It’s Better’n a Spit in the Eye. Or Is It?

by Emily Kemme

Ado Annie, the feisty character who “cain’t say no” in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!, poses a classic dilemma when she warbles lyrical about “Whut you goin’ to do when a feller gits flirty. And starts to talk purty? Whut you goin’ to do? . . . S’posin ‘at he says ‘ at you’re sweeter ‘n cream. And he’s gotta have cream er die? Whut you goin’ to do when he talks that way. Spit in his eye?”

I’ve always wondered about what sort of person would go so far as to spit in another’s eye. I mean, that is something pretty darned invasive, projecting one’s bodily fluids into the orb of another. Yuck. Saliva, dribble, spittle, drool, slaver, gob or sputum, it’s all not rock-n-roll with me. Whichever way you spin it, spitting, particularly in someone else’s face, is a sign of disrespect at the very least; it is at bottom, the lowest indication of scorn.

True, a person needn’t go through life flinging gob (that’s the British version of the secretion, evidently) in order to avoid kissing anyone who asks. There must be a more civilized method of getting your point across. And a more legal one: in United States v. Lewellyn, spitting is considered simple assault and battery.

The restaurant guide, Zagat Survey, recently featured a couple of articles about two factions perennially in juxtaposition: the served and those in service. It made me realize that my suspicions that restaurant waitstaff really don’t like us were in fact right on target. Diners have their own pet peeves about how we are treated in restaurants, and our servers dish up our fears on oversized plates. I was curious, and did a little research of my own, asking friends and family what bugged them about dining out. It was interesting to discover the big question which weighs heavily on people’s minds: do waiters spit in our food? Seriously.

At first I decided I was being overly optimistic, that this urban myth was merely another example of mud-flinging. After all, even the thought of foreign substances in my dinner makes my stomach crawl. What is it about venturing outside our homes to pay someone to cook a meal that creates a society of walking paranoids? After all, we elect to lose control over the content and method of preparation of our food. What is is about dining out that provides a carte blanche, permitting poor behavior, on both sides of the table?

For starters, or appetizers, if you will, I’ve compiled a list of the top five complaints from the plethora of angst stirred up by those I’ve spoken with.  It’s a heated topic, to say the least; no one I encountered ever said, “oh, I love going out to eat!  It’s the most wonderful, relaxing experience in the world.  And the fact that I get to pay for it makes it all that much better!”  I’m beginning to wonder why we bother?

As much as I know that dining out can be anything but leisurely, when among friends in an idyllic setting, such as this Sunday brunch at Miss Lucy’s on St. John, VI, the relaxed charm of the locale increases the appetite. The baby goats scampering underfoot only enhanced the lighthearted aspect of the meal.

 

  1. JUST GETTING IN THE DOOR

It’s been a hard day’s night, a helluva of a day, or you and a buddy want to connect to hash over a topic.  Rather than fire up the stove, you head to your favorite local eating establishment, only to find that a lot of people had the same kind of day you did.  There are people lining up for tables, the hostess cheerily adds your name to a list that would make Santa Claus’ elves whimper, and you suck up to the fact that dinner will be a long ways off and head to the overcrowded bar to wait.  Due to the basic obstreperosity of human nature, you sneak a peak into the dining room to discover that, hey, there are enough empty tables to seat Congress.  What gives?

A hard day at work is relative, if you think about it. After a tour of Alcatraz, the island prison in San Francisco harbor, stepping off the ferry back on friendly soil is enough to make anyone’s mood boost. An oversized Dungeness crab for lunch in a casual fish market doesn’t hurt.

Yes, most likely it’s a ploy to get diners sauced up enough that they’ll order more to eat, or at least a guarantee of multiple drink orders.  After all, no one wants to sit down for dinner with an empty glass.  My theory is this is a money-making maneuver.

2.  THE FORGETFUL WAITRESS, AKA ORDER MESS-UPS

These days, servers make taking an order akin to filling out a college application.  Taking an order is a standup comedy routine, designed to impress the entire table with their mental prowess and stellar recall abilities.  All that much better if they don’t write it down.  Problems occur when your dinner arrives with a flourish and is set down at your place; you could have sworn you didn’t order the liver and onions.

