Saturday, June 21, 2008

Force-Fed

So we went out to a restaurant to celebrate a birthday, not mine, and as a Hemingway narrator might say, "it was good."

It was, however, a Friday night, and the restaurant is a venerable one in these parts, and it wasn't close to full. I assume the economy that Bush's witchcraft has created with much toil and trouble is having its effect on restaurants, the income of which depends upon discretionary spending.

Another effect is that the wait-staff have clearly been directed to try to sell more food and beverages. Our waitress, or server, was extraordinarily competent, but, albeit sweetly, she put on the hard sell. A member of our party who had worked as a busser in a local restaurant noted, "They're hurting, so they're really trying to push the booze, where they make all their profits."

Some people like a lot of interaction with waiters. I don't. I think I'm more of a reader. I like to study the menu as if it were a poem, and I like waiters and waitresses to be laconic advisers. I like to see how the management has decided to describe the dishes. On this menu, after the list of entrees and of all the entrees had to offer to the buds of taste, there was a note mentioning that any of the fish on the menu could simply be grilled. I rather enjoyed the subtext of that message--namely, that nouveau cuisine may be okay, but nothing beats the atavistic practice of gutting a fish, flattening it, and putting it over the campfire. Of course, you'd want to serve a wine that had an after-taste of plums, gasoline, pears, and Roundup (or whatever it is those wine-critics say).

One of the waitress's techniques was to tell us what her "personal favorites" were on the menu. This rhetoric only confused me. If I chose something else, would I implicitly be casting doubt on her judgment? Does she really try all the dishes, and if so, would it be appropriate, then, to interrogate her and ask whether all the dishes were really that expensive to make? A stubborn streak in me always prevents me from ordering what is the favorite of the waiter or waitress. Terribly petty of me, I know. I did mind my manners, however, and I betrayed none of this confusion and resistance to her. After all, she's just working the job, out on the front line. The decision-makers are nowhere to be seen. It's no good giving grief to people who aren't in management, just because they happen to be visible.

--And by the way, do you think "appetizer" is really the appropriate term for a first course? Usually, the appetizer takes away one's appetite because, well, the appetizer is food, and if you eat food, you're less likely to remain hungry. Also, "appetizer" sounds a bit like science fiction. "Put him in the appetizer! Appetize him! Invasion of the appetizers!" Under "Appetizers" on a menu should be a list of things that will make you hungry: Poverty, Exercise, Working All Day, Fasting.
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