Chronic Cheapness

Posted on April 3rd, 2006 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

So I had an experience yesterday that caused me to need to come here and vent. Mynagirl and I work for the same company in a downtown Houston office building, and our building has a cafeteria. It is a garden variety corporate cafeteria, with food that is neither really good nor really bad, and fairly reasonable prices. They typically have four or five general areas for food…a mexican line (tacos, burritos, taco salads, quesadillas, etc), traditional food line (chicken breast, meat loaf, fish, turkey, vegetables, etc), sandwich line (sandwiches), grill line (hamburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, chicken fingers, fries, etc), and twice a week a pasta line where they make pasta to order.

There is also a salad bar, dessert area, frozen yogurt machine, Starbucks cofffee, fountain drinks, bottled drinks, and fresh fruit.

So, not bad for a corporate cafeteria.

But yesterday when Mynagirl and I sat down, there was a man and woman at a table not really that close, but close enough for us to have to endure the guy pontificating for 20 minutes. The subject of his sermon? He ranted and raved and railed about the fact that the cafeteria was “ripping me off” because they charged him for the extra cup of gravy that he asked for and for the cup of ice and water that he got.

Now, some of you are saying, “Yeah, brother, right on…fight the power!”, while the majority of you are saying, “Man, what a cheap bastard.” I fall squarely into the latter category, and find that as I get older I am beginning to have less and less patience for people who have an entitlement mentality. These are people who somehow expect the world to be “fair” and somehow perceive that large organizations like businesses and governments should somehow have bottomless pits of money that they should be used to make life easier for cheap bastards with a sense of entitlement.

In the specific example of the guy yesterday, here’s what happened from my perspective:

  • Cheap Bastard (CB) orders chicken fingers which come with a little plastic cup of gravy. CB asks for a second little plastic cup of gravy, thereby taking more gravy than is built into the food costs. CB then is surprised and offended that the cafeteria wants to charge him $0.25 for this cup of gravy.
  • CB comes into the cafeteria empty-handed, and has not bothered to purchase and schlep his own bottled water with him (which the cafeteria allows), nor has he filled his own cup with water from one of the many water fountains available all over the building. Instead he grabs a cup that the cafeteria provides, goes to the ice machine that the cafeteria bought and maintains and fills the cup with crushed ice from the crushed ice machine provided by the cafeteria, then moves to the push-button water-dispenser that was purchased and is maintained by the cafeteria and fills the cup (with water that the cafeteria pays for), then grabs a lid provided by the cafeteria, then grabs a straw provided by the cafeteria, then goes and sits at a table in an area provided by the cafeteria, finishes his water, throws the remaining water and ice, along with the cup, lid, and straw into a waste receptacle that the cafeteria maintains and pays to have emptied. And then CB complains that all of this convenience costs him another $0.25. He truly is a CB.

And I think that’s where the major disconnect is between the CB’s with a sense of entitlement and the rest of us. I truly don’t think that CB understands that his cup of gravy or that cup of ice with water are a very real, hard cost for that cafeteria business. And although he may not think it’s worth $0.25 to have the luxury of extra gravy or he doesn’t think that it’s worth another $0.25 for the convenience of having cups, lids, straws, crushed ice, and water available, he should realize that it is not the job of the cafeteria to give things away. The cafeteria is a business, not a charity, and so has every right to charge for these things, and it appears to me that they are charging very fairly. CB is free not to eat there and/or not to get extra gravy or a cup of ice water if he doesn’t want to pay for them. However, paying for them and then complaining that they are not worth it are just plain stupid. The fact that CB paid for them proves that they were worth it to him, unless he was forced through the line with a gun to his head, or something.

