Every once in awhile, a seemingly innocuous topic will blow up my email.
The most controversial or misunderstood columns bring about lengthy voice-mail messages, and earn me dirty looks while roaming the aisles at the grocery store.
Thinking the most recent scathing glances were because I was wearing a “Feel the Bern” shirt, even the staff at my neighborhood Shaw’s offered me their unsolicited (but always appreciated) feedback.
All was the fallout from a recent column about hoarding (“Dealing with diners who don’t think outside the box,” Aug. 31).
To recap, hoarders are a minority of demanding people who request several take-out containers and bags for the same individual meal, not including dessert, or an additional meal to go. They are the diners who want a server to split each dish of a multi-coursed meal and wrap it separately “so the sauces don’t touch“ or “so the flavors don’t mix.” Hoarding, as a dear friend in Boston pointed out, is especially offensive when ordering a prix fixe meal, where presentation is key. Each course is artfully plated and garnished, and prix fixe course portions are intentionally small.
Thankfully, true hoarders are few and far between, because their excessive demands can negatively impact service for others tables, while infuriating the kitchen (which somehow, is also the server’s fault).
People who request take-out boxes because they are full, or are incorporating the healthy practice of portion control into their lives, are not extreme hoarders. Boxing and bagging leftovers is part of the job for a competent server, and 99 percent of the time, it is my sincere pleasure to do so. Presenting leftovers with the check gives me one last chance to make a good impression, which is why I learned how to make a swan out of tin foil. (Granted, my swans look more like sloths, but I’m the first one to ask if extra napkins are necessary, too.)
So, why all the feedback from readers and grocery clerks?
Apparently, mention of hoarders and their shenanigans translated into everything from me being lazy and inconsiderate, to having disregard for possible medical concerns. The writer of a weight management blog suggested I quit my job, and a few of my hospitality sisters said I am a poor representation of the industry.
Taking all that with half a grain of salt (excess salt is bad for you), the thing that really bothered me, as unprofessional as it is, was having my name associated with the term “fat shaming.” I’m a huge believer that even negative PR is better than no PR, but not this time.
Fat shaming? Body shaming in general? This, while I’m serving, tending bar and doing the job I so dearly love? Are you kidding me? Granted, there was some minor back-pedaling in the thread of the blog, but the damage was done.
Rarely do I use this column as a soap box (my editor won’t let me), but here’s a blast from the past that many long-time readers will remember.
About four years ago, I joined Weight Watchers (I gave up on something akin to the divorce diet), and lost more than 50 pounds. Having always been “that chubby girl with the pretty face,” I joined the ranks of those who picked apart every restaurant entree, and gladly paid for healthier substitutions.
Working in an Italian place that daily tested my will power, I lobbied for smaller portions and happily handed out enough non-biodegradable takeout containers to overload a landfill. Few understand self-fat shaming or portion control in restaurants better than I do. My weight loss adventures were updated weekly and reader support was overwhelming. Even though a few people made fun of me, it was a great ride.
Bottom line is, none of this has anything to do with hoarding, and I’d be happy to further explain the difference between requesting a take-out container or two, and asking for the unreasonable. To those of you working on your fitness and striving to be healthier, please come sit in my section. It would be my privilege to wrap up your leftovers, and offer words of encouragement.
Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion about the dying art of dress codes in upscale restaurants. So far, the general consensus is that anything and everything goes.
Be that as it may, I still think it’s a feel-good thing to get dressed up once in a while and can enhance the overall experience of a fine meal. Consider it another form of presentation, only this time, it’s in your seat and not on your plate.
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.