Talkin’ ‘Bout The Tippy Table

The restaurant makeover shows on cable TV tackle some tough problems.  The food is frozen dreck.  The management is dysfunctional.  The kitchen is a pigsty.  The staff is rude.  And the decor is kitschy, or dust-covered, or otherwise hideous.

IMG_1174I’ve never seen a show address one of the most irksome things you can find in a restaurant.  I’m talking about the tippy table.

Kish and I experienced the tippy table at a Nashville bistro.  We were led to one of those indoor/outdoor patio areas with an awning.  We sat down, enjoyed some chit chat, perused the menu, and ordered our meals.  When the waiter brought out soft drinks and we leaned forward, however, it happened — that sudden, annoying dip where one side of the table jerks down suddenly, and you realize you are saddled with a tippy table.  Gah!

When you confront the tippy table, there are no good options.  At a busy venue, there are no other tables available.  If you try to fix it, you spend half your meal under the table, carefully wedging Sweet ‘n Low packets and folded pieces of torn napkins under the legs, trying to engineer a stable table.  Then one of the sugar packets slides out, and you’re back to that vexing tippiness.  So you try to deal with the issue by moving gingerly, placing undue weight on your right forearm to try to lock the table down so tipping is impossible.  But an unconscious move toward the salt brings that infuriating ka-thunk, and you’re back to thinking more about the tippy table than about your meal or your dining companion.

A tippy table can ruin an otherwise excellent meal.  If I owned a restaurant, I would instruct the waiters to begin every shift by walking through the restaurant, touching every table to expose latent tippiness, and addressing any problems before guests arrived and had to endure a tippy table.

Dealing With The Overly Intrusive Waiter

Yesterday I went to lunch with a group of friends.  Shortly after we sat down we all realized, with a groan, that we had been cursed with an overly intrusive waiter.

It wasn’t difficult to reach that conclusion.  He would hang around our table, clearly eavesdropping on our conversation, and then offer his extended and thoroughly unwelcome comments about whatever we were discussing — be it music, or weddings, or whether the restaurant in question would be a good place for a first date.  After the third or fourth such incident, I felt like checking under the table or looking behind nearby chairs to confirm that the waiter wasn’t lurking nearby, ready to spring up and offer another lame joke or awkward self-reference.

I’m sure he thought his trenchant observations and amusing anecdotes culled from the rich tapestry of his life were adding immeasurably to the enjoyment of our meal.  We, on the other hand, came to dread his presence and windy comments like the people of the Middle Ages came to dread the bubonic plague.

I suppose there’s a well-mannered way to tell the overly intrusive waiter that he’s ruining the meal, but I don’t know how.  So we all sat, listening politely as he talked, and talked, and talked, and hoped that our lack of affirmation or follow-up questions would send an obvious message that we weren’t interested in what he had to say.  Unfortunately, the waiter utterly lacked the sensitivity to pick up on those signals.  And every second we had to listen to the blatherings of this complete stranger cost us a second of each other’s company.

I used to be a waiter and still admire those in the food-service industry, but there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed.  Waiters should be friendly, sure . . . but mostly they should be responsive and ready to serve.  Tell us the daily specials, keep the drink glasses filled, take our orders, and bring us our food and, eventually, the check — but otherwise please leave us alone!

The Blowhard Next Door

Have you ever had an otherwise pleasant dining experience marred by the fact that you sat next to some blowhard?  It happened to us last night.

I didn’t notice the couple when we passed their table and were seated at the next table over.  As soon as we were seated, however, I heard the guy’s droning nasal voice yammering non-stop, with nary an interruption from his unfortunate dining companion.  I tried hard to tune it out — really, I did — but his voice was so loud and insistent in explaining some mind-numbing workplace occurrence that it kept intruding into our dinner table conversation.  I think he was a professor or literary type; at one point he actually held forth on how quotation marks should always precede punctuation marks.  (Seriously!)  This tweedy tool was so dull and self-absorbed he could have bored his own mother.

When the couple finally left it was a relief, but there was one last moment of interest.  As they were gathering their things, the guy, perhaps experiencing a faint moment of self-awareness, finally asked the woman a question, about one of her friends.  When she said the friend had been on a respirator for 45 days — I swear I am not making this up! the guy didn’t know what to say, so he muttered something, then said, brightly, “let’s do it again soon!”

I sat with my back to the couple and I never turned around, although I was tempted.  I’m not sure what the appropriate etiquette is in that situation, although I expect it doesn’t involve telling the Leaden Professor to shut his yap and stop boring the entire restaurant with his dim-witted yakking.