Over the past year I have made much progress in my collection of barefoot friendly venues. My choice not to disclose them, at least not publicly is due to the chance of some random foot-phobe catching wind and complaining to the venue. Unfortunately there is a huge abundance of ignorant mammals such as these and some venues bow pretty easily to their pressure.
About a year ago, I discovered a cute little WiFi place, which I added to one of the many venues where I had never gone in footwear. The owners, especially the wife who I’ve seen more often there seemed pretty laid back and there was never any kind issue regarding my bare feet. After my boycott of my regular place, I began frequenting the new one more often. It has a big back yard with tables which made it a pleasure to sit in the summer with my bare feet resting on the stone floor. Sometimes the co-owner, wife of the owner comes out to water plants and gives me a warm smile. I don’t think I had ever come in with footwear.
Recently I noticed that as the place got more crowded, both a plus as it adds to it a cool vibe, and a minus, that is sometimes it becomes hard to find a spot to sit comfortably. Another change, more of a bummer was the elimination of their ‘buy 10 drinks and the 11th one is free’ program. They have a note at the counter explaining this development attributing it to the rise of price in coffee. Still, with the additional business they are getting, and some of the food dishes that are not included in the punch card, there should really be no harm in keeping the program – especially as it is probably what drew a lot of customers to begin with.
Anyway, that was not really what bothered me. What did was this past Thursday I stopped over to get a cup of espresso and do some work. I was sitting there for a while without bother when the owner – the husband walks over to me. This was in my experience a new one. He asks me to come with him to the side. I walk with him to a little entry way near the stairs going down to the storage. He begins to tell me that the Department of Health came by and cited violations – among them customers with bare feet. “You need to have shoes in here,” he concluded.
I told him that was impossible and actually not within the health code. He went on, “there is a health code requirement for shirt and shoes! You need to wear shoes in here.” He did not throw me out. I went over to where I was seated and fetched from my bag the official letter from the Department of Health stating that there was no such health code law. When I showed it to him he said. “Well in my business I require shoes!”
It took a couple of minutes but then it hit me that there was some sort of discrepancy. Is he requiring shoes because of health code or because of his own preference? Hmmmm. I knew I would be annoying the f##k out of him, but just out of my own intellectual curiosity, I came over to him and asked him that question.
He replied Department of Health code and then I reminded him about the letter. “Look! It’s no problem to you, but you’re not the one who has to go John Street and stand before a judge! I don’t have time to deal with this!” I went back to my seat. Though the owner was not throwing me out, after seeing him lose his temper, I decided to take off. His wife passed by and gave me her usual warm greeting and smile. I greeted her back. I felt inclined to ask her thoughts, but decided to go somewhere else to finish up my work. It was just a very weird vibe, especially since I had been coming there for over a year. Also perplexing me was the fact that I actually not been there for a couple of months so unless the Dept. of Health came by further back, they could not have been citing me, or let alone any customer. Perhaps an employee?
I headed over to a place I go to often owned by a Caribbean family who have both acknowledged my bare feet and treated me like a true loyal customer. Out of my curiosity I went to the site for the NYC Department of Health http://a816-restaurantinspection.nyc.gov/RestaurantInspection/SearchBrowse.do and input the restaurant name based on the zip code. The results were not surprising. There were only 2 minor violations – not enough to not receive the A that they did. And of course, no mention of bare feet. But that is actually irrelevant, since their last recorded inspection was December of 2010! I am not sure how long it takes the Department of Health to update its records or issue a grade, but again, I had not been there for a couple of months.
So my question:
Was it lies? the owner was just a plain footphobe and he was just making up fictitious rules that he could not quote?
Abuse? After I showed him proof that these health code rules were just made up so he decided to pull rank as the owner and decide who he wanted or did not want as customers? A lot of establishment owners fall into this category.
Or just outright laziness? Perhaps as the owner of one of the other places explained to me that someone threatened to go to the health department and he decided rather than look into whether or not he was protected, decided to just be outright lazy and tell a barefoot customer what to do?
I think in this case it was all of the above. To make up a law that doesn’t even exist and then when backed into a corner to come up with other half baked responses. Or in this case to lose ones temper and make the customer, in this case me, feel guilty that I am not doing what they perceive as a small favor. They really act like it is no big deal to them that I am the one that is being unreasonable.
My question: Would it be unreasonable for me to tell a person who is a vegetarian or vegan for health or religious reasons just to try a piece of meat. Or let’s look at another way – perhaps you just get an upset stomach from eating a piece of meat. “Oh, come on, try it, I’m not asking that much…” And being the person who is refusing, would you cave in? Of course not! And if you are the person who is trying to get the person to take that taste, would you feel insulted? Probably not.
Yet, these owners start to act like it is something personal if you not only refuse but state the reasons why you are doing nothing in the wrong. I was at another place where I had always gone barefoot. The young barista taking my order told me, “next time please wear shoes.” We did not have any conversation after that, but I remembered that during the warmer months, several of the baristas including who I think is the owner himself work behind the counter with tank tops cut all the way down so the underarms and part of the torso are exposed. THAT is actually a health code violation, but since they weren’t making an issue of my bare feet, I made no issue either. A couple of days after the young barista told me to wear shoes, I was sitting in the outdoor area this venue also had. The familiar herbal smell of weed came through the air and then I looked to see the source where it came from. A young couple at one of the tables. I am pro-legalization so no issue from my end, however, plenty of ammo in case the shoe issue came up again. Sure enough it did. That same young barista came over to me and told me to put on shoes.
“Why?” I asked him. I don’t remember what his response was, but I do remember after informing him that there were no health code regulations, he replied that it was a matter of respect for the venue. And that was when I fired up my arsenal.
“Look, I see people in the summer working behind the counter in tank tops like these,” pointing to mine, “which is against health code…” Before I could get to the weed part, he got the message and backed off.
“Look, you can come in here without shoes if you want but I would prefer it if you did. But I don’t want to fight with you about it.”
Though I had won and hopefully this would be a permanent victory. It often comes down to it being a personal thing and people hiding behind excuses and when that fails, the guilt tactic is attempted in which what they are actually saying is, “alright you won, and I lost, but do it anyway.”
A few years ago, one place actually offered to hold a pair of flip flops for me to put on for when I come there. Nice, but I’m not the type to obligate people. I would rather spare you the trouble.
In the meantime, my list of barefoot friendly places has grown. At the place where the young gentleman backed off from his argument, another attempt was made by one of the other barristas who had to fend off a foot-phobe ended up telling me, “look I’m not going to make you put on shoes, but I told them I would say something.” I do appreciate that. Another time, I felt a sense of approval for my lifestyle when one of the other employees felt concerned and asked me not to put my “bare feet” on the furniture. “No problem,” I responded, and more then happily placed them back on the floor.
For now, I haven’t been to the place I mentioned in this post with the irate owner, though just for fun, I may walk in with my barefoot sandals just to see his reaction. Or maybe I found a second venue for the barefoot flash mob! Hey look out foot-phobes……