The Balthazar Bathroom Attendant Era Is Over, Long Live the Balthazar Bathroom Attendants

In the blink of a kvetchy blog post, the bathroom attendants of Balthazar are gone. What happened?


Photo: ralphandjenny on Flickr

It can be argued that the gravitational center of downtown NYC’s dining scene is Soho brasserie Balthazar. It can also be argued that—among its many charms—Balthazar’s bathroom attendants are an old-school touch that adds to the atmosphere and level of service of the famed and relatively massive Spring Street haunt. But some people, like the editor-in-chief and proprietor of Business Insider, Henry Blodget, aren’t so down with the practice. And Blodget, as he’s been known to do, recently took to his own site to write a screed on his personal experience with this very matter.

For the uninitiated: Previous screeds by Blodget have included a 32-page slideshow about the modest and existential pains of stunting in Lufthansa business class seats; dollar-store philosophizing about the origins of antisemitism (“Why Do People Hate Jews?“); and a look at the daring, revolutionary act that is buying a newspaper. Seriously.

This season’s Blodget soliloquy, titled “Now Let’s Discuss The Awful Restaurant Practice Of Having Bathroom Attendants Who Watch You Pee…” delivers on its promised subject matter, beginning with the words, “I ate breakfast this morning at a New York restaurant called Balthazar,” and only getting better (or “better”) from there, with Blodget invoking class guilt and a weird empathy for people who have jobs because they need to have jobs and can’t write about the troubles of bathroom attendees. But more importantly, the anxiety of having someone turn on a water faucet for him:

“Then I think, ‘And after that will come the worst part. I will have to walk over to the sink and watch him turn on the water for me before I get there. I will think, ‘Thanks, but I actually don’t need someone to turn on the water for me. First of all, it wastes water. Second, it makes me feel like I’m the kind of guy who dreams of being rich enough to be able to pay someone to turn on the water for me.'”

In light of these musings, we were curious: What did Balthazar proprietor and downtown restaurant rainmaker Keith McNally make of Blodget’s view of the “extortion-by-guilt” that is the presence of bathroom attendants?

When reached by e-mail over the weekend, McNally returned with a surprising response:

Unfortunately, I completely agree with it and will, in the next few weeks, relieve the restaurant’s bathroom attendants of their duties. They’re extremely loyal employees who, perhaps surprisingly, love their jobs. But Henry Blodget – despite his dubious business ethics* – has a good point and I happen to agree with it. 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.

We responded to make sure we weren’t misinterpreting any mercurial British wit, and McNally assured us that, yes, he’s actually doing away with the practice: “I’m relieving them of their positions. Absolutely. They’ll be unhappy to hear this, but, as I said, I happen to agree with Henry Blodget. I’m serious.”

I’m relieving [the bathroom attendants] of their positions. I happen to agree with Henry Blodget. I’m serious.

So that’s that—an outcome we certainly didn’t see coming (though credit to those who actually did), and another blow to the increasingly obsolete restaurant bathroom economy. Recently, the death of legendary ’21’ Club attendant Lorenzo Robinson had an end-of-an-era feel about it too—bathroom attendants now seem quaint, and a fixture of a now bygone economic era, one where a bathroom attendant wasn’t a indicator of yuppie excess so much as a certain old-school charm.

Balthazar’s a lot of things, but a mook den it most certainly isn’t. And the move to cut the cord on bathroom attendants comes at a time when New York City’s service industry is attempting to dip a toe into more progressive practices of relations between service industry workers and patrons (namely, ending tipping). Plus, McNally’s always been a little ahead of the curve, and his own best critic, so it’s fair to wonder if this the beginning of a larger view on the matter, one where the result is a world without bathroom attendants.

While the absence of The Balth’s bathroom attendants obviously won’t stop us (or anyone) from eating there, we will mourn the loss of a few jobs. And also, caution Blodget from writing further editorials that may cost them, for that matter.

[*To be fair, we did describe Blodget in our e-mail to McNally as “the proprietor of Business Insider” and also someone who is “still subject to a lifetime ban of trading on Wall Street from his past life at an investment bank,” which is totally true! But we also think Blodget’s cleaned up his act since then, even if he does bring new meaning to the word “shitcanned” this week.]

RELATED: 20 Things Everyone Thinks About the Food World (But Nobody Will Say)

  • Laxitmom

    I, for one, will miss the kind ladies in the women’s restroom. I complete disagree with the decision to “relieve them of their duties”. Sad.

  • Mike N.

