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Nora Ephron's NYT Rant on Service


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#1 cdh

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 06:55 AM

I was reading the NY Times Op-Ed page recently and found this piece by Nora Ephron. Is it just me, or is this the most grating, whiney, annoying bit of self-indulgence ever memorialized in print?

Poor Nora is annoyed at sea salt, and at pepper grinders, and at glassware selection for her Pellegrino, and at the size of dessert spoons, and at servers who dare to speak to her and her dining companions. Her "problems" only afflict those fortunate enough to dine regularly at white-tablecloth restaurants, and for more well-adjusted diners, I'd doubt they're problematic. What possessed the Times to print this drivel? It belongs in her diary, where it will be safely locked away from the rest of the world, so nobody else has to put up with it... or do any of our fellow eGulletiers share her concerns?

Edited by cdh, 14 September 2006 - 07:14 PM.

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#2 bandregg

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 07:13 AM

W O W !

I agree with exactly one of Ms. Ephron's complaints, which is Waiters asking about the food before you've really been given a chance to taste it and take it all in. But, man of man, the rest of that piece is the most self-indulgent crap I've read in a long time.

From, "We’ve been at the table for exactly three minutes and somehow we’ve managed to empty an entire bottle of Pellegrino." Right, except it's still there, just in your glasses. It isn't gone!
To, "it’s not what I consider salt. It’s what’s known as sea salt. (Sea salt used to be known as kosher salt, but that’s not an upscale enough name for it any more.) Sea salt comes in an itty-bitty dish with an itty-bitty spoon." Which is just factually wrong and seems to point out that she lacks proper muscle control to use that small spoon.

I'm also having a hard time wrapping my mind around someone who a) wants Pelligrino, and b) would rather have pre-ground pepper and table salt.

Given the titles of her previous works and their categorization by Amazon as humor it's clear that she's trying to be funny, really trying, really really trying. And failing.
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#3 Sneakeater

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 07:25 AM

Her "problems" only afflict those fortunate enough to dine regularly at white-tablecloth restaurants,

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Most of the non-hard-news items the Times prints concern only those who are of the type fortunate enough to be able to dine regularly at white-table restaurants. I remember when I was a lower-middle-class teenager starting to read the Times instead of the tabloids, I couldn't believe there actually existed a world that corresponded to the one in which its features appeared to take place. It seemed to be written on another planet.

#4 Fat Guy

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 08:03 AM

It was a weak and ignorant piece from the standpoint of the food-knowledgeable minority, however I bet it resonated with the majority. I hear all of those complaints, often. If I'm giving a presentation about my book to a live audience at a Barnes & Noble, you can be sure a middle-aged lady's hand will shoot up and that she'll gripe about the lack of salt on the table or something along those lines. I'm just surprised Nora didn't include the "it's so dark I need a flashlight to read the menu" complaint -- that's the one I hear the most.

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#5 Nancy HM

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 08:39 AM

Gee, I thought it was readable and funny. A nice break from the relentless doom and gloom on the editorial page.

#6 Shannon_Elise

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 09:02 AM

May I please have the 45 seconds it took to read that piece back? I could really use it to apply lip gloss or tie my shoe - both of which are activities I find more enjoyable than that. Does she really want to see the salt shaker, with its rice to keep it from clumping that looks like small bugs, on the table? And could she please insert the word Pellagrino in her piece one more time? I don't think the 50 times it was included was enough.

In all seriousness though, she makes it clear that this happens at most of the places she goes out to and that certain courses and utensils always suck. Then why does she still go out to dine? Even the flow of the piece seemed jagged and uneven to me and left me with the worst question to have after reading an editorial or opinion piece: "What was the point?"
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#7 JohnL

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 09:16 AM

I was reading the NY Times Op-Ed page recently and found this piece by Nora Ephron.  Is it just me, or is this the most grating, whiney, annoying bit of self-indulgence ever memorialized in print?

Poor Nora is annoyed at sea salt, and at pepper grinders, and glassware selection for Pellegrino, and at the size of dessert spoons, and at servers who dare to speak to her and her dining companions.  Her "problems" only afflict those fortunate enough to dine regularly at white-tablecloth restaurants, and for more well-adjusted diners, I'd doubt they're problematic.  What possessed the Times to print this drivel?  It belongs in her diary, where it will be safely locked away from the rest of the world, so nobody else has to put up with it...  or do any of our fellow eGulletiers share her concerns?

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I agree wholeheartedly!
The piece has no humor whatsoever.
A good rant can be hilarious--the over the top nature and out of proportion anger and frustration are pretty funny as are pieces loaded with sarcasm.. Bourdain is a master.
This isn't even a poor rant.

