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Tag Archives: Restaurants

Put The Baby Down

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Picture if you will a lovely restaurant: equal parts festive and posh, a place where you’re as likely to spot birthday celebrations as celebrities. The lights are dim, the tablecloth routinely brushed to hide your shame and the prices are calibrated to reflect all this. It’s a proper time of night to be dining; somewhere between post early bird special and post theatre. It’s late enough that generous amounts of skin and inebriation are on display. As are the babies. And by ‘babies’ we are not casting dispersions on the nieces/dates of men eligible for monthly federal checks and movie discounts. We instead refer to actual babies too young to sit, let alone eat solids. Why? Why are babies having their night feeding in an upscale restaurant (late in the evening)? The babysitter canceled at the last minute? Perhaps, but that would suggest that a babysitter was procured in order for the adults to have an adult experience. If that were the case, upon cancelation wouldn’t the take-out menus come out? It’s more probable that the baby makes three, in every conceivable way.

The particular baby in question was silent (to the point where someone who maybe had one too many french martinis would’ve thought it was a doll and the whole thing was a prank.) Yet the (assumed) father futzed and fussed over the infant seat throughout the meal. There were bottles, there was bouncing, there was picking up and walking about (for a silent baby.) There’s a pretty good chance that the person being comforted was the father. Not everyone is comfortable in social situations. There is quite a continuum between introversion and extroversion, and most people are a wee bit closer to introversion. Sometimes a little psychic or physical prop is all that’s needed to smooth the way. Smoking once served that purpose. One could take long breaks from patter with a drag a flick or a light. Drinking has always served that purpose (and many more.) Having a glass of champagne while dressing, meeting for a drink before dinner, or ordering a drink before dinner are all ways to smooth out the awkward edges. There are people who use their own appearance to distance themselves and/or gain comfort in social situations. Style can be used as armor or distraction or even take the place of conversation. A grown person who’s dyed their hair bright blue sends a message of “let’s just talk about my hair.” A person who’s dressed in baggy neutrals while toting a small person styled for her/his close-up, is saying “please just focus on my child.”

The child as “detractor” is at its roots more neutral than noxious. If we had to choose only one of two parenting approaches, focusing on the child rather than ignoring the child would win hands down. But somewhere past “focusing” on the child lies “using” the child and that’s just plain icky. Children are not accessories and should not pave the way for adults. Using your child to ease your social phobias is no more kosher than using your child to fulfill your waylaid dreams. Sure there could be other reasons that baby or toddler is at the restaurant, wedding, funeral (!) or dinner party. But it is challenging to imagine any explanation that is actually in the best interest of the child. Children (of any age) actually benefit from other’s care. Creating a fear of non-family members increases the odds that a child will ‘inherit’ social phobias. A babysat child learns that other adults are trustworthy and that the world is not comprised of strangers. The child gains knowledge and perspective from other adults, and the parent creates/maintains/nurtures his/her own identity and relationships, which is an important thing to model for a child.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2013 in Childhood, Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service

There was a time when business establishments felt perfectly within their rights to set behavioral standards for their clientele.  These standards ranged from the sublime (jacket required) to the ridiculous (unescorted ladies forbidden.)  The hospitality was not the only public congregating business known to set behavioral standards.  Back in olden times, movie theater ushers policed the audience.  They wielded flashlights and a keen eye for misbehavior.  Paying patrons would be asked to leave if their behavior was deemed unacceptable.

Can you imagine that today?!  Well, why don’t we?

Why are we paying large amounts of money to dine out amidst loud cellphone chatting and wild child patrons?  Restaurant owners and maitre d’hotels are allowing it, because we have done nothing to erode their profits.  There are those of us diners who have asked to remove a screaming infant from a small restaurant (after 9:00 PM) to only then fear for our bodily safety.  We have exaggeratedly stared (a la Harpo Marx) at loud cellphone talkers only to be ignored.  (Of course we should have seen that coming, what with their obvious obliviousness.)  I have seen “no cellphone” signs on the doors of one or two shops.  But the request is made so that the shopkeeper need not be disturbed.  The customer (of any establishment) is left to fend for themselves.  There is absolutely no imperative for business owners to manage the ambiance, if we keep paying for abuse.

