June 13, 2011
Trying to get submissions to our last Inviting Writing on food and sickness, which I kicked off with a tale of ice cream and a wisdom tooth extraction, was like pulling teeth. So let’s try this again with a new theme, one that folks might find a little more serviceable: waiters and waitresses. Whether from the perspective of the server or the served, surely everyone who has ever eaten out has a tale to tell—good or bad (whole websites have sprung up for waiters to air their grievances about customers from hell, and the favor is frequently returned in the comments sections of online forums).
So let’s hear about your best, worst or funniest dining-out experience. Send your true, original personal essays to FoodandThink@gmail.com with “Inviting Writing” in the subject line by Friday, June 17. We’ll read them all and post our favorites on subsequent Mondays. Remember to include your full name and a biographical detail or two (your city and/or profession; a link to your own blog if you’d like that included). I’ll get things started.
by Lisa Bramen
During my freshman year of college I lived in the dorms. I became friends with a group of girls who were brash, confident, opinionated and outspoken, qualities I admired but didn’t share. We cracked ourselves up inventing alter egos, like a group of physicians (or were they professors? I don’t remember) with nonspecific foreign accents—Dr. Ohmygoshohgolly, Dr. Lickasipasuck and Dr. Geewhizcheezwhiz among them—or crank-calling the brother of the actor who played Bobby Brady on the Brady Bunch. We’d yell, “Bobby Brady!” into the phone before hanging up. Notice I didn’t include “mature” in the list of admirable qualities.
Eating out was a rare luxury; most nights we ate in the dining hall. For a change of pace we would pile into my ’81 Toyota Corolla-Tercel, which had both the dimensions and engine power of a riding lawn mower, and head for the mall to dine on 49-cent burritos from Taco Bell.
Even after we moved out of the dorms and into apartments, eating at a real restaurant with waiters and silverware—not sporks—was a special occasion. But one night, deciding that we should have a “reunion” (ridiculous since we all still went to the same college), about six of us met up at a fondue restaurant that had the dual virtues of an affordable set menu and a lax carding policy (at least a couple of us were still under legal drinking age).
We were seated outside on the patio. We were a boisterous group, especially once we had a few glasses of wine in us. We were also naïve. None of us realized, when the waiter suggested a different option than what we had originally planned on, that we had been up-sold to a higher-priced menu.
We had a great time, stuffed ourselves and played the usual fondue games—traditionally if someone drops their bread into the fondue, they have to kiss the person next to them, but knowing our group we probably turned it into a drinking game.
Then the bill came. It was a lot more than we had been expecting. A lot. A couple of the more assertive girls in the group brought the matter up with the waiter, explaining that we hadn’t realized we were ordering such an expensive meal and that we couldn’t afford it. They didn’t get very far—the waiter insisted that we had been given what we had ordered. We asked for the manager, but he wasn’t willing to compromise, either. The discussion turned into an argument.
Angry and feeling cheated, a couple of my friends finally got up from the table and suggested we all leave. The others followed, me included. I didn’t want to get in trouble, but I also wasn’t about to stay and be caught paying the whole bill. One of the waiters shouted that he was calling the police. If we were smart, we would have used the fact that they had served alcohol to minors as a bargaining chip, but in the chaos it never occurred to us.
Things went from bad to worse when the waiter grabbed the purse of one of my friends, probably the feistiest in the bunch. With the purse still strapped around her arm, she was trapped. I saw panic in her face as she used her free arm to reach for a fondue fork from the nearest table. She clenched it in her fist like a dagger and warned the waiter to let her go.
I was mortified: now we were really in trouble. I was fairly sure she wasn’t going to spear the guy with the flimsy fork, which would be a pretty ineffectual weapon anyway. Unless she aimed for a vulnerable spot the worst damage it would probably cause was superficial puncture wounds from the three tiny tines. What would they charge her with? Assault with a funny weapon*? Still, I knew that threatening someone, even with a fondue fork, wasn’t going to look good to the police.
Fortunately, by the time they arrived the crisis had been defused and no one mentioned the fork incident to the police. The officers listened to both sides and negotiated a deal—we would pay most, but not all, of the bill, and no one would go to jail. We agreed, paid and left.
Within a few years my friends and I had all gone our separate ways and lost touch. Through the magic of Facebook, though, a few of us have reconnected. I am happy to report that everyone grew up to be responsible, successful adults: an English teacher, a computer specialist, a stay-at-home mother. As far as I know, none of us has returned to the fondue restaurant.
*Apparently, assault with a fondue fork is more serious than I realized. Last year a Florida woman was charged with aggravated battery after stabbing her boyfriend repeatedly with a fondue fork.
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