After reading the reaction to the initial post banning certain types of people from restaurants, it seems like many of you feel like I'm a bitter waiter. While I'm definitely bitter, I'm no longer in the hospitality business (unless you count the occasional times when I tend bar at private parties). Some of you commented many times (shout out to the Grand Poobah Editor of the Internet, who left 11 of the 49 comments) in an attempt to drown out everyone else.
Well, I'm not done banishing people from restaurants yet. There are a host of egregious violations of restaurant etiquette yet to be covered. Some of these were contributed by commenters in the first article.
1. The Lecturer
I had a date recently with someone who decided to use our time together to lecture me about my food habits. She was full of crackpot theories about balance between different types of food; I'm pretty sure she used every hippie touchword from here to the premiere of Hair while criticizing every choice I made. (Did I mention this was our one and only date?)
"You know, that's full of fat. If you eat fat, you'll get fat." (Too late.)
"It's a bad idea to eat cruciferous vegetables in conjunction with carbohydrates. It will discolor your aura." (Yes, seriously.)
"Don't drink alcohol. Hangovers are a way of culling the herd; you run slower with a hangover." (I'll be sure to check outside my front door for slavering coyotes before I go out tomorrow morning.)
Nothing sucks all the joy out of eating in a restaurant like being frog-marched down someone's particular version of the straight and narrow.
2. The Kitchen Invader
There is one way to assure that you'll get yourself kicked out of a busy restaurant: walk into the kitchen and start talking to people.
It seems impossible that people would be this completely stupid, but some people are convinced that they can walk in to a place with boiling liquids, fire, and sharp knives and strike up a distracting conversation. Even if it's complimentary–your duck was awesome, was it confit in-house–it's distracting, rude, and potentially dangerous.
If you absolutely have to talk to the chef, ask your server to pass a message along to see if he or she has time to come out and chat. If not, it's quite possible that the kitchen is too busy, or perhaps the chef doesn't feel like validating the idea that you're someone who can call a chef out of a kitchen.
3. The Snoggers
If you're lucky, this has happened to you: you have a hot date, everything just clicks into place, you bond immediately over the pre-dinner apéritif in the bar down the street, and by the time the pasta hits the table, you've migrated 165 degrees around the table and are busy tasting each other's appetizers after they've been eaten.
This is fine, and everyone secretly cheers for the people who made a love (or, uh, lust) match, but seriously, get a room. Ask for the food to go. Wink knowingly at the server. Tip well (come on, you're on a roll here, don't wreck out on the last curve), and repair forthwith to one or the other of your pads.
Why? Because, as my Aunt Clara used to say, when your lips or tongue are stuck out past your nose, you know you're being rude.
4. The Importer
The first time I saw someone bring their own food in from another place, I was stunned. This wasn't some truck stop with five of America's ubiquitous national fast-food chains; this wasn't bringing a Wendy's bag to Del Taco. No, this was a nice New American place on the Upper East Side, where the menu advertised such wonders as curry soup with mussels, chopped salad with homemade cheese, and an unbelievable roast chicken carved tableside. I was there with my aunt and cousin, and we watched as someone walked in with a bag from the Italian restaurant on the next corner. They transferred the food to the café's plates, ordered a bottle of wine, and ate with gusto, to our horror.
If you honestly can't eat at the restaurant but still want to socialize, just go and don't eat; it's actually less rude than bringing your own food. Occupying a place setting and ordering, say, iced tea says "I already ate but want to be part of this group." Bringing food from home or, worse, next door says, "I don't think your food is good enough for me."
5. The Oblivious Parents
One of the worst restaurant experiences I ever had was at a Wolfgang Puck café in Los Angeles, where we were trying to have a quiet dinner while a large table next to us divided into groups. The grandparents and parents sat there chatting idly and sipping wine; the nannies sat at a different table looking sullen and ineffectual while their charges played extra-loud conga line through the restaurant, climbing under my table. Let's count: that's three layers of authority who were completely ignoring the little barbarians running around.
Look, no one expects children to be statues, but there's a difference between excited talking ("LOOK MOMMY THEY HAVE MAC 'N CHEESE!") and endless screaming, between walking nicely to the front to see the fish tank and running underfoot while servers carry hot food through the aisles.
I say this as a parent who has had to remove my normally well-behaved child from restaurants on dozens of occasions, often with only the thinnest veneer of patience: no matter how terrible a day you've had, no matter how little your kids listen to you, you are making them other people's problems. You don't get to pretend the kids aren't with you until they're actually not with you. Stop it.
Interestingly, and perhaps controversially, the parents I've met who are best at managing their children's behavior in restaurants are those with children on the autism spectrum; because overstimulation is so overwhelming for those kids, the parents always, always have contingency plans, whether it's sitting quietly at the booth where the napkins are being folded, or just asking for the food to be packed up.