The corollary to this is the “invisible person syndrome”:  I always become über-irritated when one (and it is always just one poor lonesome dinner companion) whose meal is forgotten.  For some reason, Chinese restaurants excel at delayed delivery of meals, as if they’re winging them, one dish by one dish, frisbie-tossing platters from kitchen to table. I just feel sad.  I like to eat with everybody at the same time.  It’s along the lines of making sure everyone has a gift to open for the holidays.

3.  STICKY TABLE CONDIMENTS

The salt and pepper are like fly paper, with who knows what substance.  The Tabasco sauce bottle is crusted over with layers of dried peppery vinegar, and the protective cellophane is still half attached.  I don’t think at this point we’re being protected from anything.  Wouldn’t it be possible to assign some busboy the duty of condiment preparation and polishing?  They could give him the title of “Bacteria Eliminator.”  After all, I wipe off my condiments at home, and I’m feeding a whole lot less people.

After hours of tromping through the Vatican Museum and then St Peter’s Cathedral, a late lunch of a simple pizza in a taverna was enough to return our energy levels back to normal. Tired of sightseeing, and still jet-lagged, the warm ochre walls of the restaurant enveloped and welcomed. At that point, I didn’t care if the condiments were sticky.

4.  OH SO FRIENDLY

Okay, so maybe your waitserver isn’t exactly gittin’ flirty or talkin’ purty, but why do our servers call us “honey”, “sweetie”, “love”, or make a point of batting their eyes, when all we want to do is eat?  And not with them.  You don’t even know us, and if there’s even the slightest chance that one misstep will result in spit in our food, we’re certain we don’t want to know you.

5.  THE BIG CHILL

I’m not going to spend a lot of time rehashing this, but we all recognize that it is completely and utterly disgusting for restaurant staff to spit, urinate, play soccer with, or in any other way mutilate or alter our dinner.  I’ve checked out numerous waiter-people blogs, and yes, this behavior is all-too-true.  The reality of it is this is a crime, namely, Food Tampering.  Please, if you don’t like waiting on diners, or cooking for others, find another way to earn a living.

BUT, DON’T ALWAYS BLAME THE RESTAURANT FOR YOUR EXPERIENCE!

Lest you think that this post is solely directed towards the restaurant establishment, that they are the ones at whom to fling blame when the option of eating out gives you the creepy crawlies, there are tables to turn.  Fellow diners create havoc, in public, while avoiding the home fires.  My theory on this has something to do with the bubble syndrome, to whit, for some reason once people are seated at a table at a restaurant, they’ve taken ownership.  It’s a condominium of sorts, for an hour-an-a-half allotment, or thereabouts.  A timeshare of space, if you will.  During which, the owner of said 12 square feet of real estate, whether covered by pristinely white, freshly laundered linens, or tiled with speckled linoleum, and bordered by aluminum, has unlimited potential to develop their turf in any direction in which a conversation may carry them.

After a long day of skiing, heading to a warm bistro offers a respite from the great outdoors. Good friends only enhance the experience.

Some of the most irritating behavior falls within these categories:

–When a glass is broken and someone screams, “Uh oh!”, you know somebody is going to be in trouble, or a trayful of dishes will be deducted off a paycheck.  It dampens your entertainment experience.

–The kids sitting at the “condominium” next door have been eating M&M’s all day and their sugar boost is at an all time high.  It’s obvious that rather than tearing open a box of Annie’s Homegrown (Totally Natural) Shells & White Cheddar, their parents looked at each other helplessly and said, “let’s go out for dinner!  With the kids!  Who needs a babysitter?  If we drink enough wine we won’t care how out of control they are, and maybe no one else will notice.”

–Food thieves.  It’s my plate.  Hand’s off.  Unless I offer, which I usually do.

–Dinner companions who complain about how fat they are, and then order Fettucine Alfredo.  ‘Nuff said.

I’ve found that a surefire method to avoid meals that beg for a dose of TUMS soon after is to engage in vigorous exercise first. Have a beer with friends. The endorphin high you’re riding will prevent any nastiness from surfacing and is a surefire guarantee for fun and silliness. Promise.

