First Dates and Other Celebrations: a Restaurateur’s Rant
We are honoured and flattered when you choose our restaurant as the venue for your celebration. Over the years we have hosted countless birthday and anniversary parties, christening and bar mitzvah celebrations. We are delighted to participate in your proposals, rehearsal parties and wedding dinners. We have watched, with pride and pleasure, our customers grow from small children, to teenagers on dates, to young couples with children of their own. But there is one special occasion I just cannot abide: first dates.
I can spot a first date at 50 paces. It usually starts with a telephone call requesting a “quiet table for two” on a Saturday night. Trust me on this one, if a restaurant has a quiet table on a Saturday evening you probably don’t want to eat there. Saturday night is a restaurant’s bread and butter, and at 7:30 p.m. every restaurateur wants and needs their establishment to be slamma jamma. Second clue? One person arrives a little early for the reservation for some recon, and to apply lipstick or more cologne. Excessive perfume is clue number three. It’s a first date folks, you should trust those pheromones! When the second person arrives, they are often breathless, as if they have run from the subway or the parking lot. This is clue number four; no one runs when they’re late for dinner with the wife. The late arrival then scans the room optimistically or says to me: “I’m looking for a guy with a green tie” or “I’m meeting a tall woman with red hair…never mind, there she is”. Clue number five is that the latecomer requires me to identify their dining companion. Then there is the awkward hug or handshake, the blushing and grinning and looking down at one’s shoes. After that comes the negotiation:
- I hear it’s really good here.
- Yes, the reviews are excellent.
- Everything sounds delicious. What are you going to have?
- I don’t know, what are you going to have?
- I don’t know either. What are you going to have?
Once the dinner order is brokered, the uncomfortable conversation really gets going.
- I’m sorry.
- No, I’m sorry.
- You go ahead.
- No you go ahead.
- No seriously, you go ahead.
- Well, I was just going to say…
Then the to-be-expected first date patter about people you know in common, the movies you’ve seen lately, the kind of music you listen to, your childhood dog, that sort of thing.
On the one hand, people on a first date can be ideal customers. Because they are trying to impress their date, they are usually pleasant, courteous, appreciative and obliging. This can be quite delightful for all involved. Some people just don’t click and their dinner is usually quite speedy, full of difficult silences and sideways glances. My complaint is with the couple who hit it off, the ones who get on like a house on fire complete with sparks, slow smouldering and then a full-on raging inferno. These are the folks who hang around the restaurant for hours, giggling and flirting long after every other customer and most of the staff have gone home. I sit at the bar, finishing off a bottle of wine, pretending I can’t hear their sexy whispers and can’t see them mentally undressing each other.
I’ve had first date couples sit for ages; up to four and five hours or longer. Not only have I not been able to turn the table, I’ve had to make others wait, or rearrange a reservation book to accommodate patrons that I had planned to seat at the lovebirds’ table and turned away walk-in customers because lovebirds just won’t get a room already. When you take your date to the movies or the symphony, you don’t sit for hours after everyone else clears out and the house lights come up just because you are in thrall to your new love. Why should restaurants be any different?
Now I admit, I’ve been married for a long time and, consequently, haven’t dated in ages. Back in my day, if you got along on the first date, maybe your next get-together would be an unchaperoned tour of the park with your gentleman caller. Maybe your hat ribbons came untied and fluttered seductively, maybe a pin slipped and a lock of hair tumbled provocatively, maybe you even flashed some ankle when you climbed into the horse-drawn surrey. Then or now, the object of the exercise has always been the same: would you climb that man like a tree? Do you want to take her mattress dancing? It’s been a really long day and I just want to go home. Hey, first date couple, isn’t it time you jumped the turnstile and went in search of some horizontal refreshment elsewhere?