    You link to a bunch of miscellaneous links about/by Henry Blodget but not the original post by him that started this whole brouhaha?

    Also, as someone from flyover country, restroom attendants reek of strip clubs, “beautiful people” dance clubs, and other places that try too hard to be “classy”.

    Still it was douchey of him to put a bunch of people in the unemployment line.

  • Mike N.

    You link to a bunch of miscellaneous links about/by Henry Blodget but not the original post by him that started this whole brouhaha?

    Also, as someone from flyover country, restroom attendants reek of strip clubs, “beautiful people” dance clubs, and other places that try too hard to be “classy”.

    Still it was douchey of him to put a bunch of people in the unemployment line.

    • Foster Kamer

      We did link it. See: “Soliloquy.”

  • SqueezeTheTrigger

    So, what he really accomplished was getting people fired to appease his own ego? What at deuche.

  • bvocal

    With such a large restaurant this guy is going to just fire these poor souls who will then have a massively reduced ability to get a new job (not many bathroom attendant jobs left) instead of reassigning them in his establishment, thus not abandoning them? Douchitude, that is.

  • Guest

    Yeah man! We should bring back elevator operators too, and ice men, and milk deliveries to the door, and – hey, wait, weren’t those positions eliminated because there were inefficient and unnecessary?

    • Neil

      Add to that a thousand other jobs, like movie theater employees. Nobody is saying “I’m not gonna get a ticket from a machine, someone must hand it to me, I refuse to phase our their job!”

  • blkdoggy421

    Don’t necessarily agree with bathroom attendants either, but I do realize that it is someone’s job you are eliminating. I think no one aspires to be a bathroom attendant it is a job you take out of necessity. Mr. Blodget seems to be a self-pompous a-hole.

    • Dragonzord

      Jobs aren’t donations. If they are unnecessary, they probably should be cut

    • Dragonzord

      Jobs aren’t donations. If they are unnecessary, they probably should be cut

      • FedSec

        Wow. Apparently, we are so arrogant now that we feel we can dictate to the business owner which jobs he should cut and which he should retain.

        • Dragonzord

          What does it have to do with arogance. It’s a service job, and if the majority of us feel it’s an unnecessary service, that’s what the business should respect

  • Arch Stanton

    Keep the attendants and bring back the guillotines.

  • Bob T

    What, he couldn’t move them to another job?

  • inspectorjimb

    On the plus side, years of experience professionally begging for money will give them an edge over the unemployed competition

  • Rob Davy

    No one was ‘fired’, their position was eliminated. You can’t keep a stupid and useless position simply because getting rid of it will mean someone looses their job. Otherwise we’d still have elevator operators, milkmen, horse and cart drivers, etc. Things change, jobs become obsolete. Don’t get into a position that doesn’t have a future

    • Thomas

      The fact is, these were just a few of millions of jobs people do have, right now, today, which they work in order to be responsible for themselves, pay the bills and often support a family. These employees weren’t going to climb the corporate ladder, and they’ll never have ivy league friends and personal connections to help fund some crazy business idea – they were just trying to cover rent and the utility bills. People like you criticize others for being unfit or lazy, and then you criticize them for having low wage jobs, and then you criticize the low wage jobs – claiming they should really only be for entry level workers or teenagers. These are, or were, some of the only jobs available to many people in our society. To those employees, these jobs weren’t “stupid and useless”… they put food on the table. You apparently live a charmed life. There are many more, far worse jobs out there – and countless millions of people are happy to have them. Now, this establishment will need to hire someone else to keep the bathrooms clean – since the company just fired the employees who were already doing that, as well as being courteous and helpful to patrons. When you look down on the guy who has to stand in the bathroom for eight hours every day handing out paper towels, it says much more about you, than them.

      • Nope

        People like you need to separate long, drawn out musings into organized paragraphs.

        Plus…just shut the fuck up man. You don’t know what kind of life this man lived. On top of everything, you’re equating janitors with bathroom attendants, which, I’m pretty sure, even bathroom attendants would be offended by.

        I’m doubtful your hick ass has ever even been to a restaurant with bathroom attendants. MOST of the time, they’re not family men just trying to pay bills. More likely than not, they just got out of prison and can’t get a normal blue collared job…which there are plenty of in America, by the way.

        Many other people besides the OP look down on bathroom attendants you goon. They lose more money than they gain from them in most instances. And for ALL restaurant managers, this becomes a question of not what is good for the person, but what is good for the establishment. In the long run, this will save the jobs of many more people…which, isn’t that what you’re concerned with anyways? Lay off the OP man.

