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Rules for defense Sometimes in order to take a stand you need to have a strategy. For the past several years, as part of our annual Best Chefs issue, I have used this column to whale on about restaurant peeves. There have been many on the list, but the most consistent, the perennial, has been the tendency of restaurant personnel to whisk away plates before we are finished eating from them. In committing the act they always say something gleeful such as, “May I get these out of your way?” – my contention is that in a restaurant a plate is supposed to be in your way. It is also inappropriate to take away the plate of one person at a table until that person’s dining partner is also done. The plate removal sends a signal to the other person to shut up, hurry up and finish. So here’s a rule: • Always keep a bit of food on your plate until everyone at your table is finished eating, and until you are ready to surrender the dish. All it takes is a bite of broccoli, a pittance of potato or a touch of tomato. That way when the server, or busboy, makes a move you can say, “I’m still working on this.” Pretending to stab them in the hand with your fork is advisable only for repeat offenders. Only in the worst situations should the gesture go beyond pretending. A similar stance needs to be taken about drinks, particularly alcoholic ones. Recently my wine glass was whisked away without my noticing, although there was still a gulp or two left in it, (And given the markup price for wine, that was a dollar or so per gulp.) Therefore, another rule: • Always keep your drink glass clearly in front of you. Just like when you’re driving and you do not see a passing car approach because it is in the mirror’s blind spot, watch out for a quick hand moving in from the side. Keep the drink where you can easily detect aggression so that you can take defensive action accordingly. (See fork-stab above.) One peeve that used to be toward the bottom of the list but that is steadily barreling its way toward first place has to do with the customers, not the restaurant. It is: People who talk on cell phones at the table. Attention to all of those who do that: No one is impressed. You are boring those at the table with you. And because cell phone conversations tend to be louder than table talk, you’re annoying those around you. And, if you’re saying anything private we hear that too. Restaurants have a place for cell phone conversations; it is called “outside.” There – I have satiated my appetite for complaint. I’m done now. You can take this column away.

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