Goin the other way and being subtle and clever is also funny. Calvin Trillen or Steingarten etc
This ain't that either.

What it is --is a humorless, unclever whine by a notoriously self absorbed woman.
Even someone with a modicum of intelligence and a modest sense of humor could do a decent job skewering the affectations and customs of modern dining.

I will also add that I am sick and tired of writers of all political persuasions gratuitously interjecting their politics into non political pieces.
But then what do I know--Charlie Rose seems to like her!

#8 cakewalk

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 09:28 AM

I can't say I minded the article so much. But I definitely did mind the fact that it appeared on the NY Times op-ed page. I mean really. I get annoyed at the self-indulgence of the Sunday Styles section, so I don't want to see it creeping into the op-eds. Anyway, Nora Ephron has a new book out (you must have noticed), and she must have a lot of connections all over the place, because she (and her neck) is appearing all over the friggin' place these days. But I can't believe anyone would take that article as a serious commentary about restaurants or food or anything else. It was just another opportunity for Nora Ephron's name to appear somewhere.

#9 Pontormo

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 09:31 AM

I am perplexed by the vitriol. The short piece that runs at the time that the author's new book is being released is not to your liking.

You find Ephron's litany of complaints whiny and trivial, yet a thread is devoted to complaining how insubstantial it is?
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#10 Mimi Sheraton

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 11:25 AM

It was a weak and ignorant piece from the standpoint of the food-knowledgeable minority, however I bet it resonated with the majority. I hear all of those complaints, often. If I'm giving a presentation about my book to a live audience at a Barnes & Noble, you can be sure a middle-aged lady's hand will shoot up and that she'll gripe about the lack of salt on the table or something along those lines. I'm just surprised Nora didn't include the "it's so dark I need a flashlight to read the menu" complaint -- that's the one I hear the most.

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I seem to remember starting a thread on the absence of table salt on this site earlier this year. I agree with Ephron on it primarily because it indicates that the chef has wrested control from the dinerand I resent that. I have been trying to find out when salt withdrawal began -- some time in mid 70s when chef's became superstars...No reason not to have ground sea salt on table. I believe I recommended that we each carry a big box of Diamond kosher coarse salt and plunk it mid-table if no salt is there. Also, does anyone know if kosher salt is sea salt as Ephron implied? That would surprise me..Coarse yes, but sea?
Re: Pellegrino..what annoys me more is when passing busboy pours tap water into my glass of mineral water..The water glass should be a separate design not used for anything else so that would not happen...unless of course busboy is shape-blind.

#11 tommy

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 11:33 AM

Re: Pellegrino..what annoys me more is when passing busboy pours tap water into my glass of mineral water..The water glass should be a separate design not used for anything else so that would not happen...unless of course busboy is shape-blind.

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you see, *that's* the way to complain (and a real actual valid complaint by any barometer) and be funny and clever about it. Nora should pay attention to Mimi I'd say.

Nora's piece read like the very unfunny chain emails that i get, usually sent by unfunny friends or associates.

#12 Dave the Cook

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 11:52 AM

. . . .
Also, does anyone know if kosher salt is sea salt as Ephron implied? That would surprise me..Coarse yes, but sea?
. . . .

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Almost all of the salt sold in this country is produced by vacuum evaporators, including the two major brands of Kosher salt. This industrial process, the main point of which (besides crystallization of course) is to remove impurities, begs the question of whether or not the brine came from the sea, since it's impurities that give sea salt its allure.

The salient characterisitcs of Kosher salt are crystal size and shape (there are a couple of ways to go about this) and rabbinical supervision.

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#13 Megan Blocker

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 12:51 PM

. . . .
Also, does anyone know if kosher salt is sea salt as Ephron implied? That would surprise me..Coarse yes, but sea?
. . . .

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Almost all of the salt sold in this country is produced by vacuum evaporators, including the two major brands of Kosher salt. This industrial process, the main point of which (besides crystallization of course) is to remove impurities, begs the question of whether or not the brine came from the sea, since it's impurities that give sea salt its allure.

The salient characterisitcs of Kosher salt are crystal size and shape (there are a couple of ways to go about this) and rabbinical supervision.

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And the texture, size and shape are ideal for koshering (sorry, don't know the technical term) meat - drawing blood out and readying it for consumption.

From what I understand, anyway.
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#14 FabulousFoodBabe

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 03:21 PM

This piece was, to me, nothing new. What puzzles me most is how upset people on this thread seem to be over it. Of course, I'm the only person I know who thought the "on the side" stuff in "When Harry Met Sally" was annoying, and "I'll have what she's having" was not funny at all.

Of course, Heartburn was hilarious, every bit of it.