        • Thomas

          These workers got thrown under the bus by McNally and Blodget. They had secure jobs, didn’t bother anyone, and the establishment had no problem paying for them.

          Blodget wrote his piece because he had nothing better to do, and doesn’t seem to care about the side-effects of his words. And McNally repeatedly says (paraphrased) it’s really a shame, those guys loved their jobs, but oh well.

          Long story short, the establishment still needs someone to clean the bathrooms. It’s actually possible in America to believe workers shouldn’t be screwed out of their jobs for no good reason – such as one writer not liking someone turning on the water for him. This same worker, by the way, also had to wipe up his piss after he left.

          If you don’t have compassion for workers in America, don’t try blaming me or make the argument like I’m somehow against capitalism. That’s just stupid talk.

    • A_Concerned_New_Yorker

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Now, can you get your well-off parents to also chip in for these poor bastards?

  • pandesal

    They can be reassigned as toilet managers – making sure toilet is clean and well-stocked, in the BACKGROUND, instead of perpetuating a tradition where exclusivity is entertained at the expense of paid menial servitude. To put it in an extreme hypothetical light, there’s a reason we don’t have buttwipers in each stall. If I’m not mistaken, the elite did have buttwipers, historically speaking.

  • JL

    Now when one goes to the bathroom at Balthazar, it will smell of urine, stink of shit, and be about as clean as pretty much every other highly trafficked New York establishment. Good job.

    • Neil

      How does the current attendant prevent a room from smelling like shit? If you shit on the floor and miss the toilet, then we need a separate article about human decency.
      And you can also have automatic air fresheners to prevent odor. Oh wait, they should hire a guy to stand there and do that manually too.

  • Logic_Logic_Logic

    Perhaps the most unnecessarily bitchy article ever.

    • Foster Kamer


      • Logic_Logic_Logic

        But actually though.

  • Jason Newstedt

    Clearly the author just didn’t get it. That’s fine, but I think that some internet-driven criticism – which actually makes up 98% of the internet itself – shouldn’t be taken seriously enough for a major business decision as this. Besides, the bathroom attendants I’ve spoken with over the years have some of the most interesting conversation. (And no, it’s not about the bathroom.) One needs to be a rather regal mind to do that job well and with pride.

  • maal

    Someone should write an article that relieves Henry Blodget from his duties. The Business Insider is worse than a stinky urinal that has not been cleaned or attended for a while.

  • A_Concerned_New_Yorker

    Hey, this is great and positive news. Now that bathroom attendant can go get his MFA, come back to NYC and have his parents pay for his rent and expenses, and then return to Balthazar’s to partake of their expensive cuisine and hip vibe. ‘Cause you know, that bathroom attendant I’m sure was a young, white, well to do guy who was just working there because he enjoyed it and not because he could not feed himself any other way.

  • A_Concerned_New_Yorker

    Henry Blodget AKA George Costanza.

  • Nope

    What is funny is that the author blatantly misquotes McNally directly after putting McNally’s own quote. Writing online or for a newspaper doesn’t allow you not to follow reporting rules. What his big, black, and bold pictured quote in the middle of the article should have said was, “I’m relieving them of their positions…I happen to agree with Henry Blodget. I’m serious.”

    Those three period notations show that the author has taken a quote and shaped it to around something that he deemed important; not around something the person actually said. What the big, bold and black pictured quote does not show is that McNally’s was sympathetic to letting off his employees.

    Fuck Foster Kamer for trying to deceive his readers. Plus, anyone who says that Blodget is in anyway responsible for the acts of his manager, whom he has no affiliation with, does not understand capitalism and is a moron. If high end customers, who drive the margin of high end restaurants, don’t want people watching them take a piss, and it makes economic sense to eliminate these jobs, well then, sorry bathroom attendants. And if you are one, you’re going to lose your job 100/100 times when a business realizes your position loses them more money than it takes in. That notion is more American than the idea of a ‘blue-collared’ job anyways.

    • Team_Brandi

      Nice try Henry

  • wolfhill

    I found it sanitary to have the attendant turn on the water. Think about it? You turn the water on before you wash but after doing bathroom business. Then you turn the faucet off but spread your microbes via the bath fixtures. Blodget’s likely guilt is that he probably doesn’t take the time to wash a la Seinfeld episode on a related subject. Keep the valets, Keith and ban Blodget. And Kudos to your entire staff for years of stellar service to NY diners.

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