Hunger Games, Restaurant Edition

It's My Dinner Out and I'll Cry If Want To

Hunger Games, Restaurant version

Eating out used to be special. It used to be fun. Now it’s noisy, crowded, pricy, and pretentious. It’s more hunger games, the restaurant edition, than fun and games.

Where to begin my list of dine out don’t likes? I know … at the front door.

Reservations about Reservations

More and more restaurants don’t accept reservations. And I’m not talking about A-lister-fancy-pants-LA-or-NYC hot spots. I mean Mom and Pop restaurants and B-B-Que joints, you know, the type of places we, the common folk, frequent.

I’m an organization freak and a planner. Not knowing if my friends and I will get into the restaurant of our choice throws my stomach into knots. Will we get a table? Will we sit down in time to dine leisurely and still make our movie? What if we don’t? What if? What if? This uncertainty is certain buzz kill for diner delight.

Now I understand the problem of no-shows and the impact on a restaurant’s bottom line, but dear Mr. Restaurateur, I’m a reliable, on-time diner. Why punish me for those nasty no-show folks? Why make me stand in line with all those huddled masses yearning to dine? Take non-refundable deposits. Impose a cancelation fee. I don’t care. Please just let me make a reservation!

It Takes More than Two

And this no reservation policy especially penalizes couples. If you’re a party of two seeking entry at a trendy no-reservation bistro, your chances of securing a prime-time table are zilch.

It’s ironic. The children are grown. We don’t need a babysitter and yet, the planning it takes to dine out has somehow gotten harder than ever. As the kids used to say (well, honestly, as they still say), “unfair.”

Hunger Games, the Restaurant Edition

Leave it to Handsome Hubby (HH). He’s devised a cunning workaround. Some restaurants will take reservations for large dinner parties. To overcome the dearth of tables a deux, we frequently invite people to form larger groups to en masse secure reservations. We may not like all the people we ask, but if we’re desperate enough to get into a hot spot, what the heck! All’s fair in love and food.

Belly Up to the Bar? How about the Table?

Even if you’re lucky enough to secure a table (“Oh, thank you, kind maître ‘d, for agreeing to take our money”), there’s a second crowding problem – table placement.

I get it. Rents are high. Space is at a premium, but still, placing tables practically cheek-to-jowl close is awkward and annoying. It’s downright embarrassing to dust the mere-inches-away adjacent table’s surface with my butt or my coat while squeezing my middle-aged, mid-sized frame into a seat. And I’m sure the people at that just-buffed table aren’t exactly thrilled either.

Can You Hear Me Now?

This dining-as-contact-sport raises another pet peeve of mine – noise levels. First, there’s the long-standing problem of the so-called background music that throbs like B-52s flying at low altitudes overhead, threatening to blast out your eardrums and your soul.

Now that I’m middle-aged, hearing somebody speaking is a challenge under normal circumstances. Factor in that blaring backbeat and it makes for a lot of nodding and a-huh-ing. I know one of these days I’m going to miss something important or nod a-huh at the wrong time. It’s enough to give a person indigestion!

And today, with the dinner tables placed elbow-to-elbow, you overhear (or at least sort of overhear) the conversations of total strangers to your right and to your left. And the idea of conducting your own intimate tete-a-tete is, of course, unthinkable and unattainable.

One dinner out, we sat beside a couple who were fighting. The man called the woman a “jerk.” She called him something worse. They practically came to blows. She finally threw her glass of wine at him, splattering me in the process. I don’t recall the vintage, but it did not pair well with my new powder blue silk blouse.

The Early Bird Gets Peace and Quiet

Remember the days of “early bird” dinner specials for older people? I used to think that marketing pitch was aimed at the wallets of senior citizens. Well, now that I’m older, I’d like to suggest a variation on that pitch, one aimed at our ears. “Dine early while our business is slow. We won’t cut prices, but we promise, we won’t blare the music!” Trust me, restauranteurs. my friends and I will come a-runnin’.

Snooty Sommeliers, Snootier Servers

I used to be intimidated by snooty sommeliers standing over me, extolling the virtues of various vintages with encyclopedic knowledge. It made me want to shout, “Make mine a Bud, Bud.”

Pedigreed sommeliers were bad enough, but now servers detail the origins of meat and produce with the specificity of genealogy experts. It goes on and on. All I want to know is “What’s good tonight? The steak or the other steak?” I know. A foodie I am not. Kale salad? Arugula? No thanks. Give me iceberg lettuce any day. And skip the farm-family pedigree. Just serve it up quick. I’m starving.

Servers’ sourcing serenades always remind me of HH’s favorite joke: “Waiter, how do you prepare your chicken?” “Oh, we just tell them they’re going to die.”

And on that note, I end this dining out lament. I’ve got to get going … into the kitchen … sigh … and cook dinner. Bon appetit, y’all!