Dinner with the folks is losing what little luster it once had. Sure, we go to expensive restaurants that are not in my normal operating budget, but I also have to sit with my mother and stepfather for 2.5 hours. During that 2.5 hours, I spend a lot of time praying for the waiter or waitress. “Please Lord, don’t let them overfill the water-glass. Please Lord, let them bring hot bread, and butter that is not frozen solid.” Believe me, if these prayers are not answered, we are going to hear about it for the rest of the meal, and in a loud enough tone that the entire restaurant will be aware of the deficiencies.
At one delightful Sunday family brunch I was sawing away at my wrist with a butter knife as I listened to my mother complaining about the temperature in the room, the glare from the windows, and the way the hostess had looked at her. When the waiter placed a champagne cocktail in front of her that did not contain the requisite cube of sugar with a drop of bitters, I thought the world had ended. “Oh my goodness…they can’t be serious. No sugar cubes? Well, I don’t want this…”
My stepfather interrupted from the other end of the table in an effort to resolve the issue. “Annette! What do you want?” As we waited for her response, my brother piped in, “To complain.”
I swear the waiter giggled.
Each extravagant meal takes on some hellish theme involving the food, the service, or the atmosphere. Sometimes, if we’re really lucky, it’ll be a combination of the three. But regardless of what happens during the appetizer, entrée, and dessert, the tension mounts as we anticipate the waiter’s arrival to clear.
This can go badly in so many ways. If you are in the food service industry, let me give you a couple of tips on dealing with my parents. (And probably others of that older generation.) First, do not try to take the plate of someone who has finished while others are still eating. This spawns at the very least a reprimand / etiquette lesson and at the worst, a call to your mother telling her she’s incompetent as a parent. Trust me. Do not remove plates until everyone has “closed” them. Second – and this sometimes happens in unison with removing the plates too soon – DO NOT ASK “Are you through working on this?” If you do ask such a thing, you will be on the receiving end of a glare from my stepfather that is so potent it can render you unconscious. He will then explain to you that he is NOT, in fact, WORKING on anything. He is enjoying his dinner. YOU, my friend, are WORKING, and obviously not doing a very good job of it.
I still remember my birthday dinner a few months ago ending this way: A manager at our table, and a ten minute lecture on teaching his staff that diners / customers are not WORKING. This is when I typically excuse myself to the ladies room (a.k.a. bar).
Good luck to us all out there. Easter is coming and Mother’s Day isn’t far behind. May your plates be full, your waitstaff competent and your butter knife handy.