Any child of New Orleans learns at a very early age how to behave in public and, in particular, how to act in restaurants. We take this basic axiom for granted simply because we, from a very early age, are creatures of our environment.
Since we all seem to crave social interaction, something instilled in us either through our DNA or because we are always going to and from balls, parties, dinners, games, parades, festivals, friends’ houses, college gatherings, commemorations, second lines, the Quarter, the Marigny, restaurants, dive bars, concerts, the beach and on and on. A child of New Orleans is indeed a child of the world – at least this interesting interpretation of the world.
From all of this, we pretty much know how to act in a wide variety of circumstances. If you grew up in, say, Kansas City, maybe these social expectations of behavior would not be so evident. But going through childhood, puberty and then maturity in New Orleans means, or should, that you “get it.”
That being said, possibly this incomplete listing of The Simple Rules is superfluous, unnecessary, or, at the worst, insulting. Before you pick up rocks to hurl them in my direction, at least review these truisms. If you still feel I have wasted valuable web space, okay, then hurl your epithets, keeping in mind that we have all seen, maybe even been, violators of The Simple Rules, or worse, people who flaunt them.
(Before I bravely go willy nilly into the breach, let me ask for absolution from my fellow bloggers on this site who cover, far better than me, restaurants, foods, and social experiences while I remain focused on adult beverages. I must, and please forgive, stray beyond the usual boundaries which are not sacrosanct but are to be respected. I will, when I have relieved myself of this burden, return to my place, never to tread into your domain, at least until the next time, which, unmercifully, is next Wednesday.)
The Simple Rules
* Show respect for yourself and your fellow diners. While your stories are, no doubt, hilarious, maybe even significant, keep them among your dining companions at your table. The rest of us have stories too and we would appreciate your consideration of our space and our ears. If we are all telling tales at an audio level more appropriate to the response of a Drew Brees touchdown pass in the Dome, there will be an incredible sound level in the restaurant. Which lately, there has been in every dining establishment I have frequented.
* The Chef has a pretty good idea of what he has in the kitchen that is fresh and he has created a daily special that he thinks makes best use of the raw product. Pay attention to it. You may not want it but the Daily Special gives you a pretty good idea of where matters are at that moment. The Chef is usually willing to use the main ingredient in his dish, usually fish, and the accompanying vegetables in ways that may satisfy you. Give full consideration to all of it.
* Ordering a wine you do not know is a bad idea. Restaurant wine pricing is not in your favor. Stick with what you know, maybe with a little deviation. If you like Pinot Noir from Russian River in California, you may very well enjoy a Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast – just a bit north of your favorite area. But in the main, stick with a product you know. And for gosh sake, don’t order at the top end of the pricing scale off the wine list, unless it’s an outrageous celebration, like hitting the PowerBall, or you have more money than God. The profit mark-ups on the higher end of a wine list are astronomical.
* A corollary to the above rule is that if a wine is flawed, truly bad because of cork issues, heat experiences, age, or something inherent in the wine, then you are allowed to send it back after you have smelled it and tasted it. You are not allowed to reject a wine simply because you don’t like it. Hence, the “stick with what you know” rule just above. Oh, and if you do reject a bottle of wine because of internal flaws, you are allowed to take a sip to determine its status. You are not allowed to finish half the bottle and then complain.
* If you have something specific that you would like the bartender to make for you, now is the time. They love to do that. But write down your order/preferences. Don’t rely on the waiter understanding you, then telling the bartender who is dealing with 8 people at the bar waiting for drinks, and remembering every ingredient that’s important to you. By writing it down, you can save a lot of back and forth with the drink and frustration for everyone involved, namely you.
* Be smooth. If you need to catch the waiter’s attention, watch him/her for just a bit. Then when they look at you, make a small gesture with your head or your hand that communicates, “Come see me, please.” No need to shout out across a big area, or to snap fingers, or to get up and approach the server, or to make loud conversation among your dining companions in hopes that the server will hear while in the meantime everyone in the Zip Code will also know you need some help.
*Make a reservation and honor it. If your plans change, call the restaurant as early as you can and tell them you will need to cancel or alter the sacred trust. Just not showing up is inconsiderate and unnecessarily costs the restaurant money. Along those lines, be on time. If you are going to be a little late, call the restaurant so they can handle all of their guests properly.
* If your group is dividing the check among multiple payers, tell the waiter well before the moment of having the bill presented. Share this information when the table orders the meal. It’s easier on the staff to know who is paying for what as early as possible rather than waiting until the end when the invoice had been requested.
* If you have been drinking a bit, maybe to the point of a bit too much, go slower in all aspects. Slow down the consumption. Slow down making judgments about service or food quality. Slow down the desire to confront “issues.” And slow down your temperament, particularly if you have a propensity to establish with complete authority who is in charge and where is your space. If you are at this point, put down the alcohol and start in on the iced tea, coffee, lemonade or just plain water. Don’t continue to drink anything with a lot of sugar, which includes more alcohol.
In my opinion, none of these Simple Rules are up for debate. When they are respected and followed, the dining experience in public becomes more enjoyable, more rewarding, and more fun for all concerned.
Now, let’s go eat!