In yet another example which also happened in the last few days, I was traveling home from a business trip and was in the Seattle airport, and was going through a fast food line to get some nachos to nosh while waiting for departure. The couple in front of me got a taco plate, a salad plate, and two medium drinks (trust me, I remember exactly). After they ordered the wife went off in search of a table, while the husband kept tabs on the progress of their lunch order. The girl who was checking them out was obviously new, and rang up his total. She told him “$12.97, please!”, to which he responded, “No, that can’t be right” and directed his gaze to the menu. The girl double-checked her figures and claimed it was correct, but the guy insisted it was too high. He then ran through the pricing from his perspective. “First we have the taco plate meal, then we have the salad plate meal, and those include drinks so the total should be eleven fifty-something” he says.

At this point the new checkout girl was completely paralyzed by what to do, as you could tell she didn’t agree with him or his math, but wasn’t sure enough to say so. So she summoned a more senior lady from the back, who reviewed the tab and pronounced it correct. Mr. Man continued to dispute the charges, and pointed out to both of the ladies that there was a handwritten sign that said that the two dishes they had ordered were available as a meal for price X as opposed to the a la carte pricing where the drinks were added separately. The senior lady finally acknowledged that he was correct and rung him up for the displayed price.

Now, there are those of you out there who are again saying, “Yeah, brother…right on….fight the power!” while the rest of you are again saying, “What a cheap bastard!”. Again I am in the latter camp. I can hear all you CBs out there reading this and finding it incomprehensible that I can fault Mr. Man for fighting to get the correct price, but I do, with extreme prejudice. Because while Mr. Man argued with these oblivious cashiers, he made the rest of us poor, tired, huddled business travelers wait for 5 extra minutes (while our already-prepared food was cooling on their counter), all to save about $1.50. I was literally at the point of handing this schmuck $5 and asking him to get the hell out of everybody’s way, because enough was enough. The restaurant was obviously not purposely ripping him off, and the amount in question was trivial, but Mr. Man stood there making everybody wait to make his point. Now, I know that he had every *right* to do that, but it was still rude to everyone else in line, and Mr. Man should have said to himself “Close enough” and moved on.

Now, if Mr. Man had been buying a car and the price was off by $5,000? Go ahead and make a stink. If he paid for his groceries at the store with $100 bill, but only got change for a $50, stand your ground, and more power to you. But making a stink in a busy airport line making everybody else wait in order to make your point about $1.50? That’s just beyond the pale and begins to border on a disorder. Let it go, pal, you’ll get it back many times over in good karma (or the avoidance of bad karma), trust me.

I’ve known many CB’s personally, and one thing I’ve found is that most of them have never actually run a business themselves, or worked in a job where they were responsible for profit and loss. Either that, or they see money simply as a game that they must always win, not matter what the stakes. These are the same dorks that will drive across town to save $0.05/gallon on gas, burning up any cost savings with their meanderings but not caring, because they get to “win” with the lowest price.

When your imperitive is to maximize the bottom line, such as with your own business or running a product line within a larger business, you realize that you can’t afford to give things away, or to waste time making sure the accounts balance to the penny. The for-profit enterprises that do seem to give things away actually don’t, because they either charge you for them elsewhere and hide that cost, or know that they’ll get future sales/profits from you by investing in providing you with an incentive.

For example, that home security system that they install for free? It’s the minimum system and they know you’ll almost certainly add on additional sensors and things, plus they charge you a monthly recurring fee for monitoring the system, and that’s where they make the money. The restaurants that *do* give away extra gravy and cups of water? They’ve built those expenses into their food costs already, so you and me and everybody else there is paying for that “free” stuff.

Remeber, as it says in the abstract up there, TANSTAAFL, which means, There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, and that is a truism that is very true indeed…steeped in truthiness, in fact.

Based on the little I know about CB from his rantings, I’ll bet he’s also a bad tipper (BT). And I find that BTs and CBs both have an entitlement mentality. The world owes them something. It owes them what they think they deserve, regardless of they they’ve actually earned it or lucked into it. Dammit, I just *know* I’m supposed to have a big, flat-screen TV to watch the Super Bowl on, and the fact that I don’t means either that my company isn’t paying me enough or that the companies making the TVs are charging too much for them. It couldn’t possibly be that I can’t afford one, because that’s just not right.

Don’t you know people like that?

Are *you* a person like that?

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