Food & Drink: Eating by the rules
Two strikes and you're out, or how to deal with transgressions at the table
Sunday 17 January 1999
The second time, I had asked if the warmish white wine I'd ordered could be chilled, or replaced with one that was colder. The maitre d' arrived at my table and coolly advised me that if I didn't like the temperature at which the refrigerator had been set then I should vacate the premises immediately.
In both cases, the response from the restaurateur was a little like passing a sentence of death by lethal injection for parking on a pelican crossing.
On the plus side, though, I've never been thrown out of a restaurant owned by Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay or Nico Ladenis, which makes me think I'm doing something wrong. Or that I'm not doing something wrong.
The great French chef, Fernand Point at La Pyramide in Vienne, was more subtle than the never-darken-my-door-again crowd. Once, when a diner lit a cigarette immediately after his appetiser, Point promptly presented him with his bill.
Similarly, Ladenis once answered a potential diner's request as to whether he could bring his own wine with an invitation to bring his own waiters and food as well. In an entire chapter in his book My Gastronomy, the opinionated restaurateur-chef challenges the myth that the customer is always right, claiming that the revolution in eating habits has left some restaurants generations ahead of their customers.
Marco Pierre White put it down in black and white in his first and never- bettered cookbook, White Heat. "If I came to your house for dinner an hour late," he wrote, "criticised all your furniture and your wife's haircut and said all your opinions were stupid, how would you feel?"
But what is it that these temperamental, moody, headstrong or just plain bloody-minded restaurateurs hate about us? What do we do that is so infuriating that it can push them into such inhospitable rudeness as to show us the door?
An American magazine recently surveyed a group of prominent restaurateurs about the things that most annoyed them about their customers. All the usual suspects came up, including no-shows (those who book a table, and then don't turn up), people who want eight different bills for a table of eight, and people who insist on putting their meals together from the components of three or four different dishes.
Right up there with these hardened dining criminals are people who carry their drinks from the bar to the table, people who stand up at the table to greet friends or colleagues, and people who lean across the reception desk and point to their names in the reservations book. I confess to this last crime, if only in an effort to prove I have made a booking under the misspelt name of Mr Durkack, Mr Dorrock, Mr Bewrack or Mr Durex.
If you really want to test the patience of a restaurateur, you can always hang your coat over the back of your chair, help yourself to wine from the ice bucket, click your fingers to attract a waiter's attention and wander from table to table, greeting acquaintances. Better still, stay where you are and yell at them from your seat.
Then you could leave your mobile phone next to the pepper grinder, put your make-up on at the table, ask what's special tonight, tell the wine waiter every sin- gle little detail you know about the wine you've just ordered, and leave a cash tip under your plate.
It can't be long before restaurateurs take a leaf out of football's book, and introduce a new card or two to their usual rack of Diner's, Visa, Mastercard and Amex. When you do something a little silly, the waiter holds up a yellow card. When you do something seriously unacceptable, up comes a red card and you're out of there.
Not ideal, but there seems to be no other solution. Unless, of course, restaurateurs simply treat us as if we are guests in their homes, and we simply behave accordingly.
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