If I'm giving a presentation about my book to a live audience at a Barnes & Noble, you can be sure a middle-aged lady's hand will shoot up and that she'll gripe about the lack of salt on the table or something along those lines.


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#15 bandregg

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 04:17 PM

I seem to remember starting a thread on the absence of table salt on this site earlier this year. I agree with Ephron on it primarily because it indicates that the chef has wrested control from the diner and I resent that.

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Ah, but not all chefs leave salt off of the table because they believe themselves to be the arbiters of taste. One of my favorite local chefs does it because the table just gets too cluttered with stuff otherwise. He's happy to provide as much salt as a diner wants and even says, "I'm not the one who gets to say what's right for you."
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#16 Kent D

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 06:37 PM

I'll reserve any impressions I might have Ms. Ephron, and her work, as I'm really not that acquainted with either, being a Midwestern hick, and when I was assigned to read the NYT in college, I really couldn't identify with the world portrayed there, either, but GEEZ, that woman is a pretentious, self-absorbed, pompous little whiner. How can she find ANYONE who would want to dine with her? Guess she must pick up the check.
It would almost appear that she wants bad, inattentive service, while simultaneously dictating stringent conditions of food preparation and presentation. She must be a very pathetic, unhappy person...but apparently, we all know that already.
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#17 Megan Blocker

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 06:40 PM

I'll reserve any impressions I might have Ms. Ephron, and her work, as I'm really not that acquainted with either, being a Midwestern hick...

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We-ell, if you've seen When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle, then you're familiar with her work...she wrote them both, I think, and directed Sleepless.
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#18 Fat Guy

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 06:43 PM

I didn't experience outrage when I read the piece. I experienced pity. Here we have someone who is or was a top-notch writer, presenting a poorly written piece that lacks the insight of the average eG Forums post. It's also sad for the Times op-ed page, which must have been doing someone a favor here. I mean, really, if I had submitted this piece they would have thrown it in the trash and not even bothered to acknowledge receiving it.

To expand upon what Mr. The Cook said, in one sense, all salt is sea salt: it's either harvested from the oceans, or mined from underground deposits left by oceans from a zillion years ago. But in the literature there is a distinction made between sea salt and rock salt. Kosher salt is rock salt, not sea salt -- I think most people who have looked into the matter would tell you that Nora Ephron is wrong on that point, though I'm sure she was speaking in a non-technical sense. The differences between kosher salt and table salt are two: kosher salt comes in larger crystals and is not iodized. It's called kosher salt not because it's uniquely kosher (salt is kosher anyway, kind of like water or a potato) but because it's used in the kashering process.

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#19 Miami Danny

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 06:45 PM

FYI-Kosher salt is NOT Kosher, but is used in the koshering of meats, i.e., to draw out blood. No Rabbis are involved in the making of Kosher salt

#20 Fat Guy

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 07:13 PM

I believe if the salt's packaging bears a hecsher (like the O-U symbol) then a mashgiach (who may or may not be a rabbi) has at least periodically inspected the processing and packaging facilities. However, in looking at packages of salt on the supermarket shelves, kosher salt is no more likely to bear a hechsher than regular salt -- pretty much all salt sold commercially on a large scale seems to have a hechsher. Meanwhile, to be clear, it's not the hechsher or the mashgiach that makes salt kosher. Salt comes to us kosher from the sea or from the ground. It's not like meat, where you have to do something to it to make it kosher. The purpose of supervision is to ensure that it hasn't, for example, come in contact with equipment that, on alternate weeks, is used to make bacon-salt.

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#21 cdh

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 07:17 PM

Ohhhh.... I must now thank Ms. Ephron for writing that piece, because from this discussion I've now been introduced to the idea of bacon-salt. The One True Condiment has been revealed.
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#22 Kent D

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 07:31 PM

I'll reserve any impressions I might have Ms. Ephron, and her work, as I'm really not that acquainted with either, being a Midwestern hick...

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We-ell, if you've seen When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle, then you're familiar with her work...she wrote them both, I think, and directed Sleepless.

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Oh, then ICCH, I am acquainted with her work. "Sleepless" put me to sleep, and my wife does that "Everything on the side" thing...annoys the CRAP out of me. And she's threatened to do that other thing Meg Ryan's famous for in a restaurant some time. Every dinner with her is an adventure in fear...
and who can hook me up with a steady supply of bacon-salt -- that would be GREAT on eggs!

Edited by Kent D, 14 September 2006 - 07:32 PM.

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#23 Holly Moore

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 07:46 PM

I agree with Ms. Ephron on a few points.

My pettest pet restaurant peeve is the clueless server who must interupt a diner mid bite to robtically ask, as if he really cares, "How is everything."