Far more grievous is the boorish behavior during performances.  Talking during the overture, rustling plastic bags, slurping from sippy cups, repeating dialogue, playing with cellphones, taking photos, and basically behaving as if one is in his or her living room watching television.  There is no acknowledgment of there being real live people performing, let alone other real live people in the audience.  The fact that theater managers and ushers seem to be hiding in the lobby while this behavior occurs is inexcusable.  Some of us have pointed out (illegal) photo taking to ushers only to be given the “oh you poor crazy woman” look.

I propose the radical step of printing on every ticket, ticket website, and Playbill the following message: “Any cellphones or cameras that are left on while inside the theater will be confiscated.”  Ushers, waiters, managers and the like must form the first line of defense.  Formalizing human behavior standards is sad, but it’s not new.  What do you think would happen if an audience member lit up a cigarette during a classical music concert?  We no longer tolerate this behavior, it is time to enforce what we once called common courtesy.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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A Not So Happy Meal

True story.  Two preschoolers walk into a restaurant and make a beeline for two gentlemen finishing their dinner.  The smaller of the foursome proceed in pawing and crawling on the larger.  The men have an unmistakably startled look upon their faces.  Their eyes dart frantically as their minds seem to race.  After a few moments a sleepwalking nanny appears, and in her wake a texting mother and a bombastic grandmother.  The nanny and matriarchs continue to ignore the children and the two men make haste through their coffee and check.  No doubt these women have sexual predator lists bookmarked on their handhelds, and Amber alerts on their Twitter feed.  But I digress.  The men fled and the disengaged family proceeded (not without much chaos, fuss, and noise) to their table.

This would be a good place to point out some key “setting” elements of the tale.  This occurred in a seafood restaurant.  Not the red plastic baskets filled with deep-fried seafood morsels type of seafood restaurant either.  Candlelight, white tablecloths, extensive champagne list, raw bar, kind of seafood restaurant.  Also of note is the time.  It was past 8:00 P.M.

Not surprisingly the behavior of the children, and the obliviousness of the adults, did not change in a sitting position.  The girl child brayed (continuously) and the boy child climbed on the table.  The behavior worsened as the time crept steadily past their bedtime.  The restaurant management did nothing.  Considering there is no child’s menu, perhaps the profit margin was simply too enticing

Any good story, especially one that hovers near horror, should have a moral.  What we learn here is that 1) 8:00 PM is not the adult hour any longer and 2) cost and formality are no longer a litmus for anything.  I am hesitant to move my dining time to a more adult hour, (say midnight?) knowing full well what obstacle courses I will encounter.  The later it gets, the drunker the diners get.  Stop into any restaurant around 11:00 or 12:00 and the volume will blow you back out the door.  Want to regain your composure in the ladies’ room?  Good luck elbowing past the women administering, what I can only imagine are homeopathic remedies, to each other.  Of course there is a gift-with-purchase entertainment quality to late night dining.  With a dining companion who’s game, an entire evening can be made of playing “who in this room is being compensated for their time?” or “how many people can we spot who have only moved their food around and have not lifted the fork.”  But by midnight, I’m usually too hungry or tired to be much good at the games.

May I suggest something wildly radical?  What if the nanny in this story took the children home to feed them and put them to bed.  How about if adults recognized that their actions affect others and being a parent by definition is a whole lot of sacrifice.  And since we’re on the subject, how about business owners, theatre managers and the like stop hiding in the broom closet.  What on earth is so scary about stating; “This is an adult establishment” or “If your children become disruptive we will ask you to leave.”  I can’t imagine restaurant owners, who are only as good as their restaurant’s reputation, really relish their lovely establishment resembling a chuck-e-cheese.  No business owner wants to hear the complaints of customers either.  Could it be that (gasp) no one is complaining?  If the music is too loud, do you not complain?  If the air conditioning too arctic, do you not complain?  If two free-range preschoolers are crawling on you, do you not complain and point out that you were going to order a couple of glasses of cognac, but now you’d just like the check?  Maybe we are all complicit.  Maybe we need to (baby) step it up just a bit and Occupy Adulthood.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Childhood

 

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Giving Judgment a Pass

Have you ever been accused of being judgmental?  The accuser usually has flung the “judgment” handle as a reflex.  Teased apart, the accuser usually means to say; “Yikes, that hit a bit close to home.”

