I’m always ready to tsk-tsk when basic rules of restaurant protocol are violated, so I’m coming clean.
I was “That Person” last week.
Dinner plans with old friends from Las Vegas were thrown into a tailspin when the couple became captivated by the giant boot in Freeport.
“Let’s just eat somewhere in town,” George said. “I know you bought groceries, but stick them in the freezer.”
Groceries? I had also painstakingly set the table, decanted the wine, and dipped strawberries in a trio of imported chocolates.
On top of planning the meal as if The Betty (my mother) herself would be in attendance, I was headed to Shaw’s to pick up lobsters. At $5.88 per pound, I ordered them earlier and requested they be steamed and double-wrapped just prior to my arrival at 5:30. (Many places do this gratis, and it’s a great step-saver.)
Hastily putting away the marinated steaks, and wrapping up the rest, my thoughts turned to where the heck we would eat. Overwhelmed with our many choices, I decided upon one of the best, both in hype and reality, and made the phone call.
“I know this is very last minute, but would you have anything available for three, maybe four,” I sheepishly asked. (Just home from school, I knew Carly Kardashian wouldn’t want miss dinner at this place.)
A minor transgression in this case, it’s still annoying for the house not to know how many people will be in a party. A “four-maybe-five,” odd-numbered scenario is worse than a “three-maybe-four” due to sections, table sizes, and monopolizing more real estate than necessary.
Surprised we got in at all, I requested a server/friend. Then, considering my guests’ unadventurous palates and propensity for casino buffets, I began to question my decision.
Dressed in colorful Vegas regalia, they arrived a bit early and we asked to be seated. Directed to the lounge, we were told we needed to wait for our entire party to arrive. Ouch. How many times I have said those same words?
Once seated, I became acutely aware of things happening that make me roll my eyes when I’m the server. For example, I couldn’t decide what to order (everything looked and smelled amazing) and held up the process not once, but twice.
Immersed in a routine Las Vegas code of conduct, George (a former boss who hasn’t changed in 25 years) was heatedly talking business on his cell phone. This went on most of the evening, through our server’s explanation of menu highlights, the requested wine recommendation, and reaffirming our satisfaction. I could hardly keep my embarrassment in check and was afraid to make eye contact with my server/friend, much less people seated near us.
By the time we finished eating the well-coursed meal (yes, we shared a dessert) the atmosphere changed. Our server became a bit more rushed and the volume was picking up. Sadly, this coincided with my workaholic ex-boss finally putting his phone down.
George began telling fun war stories to Carly Kardashian, and by then, we had long overstayed our welcome. We should have taken our conversation elsewhere and had a nightcap, but having never been involved in full service, my guests had no desire to move. I knew that even though we were paying guests, we were holding up progress.
Whispering, I asked if there was a long wait and lying through his teeth that we were fine, our server was nothing but gracious. We had pitched a tent in the coveted back room, away from the entrance and bar, and became restaurant-campers of the worse kind.
When it came time to pay we played the dreaded, “Oh no! This dinner is my treat game.” I slipped the server a new card, which had not yet been activated. As if he wasn’t running around enough, he returned and took a different card.
Finally taking our leave, the lobby and lounge were packed with reservations waiting to be seated. For the umpteenth time that evening, I wished I wasn’t a restaurant person cursed with the sixth sense to notice the offenses my table had committed.
But then, I also wouldn’t have known how well-executed the entire evening was by the house and our server.
Looking back, I know diners pay good money to go out to enjoy themselves, even if it means extended stays, unintended rudeness and indecisive ordering. It’s just hard when I know what’s going on behind the scenes.
Hugging my friends goodbye, I was trying to let the self-imposed, professional discomfort pass. Just then, I remembered I forgot to call Shaw’s and cancel the lobsters.
Yep, I was That Person, for sure.
Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to email@example.com, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.