I've always wanted to write an article about a scandalous "gate." I once was tempted to pen a "Tomatogate" piece after being subjected to one pale, plastic-tasting monstrosity after another, but the subject matter didn't seem solemn enough. Then the incident at Thai Toni occurred. It reeked of gate-ness. As one who's worked in the food business, it certainly came as no surprise to me that a restaurant owner was guilty of committing a profoundly foolish act: That's exactly what most of them spend much of their time doing. What did raise an eyebrow was that Mr. Charles Thompson, upon receiving the discriminatory gratuity charge of $7.65, dialed 911. I'd be upset too if I were Thompson, but I don't think those who set up the police emergency number ever envisioned it being used to report an unwarranted tip. Nor do I believe those who had to wait for real emergency help that evening were comforted much by knowing that the fifteen percent add-on already had been removed from the bill.
Open for dinner seven days, Sunday through Thursday, 6:00 to 11:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 6:00 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Toni Takarada, for an action seemingly born from ignorance rather than malice, has apologized on TV, hung a written apology on his door, paid $15,000 for sensitivity training, been taken off the convention bureau visitor's list, been sued by the State of Florida (since dropped), been sued by Mr. Thompson, and lost 30 percent of his business. Tipper gore! He never even stood to get the $7.65 -- that money was earmarked for his Hispanic waiter all along. Mr. Thompson, meanwhile, has taken his turn as a cause célèbre, appeared on television, and stands to gain some cool hard cash if he wins his case. When Takarada recently offered his hand to Thompson, the "victim" disdainfully declined the gesture. I'm still going to Thai Toni.
I'm still going because I enjoy the food. My guess is that those who led the boycott have never tasted Toni's red, green, or massaman curry dishes. If they did, surely some compromise would have quickly been hammered out so they could return and have some more. Chances are they also never sampled his pad thai rice noodles in their sweet-and-piquant peanut sauce, or the coconut-marinated grilled beef satay, or the sparkling "jumping squid" in hot pepper, lime juice, and lemon grass, or an extremely spicy green papaya salad, which is shredded and dressed in lime juice, cane sugar, and Thai chilis, then tossed with poached shrimp and peanuts. The source who provided me with much of this article's information is addicted to this last dish, but of course to protect that contact's anonymity I can only refer to him/her by code name: Burned Throat.
Toni's has come up with a fifteen percent solution: Automatic gratuities now are placed on everyone's bill, regardless of race, creed, or how lousy the service is. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe tips should come voluntarily from the patron as a thank-you gesture for good work. Last year I was assessed a zany 19.17 percent gratuity charge at a spa restaurant after being waited on by the most hapless crew imaginable. I was not pleased, and though that situation contained no racial element, I don't think the option of dialing 911 would have crossed my mind even if it did. Guess I'll never get to meet Diane Sawyer.