Calling people judgmental, and meaning it as an insult, is a new phenomenon.  The antipathy of judgment seems to have cropped up in that organic garden which has also sprouted trophies for every player and honor student bumper stickers.  Everyone is above average!  Now clearly, in our most logical moments we can all agree that to be a force for good in the world you need to have judgment.  I don’t think the casual bon mots of “don’t judge me!” “you’re so judgmental!” are really meant as the rallying cry of a movement.  No thinking person actually would posit that humans are meant to go through life NOT processing information coming into their senses.  I suspect these cries are more of the “I’m too fragile to process your opinion” ilk.

What’s stunning about this development is that it seems to have happened during the cruelest of trends in entertainment and media.  How many television and radio shows, have ridicule as their raison d’etre?  How many magazine and newspaper articles are at their core, simply picking on people.  A governor’s weight is made fun of in the news cycle!  And lo, what the internet has wrought.  Websites dedicated to the fine art of snark.  Quasi-anonymous (they need to use catchy handles, so you know whom to consider pithy) posters, take an obvious glee in simply maligning others.  They are like an uncontrolled infection, leaping from opportunity to opportunity.  Few people, excluding shock jocks and cable news pundits, would ever spew the venom they do.

We, the spectator, are not much better.  We watch, with glee; the accidents, the vulgar child-killer trials, the reality shows, the talk shows.  It is our appetite for some bastardized form of schadenfreude that drives us to “Addiction” “Intervention” “Hoarding.”  We watch these shows because they are the ultimate judgment.  “You there on the television, you are not normal.”  We have a voracious appetite for ridicule when it serves our purposes.  But when judgment is not for entertainment purposes?  Or not cruel, but instead, instructive?  That’s just too harsh.

Truth is, critique is only welcome if it is in the abstract (film, theatre, television, restaurant reviews) or about others.  But in real life?  All finger paintings are works of genius.

 
 

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I’ll Have What She’s Having

Have you noticed the latest fall-out from the “restaurant as theatre” syndrome?  It seems now an expectation that the selection and consumption of food should be a communal experience.  Forks fly and plates are shuttled back and forth in an attempt to “try” as many menu items as possible.  To me this is somewhat tantamount to talking during a performance.  Please be quiet and please remove your fork from my plate.  I’d like to enjoy what I’ve selected without interruption please.

I am not anti-communal dining.  I enjoy a good potluck or buffet.  However there is something intrinsically self indulgent about dining out.  Perhaps it is just my emotional make-up that makes me relish having someone prepare something for me that I know I’ll enjoy.  I’m not interested in experiencing other people’s personal tastes or selections.  I would like just 30 minutes or so to enjoy exactly what I asked for.  Considering how rarely I dine out, I don’t feel too Veruka Salt saying this.

In the interest of full-disclosure, I’ve never been that great at group endeavors.  I failed at the one-week session of Girl Scout day camp, begging my mother to allow me to quit.  I was asked to leave Brownies after being inconsolable upon learning there would be no actual brownies.  The very idea of a sorority made my chest constrict.  I never did the “summer share.”  In fact my number one goal as a young adult was to rid myself of roommates and live alone.
Before one makes the logical conclusion; “sociopath!!!!” let me assure you, I am very socially functional and a good little sharer.  I toss books, clothes, shoes and advice, hither and yon.  I take great pleasure in the daily opportunities there are for human kindness.
But when it comes to mealtime, I’m not sure I’ve ever graduated past the Bread and Jam for Frances phase of life.  I (and my sister for that matter) could eat the same thing everyday for the remainder of our solid food lifetimes.  My packed lunchbox is as exciting to me as a Faberge Egg.  All morning I look forward to the predictable contents.  And for the record, I have been known to share some of it as well.

I’m just not that interested in what others choose to eat.  Make no mistake, I am thrilled to be invited to a homemade meal or catered affair.  I am not harboring any Howard Hughes idiosyncrasies about what I ingest.  It’s just that when I dine out, if it isn’t too much to ask, I’d rather not have the table turn into a giant lazy susan.  All personal food choices aside, isn’t it simply more civilized to not play Red Rover, Red Rover over a white tablecloth?

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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