–Blood Bath Dinners:  these are analogous to holidays with family, restaurant-style.  Here everyone is, all spiffed up.  You’ve rented a lovely “condominium” for the evening and we’re all together.  How nice.  Now let me inform you just what I think of your lifestyle/companion/method of dressing, in front of the world.

–The communal table that isn’t.  I understand the concept of providing insta-friends to those who are dining alone.  At times, it’s unavoidable, and we’re not going to evaluate those “why’s” today.  What I find incredibly obnoxious are the upscale restaurants which assign very little value to privacy.  Years ago, we had dinner at The Bull & Bear at the Waldorf Hotel. Needless to say, we hoped for a memorable experience.  Instead, we were seated at a table the width of an airline tray, if that, no more than one foot away from our fellow diners.  It’s a case of prime real estate, I suppose.  While this isn’t my optimal choice for table placement, I can deal with it, generally.  Except that in this case, the guy next to us was in the dog house, and was doing his best to impress his wife, loudly, expounding on his latest business conquest, and how he had finagled to get a lower price for their hotel room for the weekend.  It wasn’t working; as I recall, she didn’t utter one word for the entire meal, but we were forced to hear the full performance.  My guess is he ended up sleeping in the hallway that night.

Corollary:  the diner across the room exuberantly informs his table of the balance of his SEP account, his salary, and his latest sexual conquest, loud enough to broadcast to the entire establishment.  Paying for a meal doesn’t buy you an individual soapbox.  Go to Hyde Park if you want one of those, or take out a personals ad.

The empty martini glass caught the light in just the perfect way, creating a heart-shaped reflection. We still are uncertain if Bistro CV in Steamboat Springs, CO places gels over their spotlights, or if this was yet another memory of a lovely evening spent dining out with friends.

You’re probably thinking that I’m a hopeless restaurant grinch, but quite truthfully, it’s the exact opposite.  I love to eat out, to learn new methods of food preparation, to have a chance to reconnect with family and friends without the hassles of doing dishes later.  Go out to eat. Relax. Enjoy the environment.  And maybe, just maybe, if the waiter sees how much fun you’re having, there won’t be any spit in your soup.

 

[PollMe form=’Dining Out Woes’]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 comments

Beverly Wallace June 21, 2011 - 8:54 am

Having worked,although briefly in my youth in restaurants, I can say that the reason a restaurant may have empty tables and not let you be seated is because they are having a staffing issue. If someone doesn't show up for work and they are short staffed, management can't overwhelm staff that has shown up so seating will be limited,in proportion to what the staff can handle.

Reply
Emily Kemme June 21, 2011 - 10:44 am

You raise a great point here, and I believe it makes the statement that "all is not as it seems." Just because it appears that there are empty tables doesn't necessarily mean that your dining experience would be enhanced by the ability to take possession of one immediately. In fact, it may result in a negative experience, if you've got a stressed out server. Thanks!

Reply
Nomi June 20, 2011 - 1:20 pm

I love reading your Feeding the Famished blog. The highlight for me is to see your many adventures and pictures of your adorable family. I can't wait to try the recipes. I think you have inherited your mother's expertise in the kitchen not to mention your family's sense of humor. I think you need to turn this into a hardcover publication. Very interesting concept. My mouth is drooling already.

Reply
Kelley June 19, 2011 - 1:49 am

Ugh, perfect timing for this blog. Last night we took the kids to a local italian restaurant for dinner. The waitstaff was their usual unfriendly selves, but this time it was exceptionally unfriendly. The loud mouth at the table 6 feet away dropped the "f" bomb at least 20 times so loud that everyone in our section could hear it. Luckily, my husband just couldn't hold his tongue and told the guy to put a filter on it next time. I really do prefer the privacy of my own home. Call me anti-social if you will. Never, ever going back there!

Reply
Michelle June 17, 2011 - 2:09 pm

Loved the blog. Most of your thoughts are ones we've ALL had before at some time during our dining experiences. Funny.

Reply

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