Tempest in a toilet costs New York restaurant workers their jobs

Reuters

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Restroom attendants at Balthazar, the trend-setting French-style bistro in New York City, will soon be relieved of their duties watching others relieve themselves after a customer wrote on his influential business news website that it is a demeaning job.

Henry Blodget, founder and editor of Business Insider, published an account on Friday of his consistently uncomfortable encounters with bathroom attendants in the restaurant in Manhattan's upscale Soho neighborhood.

He described the class-based guilt he feels each time he is greeted by some "poor guy" in a tuxedo with the "terrible job" of standing in the men's room all day to turn on faucets and hand out towels.

"Then I think, 'And now this poor fellow is going to have to stand there, three feet away from me, and watch me pee,'" Blodget wrote.

"'And he is somehow going to have to do that while not feeling degraded and uncomfortable. Meanwhile, I'm going to have to stand there and pee in front of him. What if it takes a few seconds? Am I going to start to be embarrassed about that?'"

He also said he resents feeling obliged to tip for the experience.

On Monday, Keith McNally, the restaurant's owner, sent two emails to food blog First We Feast. In the first, he wrote that Blodget "has a good point." He said the attendants will be taken off the job in a few weeks.

"Although I'm looking forward to standing at Balthazar's urinal without another man staring at me I'll very much miss my bathroom attendants. They've been absolutely wonderful people to work with," McNally was quoted as saying on the blog.

Since Balthazar opened in 1997, its mirrored, warmly lit dining room has been a favorite of the city's business and cultural elites, and it remains to be seen whether other restaurants, hotels and performance spaces with restroom attendants will follow McNally's lead.

After the announcement, Blodget, who had called for the total elimination of the practice everywhere, seemed taken aback at the rapid early success of his campaign. In a new post on Business Insider on Monday morning, he said he hoped the restaurant would keep the employees on as waiters.

In response, McNally, sent a second email to First We Feast, saying he would immediately find other jobs at his company for the attendants.

"They are lovely people and I'd like to work with them forever," he said in the email.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Maureen Bavdek)

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