see a purpose for the attendants, then he should get rid of them. If he has an opening on his wait staff, then he should fill it. But hiring extra waiters for the sake of hiring isn’t a good business strategy.

It’s certainly sad that those workers have lost their jobs, but our economy works best when companies take advice from their customers and make changes to their businesses accordingly. Capitalism dictates that companies have the ability to fire workers it deems expendable and workers can leave jobs for better ones. McNally made that decision. He should not feel compelled to continue employing them just because he eliminated their positions.

There is a larger point here as well. We’re into President Obama’s second term and the economy is still barely recovering. These firings wouldn’t be as painful if the workers knew they had a high chance of finding a new job in the near future. Unfortunately, our government (read: Republicans) has done everything in its power to lower those odds. Sequestration is a moronic policy that is significantly reducing growth. The government shutdown harmed the economy and fiscal brinksmanship does so well. Bipartisan agreement to let the payroll tax cut expire is holding back the economy too. These are just the ways Congress is actively harming the economy. It should be actively helping it by passing infrastructure bills and immigration reform. The Balthazar bathroom attendants would have a much greater chance of finding a new job if Congress wasn’t actively trying to stop them from doing so.

It’s a sad state of affairs that eliminating pointless jobs will cause such an uproar. These positions simply unnerved customers and guilt-tripped them into tipping. They should be eliminated, but the workers should also be able to find new employment in positions that use their skills better (anyone can turn on a faucet and hand out paper towels) and provide a greater benefit to society. The abomination here isn’t McNally eliminating those jobs or Blodget’s post that led him to do so. It’s the government’s inability to help Americans get back on their feet and recover from the Great Recession. Direct your anger there.


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