Manners #1: a Restaurateur’s Rant
Physical attraction is a funny thing. What is it that drives someone into another’s arms? Apparently, some of the qualities that people look for in potential partners include: confidence, intelligence, spontaneity, empathy, humour, attentiveness, respectfulness, independence, maturity and, of course, good looks. At least that’s what a cursory Google search reveals. But I couldn’t find a survey or article that listed my deal breaker: good manners.
A couple came to the restaurant the other day and I could tell fairly quickly that it was very early on in their relationship. Aside from the content of their conversation (childhood, education, favourite movies, that kind of stuff) they held hands throughout most of the evening. That’s a sure sign; simultaneous eating and handholding is not, for better or worse, typical of longstanding relationships. Maybe it’s my Presbyterian aversion to public displays of affection, but I think holding hands across a dinner table is just kind of goofy and an activity best left behind in one’s teenage years.
The woman in this relationship was seriously high maintenance. She didn’t like the first table I directed them to, or the second, so I let her choose. I was a little put out that I felt compelled to do this, given that they hadn’t made a reservation on a busy Friday night and that the table she finally selected was a prime four top. And then she had to rewrite the menu to accommodate her preferences and predilections: sauce on the side, this vegetable selection instead of that, lightly-dressed salad instead of potato, insistence upon precisely calibrated seasoning and cooking times, and so on. A restaurant kitchen, particularly on a slamming night, has the tempo and manoeuvres of an intricately choreographed ballet. So when a restaurant customer makes special requests up the wazoo, it’s like an audience member yelling at the prima ballerina to jump higher or dance faster. It’s going to throw the well-rehearsed dance, of a ballerina or a chef, out of whack and it’s going to piss some people right off.
The chef, my husband, is famously obliging and he managed to accommodate the special requests without breaking stride. His thinking on her culinary machinations was that she was trying to impress her date. “Are you kidding me?” I ask. “Would you be impressed by that?” If I were dating a guy who behaved that way in a restaurant, it wouldn’t matter to me how confident, intelligent, spontaneous, empathetic, humourous, attentive, independent, mature or good-looking he was. Anyone who expects to be the heavenly body around which everything else in the universe revolves would have to have a seriously heavenly body to tempt me into overlooking simple, plain bad manners. Besides, anyone so utterly self-involved, self-important, self-aggrandizing, demanding and selfish in public is likely to remain so behind closed doors, if you get my drift.
Every night after dinner service, when all the customers had gone home, the staff at my old restaurant would sit down for our “family dinner”. Usually dinner consisted of the day’s leftovers: a couple of remaining orders of the daily special, a few misshapen but still delicious house-made sausages, grilled sirloin tips from the striploins the chef had portioned that day, the last of the mashed potato, an enormous bowl of salad, maybe some sweet potato fries with the bottom of the bowl scrapings of the day’s homemade lemon, dill and pickle mayo, and a few slabs of bloody steak to round it out and make sure everyone had enough to eat. Of course, there was always beer and wine. But Sundays after brunch were the best meals of the week. The chef made what we affectionately called “Skillet”: every remaining sausage and strip of bacon, all the leftover home fries, the grilled tomatoes, and every last piece of watercress or fruit garnish were layered in a couple of enormous cast iron pans and topped with a dozen or so beaten eggs, and all the cinnamon and vanilla bean-infused French toast eggs. When the Skillet was cooked, we ladled over it the last of the hollandaise sauce and washed it all down with the left over fresh-squeezed orange juice. Or beer. Or the third pot of coffee of the day. And every meal included teasing one of the cooks who had the most appalling table manners any of us had ever seen.
Manners matter, I tried to explain to him. He was a nice-looking young man, very sweet-tempered, respectful, cheerful, and not a bad cook, but he had the tableside manners of a wild animal. He shovelled food into his mouth, hardly chewing at all, and then shovelled in some more before it appeared that he had swallowed the first mouthful. He clutched his knife and fork (when he used them) as if he had not yet developed opposable thumbs. Every meal shared with him was a lip-smacking, belching, glugging, food-particle-spewing, open-mouthed-chewing horror show. “Buddy”, I would say, “you need to work on those table manners.” “Why?” he would say. “Because”, I explained, “if you take a girl on a date and you eat like that, she won’t return your calls.” “Why not? Who cares?”
Oh dear. Restaurant workers are some of the most filthy-minded and potty-mouthed people you will ever come across. But, he was a young guy and I was his boss, so I couldn’t tell him what any woman on a date with him would think his table manners might signify. So, I’ll tell you. If your eating style is rushed, aggressive, artless, graceless, off-putting, ungainly, and indifferent to the sensitivities of others, is this perhaps a harbinger of your style, ahem, elsewhere?
The point is, however tall, dark and handsome you are, however intelligent, funny and accomplished, if you behave like a trough-eating farm animal, then you aren’t getting any.