Friday, March 10, 2017

The Political Page, T+49 -- March 10, 2017

Raqqa: no links. Too depressing. So much for the US Marines crushing ISIS in their capital. The politicians have gotten involved and are squabbling on how to "do" it. I have not read the stories but I assume the Turks are upset that the Kurds are going to get the credit for destroying ISIS. The good news: the current administration is less likely than others to let the US Marines get bogged down in nation-building. 

First world problem: restaurants in blue states are adding a 3% to 4% surcharge to cover mandated minimum wage laws. The story is at the WSJ. I don't have a dog in this fight but it sort of begs the question why they don't add a 3% to 4% surcharge for increased utility costs due to cover government mandated non-dispatchable energy; or, in California, a 10% to 15% surcharge to help pay for the bullet train; or, in New York, a 20% surcharge to fix the streets that one drives on getting to the restaurant. And the list goes on. But let's look at the 3% surcharge.

[Note: to be clear -- this is not about whether I support the surcharge or my thoughts regarding the minimum wage, it's simply a) whether I can handle the 3% surcharge; and, b) my current dining / pricing experiences.]

For me, my go-to restaurant when I'm biking, or traveling cross-country: McDonald's. I get the "American meal: regular hamburger, small fries, small drink." Almost everywhere outside of the blue states the price is $3.13. A 3% surcharge will add 9 cents. I can handle that.

When May and I go out for breakfast, our go-to restaurant is a French restaurant on Main Street, Grapevine, about $15 for the two of us. A 3% surcharge would add 45 cents. We can handle that. We generally leave a 20% tip, sometimes more. May's mom was a waitress.

And when we go out for sushi at our go-to upscale restaurant in the local area, it will cost us upwards of $56 which includes a martini for me (we haven't gone out for sushi in about two months, and I have not had a restaurant martini in maybe a year). A 3% surcharge would add a $1.68 to a $56 bill. We usually leave a 20% tip, sometimes more. Did I mention that May's mom was a waitress? When our favorite waitress at our sushi restaurant said she was moving we gave her a very nice monetary wedding present. Looking back, those were good days. I remember that waitress often brought us something special from the menu and did not add it to the bill, and it was not unusual to get dessert even if we did not order it. She always brought us two spoons when we ordered only one ice cream for dessert. She knew.

Now, our favorite sushi restaurant is a sushi buffet restaurant near the University of Texas Dallas where our middle granddaughter plays soccer. Olivia likes to arrive an hour early; we drop her off; have sushi; and get back in time for the game. I've never paid attention to the price of the luncheon buffet; I honestly don't know what it is but I think it's about $10.95. Sake is probably $4 and the waitress now refills the sake carafe without any additional charge. She also gets a 20% tip. By the way, she is now our favorite waitress. We don't get there often -- the restaurant is not in our neighborhood -- but she always remembers us and knows what we like.

But for those who feel insulted by the 3% surcharge can easily solve that problem. If one is being charged for labor, then simply don't leave a tip. Or reduce the tip by 5%.

Oh, that reminds me. Two weeks ago (?) -- it's a long story -- I watched NASCAR's Daytona race at an Applebee's. The hamburger was $9.95, if I recall. I did not see what the small draft beer cost. I forget the price of the meal. I do remember leaving a $10 tip. Parking was free. No tip at the door for the maitre d' for a good table. No charge to watch the race on big screen television. No surcharge to joke with the bartender (I sat at the bar). No charge to use the bathroom (not unusual to see that in Germany). For me, watching the NASCAR's opening race on big-screen television enjoying a Texas hamburger was easily worth $100. I think my total cost, with tip, came to under $20.

If I recall, a day at Disneyland, just to get in, is around $110/day. Food is extra. With or without the 3% surcharge.

I assume most blue-state folks who complain about the 3% labor surcharge will send a note to a friend using their $800 iPhone with a $200-monthly-data plan.

Customer loyalty. It works both ways. I used to be a huge fan of Omaha Steaks. I was careful with my budget; it can be "expensive" but their products are incredibly good. Over time, my "reward points" were quite sizeable. I very seldom used the "reward points" and when the Omaha Steaks person would suggest I should use my "points" I said I felt I was getting a pretty good deal anyway and thought it "unfair" to take advantage of the points since I would be ordering regardless. So the points built up and built up. Then, for various reasons, maybe I was traveling or my interest waned or our freezer was overfilled, I quit ordering from Omaha Steaks for a couple of months. That's when I got an e-mail telling me that my "points" would expire. What? My points would expire? Again, as a rule, I did not use my points. Maybe I was saving them up for a huge steak extravaganza for my 100th birthday.  Whatever.

But that did it for me with regard to Omaha Steaks. I haven't ordered from Omaha Steaks in about six months and have no plans to restart. I see -- from the e-mails I get -- that my "points" continue to dwindle. This is a good example of where their data mining technology failed them. Had they looked, they would see that I was one of their customers that "never" used the rewards that built up. (Yes, at some point I was probably going to buy that huge steak extravaganza after several years of not using the points, and that was, no doubt, their concern.)

I wonder what would have been the outcome had I received a note from the company saying:
"We see you have not ordered anything in several months. You have enough points for four free hamburgers. Unless you tell us not to, we would like to send you the free hamburgers with no shipping costs. No strings. And we won't deduct your points. We're simply doing this because you have been a great customer and we hope to hear from you soon."
The bull market, in four data points:
  • the market low was in early 2009 just after Barack Obama takes office
  • four years later, in 2013, the S&P is back to where it was when George Bush left office
  • by 2016, three years later, the S&P rose 13%; most of it coming in the last year when we finally had hope and change -- President Obama was on his way out
  • between November 2016 and today, about four months, the S&P has surged 31%

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