Hump Day: Dining experience is as much about style as it is about food

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript

My friend Bob and I have dined together hundreds of times, especially when we used to co-write the Two Fat Guys restaurant review column many years ago. (We no longer write the column.) Most restaurants were reasonably good. I think I only gave a couple of zeros out of a maximum rating of 10. It was rare – and it had to be an experience reminiscent of Armageddon to get me to be that tough.

We tried to give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. One waitress was wearing what was clearly a stained blouse – and I don’t mean just a little bit. We gave her a pass because she also appeared to be the only waitress – nay, the only employee – in the entire place. She was running around like a chicken with its head cut off and was more than a little frazzled. We gave her credit for still being on her feet and still being able to crack a smile when she served us.

Some experiences were amazing! I remember one magical piece of butterscotch pie. I swear I’m going to petition the provincial government to allow humans to marry pie. That’s how good it was. If you think same-sex marriage was controversial, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen me walking hand-in-hand down Main Street covered in butterscotch pie filling, holding an empty pie plate and yelling for my rights to be recognized. Oh, there’ll be protesters, I just know it. Probably those uptight blueberry pie lovers. My mama always told me never to trust anyone whose teeth were stained blue.

Food is one thing, but atmosphere was another. Some places were trying to emulate Antarctica with temperatures that only a penguin could love. Others were so warm that the chef just left a raw steak on your table and it was cooked five minutes later. Cutlery isn’t supposed to glow red.

singing waitersThe worst offender for ruining an atmosphere, though, was noise. If I’m sitting next to you in a restaurant and have to speak into a megaphone so you can hear me, it’s time for the restaurant to turn down the volume of the music. Sometimes, it wasn’t the music, it was the staff. One restaurant’s gimmick was to yell out every order that was ready for pick-up. ‘Boiled gazelle tongue with dishwater gravy for table 53!,’ a cook would yell at the top of his lungs.

It must have happened 25 times when we ate at that restaurant – and would always happen just when the din in the restaurant got tolerable. Just as you were starting to relax, another cook would yell out an order that was ready and the boiling hot coffee you had right at your lips would fly over your face after you got startled. At the end of the night, the waiter asked me if I wanted anything else. ‘Yes, a fresh pair of underwear would be nice because your chef wouldn’t stop scaring the daylights out of me.’

A few days ago, Bob and I went to eat at a popular local restaurant chain. This is one of those restaurants popular for birthday celebrations. I can see why! The birthday boy/girl has to wear a silly hat while staff members sing happy birthday. It’s all in good fun.

Well, it’s all in good fun until someone on the staff screams out in the restaurant, “Your attention please! Gertrude here is 107 today, so let’s all give her a round of applause!” This, of course, is after the entire staff walks through the restaurant clapping their hands and yelling toward the table where Gertrude is. It’s not exactly conducive to a relaxing night out on the town. I’ve heard quieter war zones. And at that age, Gertrude takes her life into her own hands whenever she sneezes, let alone gets yelled at.

After about 10 birthdays in the couple of hours we were there, I was ready to tackle one of the staff as soon as I saw them start to clap. They wouldn’t be standing up long with me hanging off their back. I’d hold their shoulders against the floor and tell them sternly, “That’s enough! No more clapping! No more yelling! Just stop! See what you did? You killed Gertrude!”

To dine out in peace and quiet from now on, it looks like I’m going to have to resort to sitting in an abandoned building with a dried-up baloney sandwich bought at a convenience store – as long as the rats don’t know how to clap and sing. Then it’s war!

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