Equally as pretention as a chef barring salt from the dining room is a chef who underseasons a dish as some diners may be on a no/low salt diet, punishing the rest of us who either don't care or are willing to push our luck. A chef should properly season any dish that comes out of his kitchen unless a diner requests no salt. Another reason I object to a restaurant not putting salt on the table is the implication that any customer who requests a salt shaker is criticizing the chef's skill.

The same goes for grinding pepper tableside. Same seasoning rationale as above. If a dish requires fresh ground pepper, let the chef include it as part of the dish's seasoning. If pepper is needed, perhaps the server should roll a seasoning cart to a table so diners can add any other missing herbs or spices . Only exceptions, eggs or a baked potato.
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#24 Catriona

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 12:44 AM

I'm highly amused with this thing about the size of the spoon.

Perhaps she should use the "itty-bitty" salt spoon to eat her dessert if she's not disciplined enough to take small bites with her enormous dessert spoon. Or perhaps inhaling molecules of it would be small enough.

#25 Mimi Sheraton

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 07:08 AM

I seem to remember starting a thread on the absence of table salt on this site earlier this year. I agree with Ephron on it primarily because it indicates that the chef has wrested control from the diner and I resent that.

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Ah, but not all chefs leave salt off of the table because they believe themselves to be the arbiters of taste. One of my favorite local chefs does it because the table just gets too cluttered with stuff otherwise. He's happy to provide as much salt as a diner wants and even says, "I'm not the one who gets to say what's right for you."

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Give us a break! Just how much clutter can be caused by a tiny dish or small cellar of salt? It has been part of table service for centuries until egotistical chefs removed it. There is no seasoning so personal as salt as anyone who has studied the taste sciences will tell you. Runners up are sugar and the bitter flavor. Not two people taste salt the same way..It would behoove the chef to find an attractive way to incorporate salt in the table setting.

#26 Pontormo

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 07:38 AM

!@#$! middle-aged women.  Always yakking about something.  :rolleyes:

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Sigh. Apparently, it's not just us, Fab.
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#27 Jean Blanchard

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 07:51 AM

Yeah, I'm not so happy about that generalization. By the way, sometimes it IS so dark that I need a flashlight but so does my "young" daughter so I don't feel so bad.

Also, although I've dined at many fine restaurants where salt is not needed, not every chef is as good as he thinks he is and a little salt would help his creations. I don't like some wait staff treating me like an ingrate because I asked for salt.

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#28 Fat Guy

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 09:07 AM

I can't say I've ever met with the slightest bit of resistance -- not so much as an implied sidewise glance -- when asking for salt at a restaurant. I ask for it probably 9 out of 10 times when I dine at restaurants that don't provide it, and somebody just brings some. I'd rather not have to ask, but it has never been a big deal.

In terms of the type of salt, I actually prefer sea salt. Probably that's because I mostly use salt in restaurants on my bread and butter, and in that instance the coarse crystals are nice. I also vastly prefer fresh ground pepper to sawdust. I'd rather have a small individual grinder on my table than have the busboy proffer the pepper, though.

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#29 slkinsey

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 09:20 AM

... does anyone know if kosher salt is sea salt as Ephron implied? That would surprise me.

Companies that sell "regular" salt aren't exactly synthesizing it up out of sodium and chloride. They're mining it (largely by injection of water and evaporation of the brine). And how did the salt deposits get into those mines? From the evaporation of ancient seas. By federal law, by the way, edible salt must be at least 97.5 percent sodium chloride. In reality, even for "sea salt," it's typically 99 percent or more.
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#30 Irishgirl

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 09:38 AM

Another perspective on salt on the tables.....

A former boss of mine removed the salt and pepper shakers from his tables not because he wished to imply that the food needed no further seasoning, but because the customers kept stealing them. He had bought some beautiful shakers and they cost $100 per set. He didn't want to buy tacky looking ones.....but it was just easier to keep track of the inventory. At the request of the diner, they were provided, and then removed when the mains were cleared.

Sometimes things are not what they seem.

I do object to the waiter who is so obvious in his sales technique, that they are pushing something on you before you have finished what was already requested. I also find the ploy of "Fresh Ground Pepper" at the table repulsiuve, because most of the time they ask me if I wish it before I have tasted my food. To me it is a ploy to convince the diner that they are getting good service.

Did I like the article? No. It was not well written. Can I identify with some of it? Yes. Can I scoff at some of it? Yes. She is obvoiusly a spoiled woman. But the whole "on the side" bit in When Harry met Sally, demonstrates that. Which is why Harry describes Sally as "high maintenance".

Carry on.

:rolleyes: