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Fear Factor: Restaurant Dining


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Someone wrote to our local critic on his weekly chat about a meal during which his dining partner discovered a hair in one one of the dishes. This sensitive soul was so put off that he sent back the rest of the meal, turned down a free dessert and called for the check (further fodder for discussion: the restaurant comped the dish but not the entire meal).

Personally, I'm an insensitive lout and a hair in my food is call for a loud round of "ewwwwws" from the table and a quick word with the waiter, assuming he or she is nearby. Of course, I used to work in a place where you had to knock the box of cannoli shells a couple of times to get the roaches to scurry out so you could stuff them.

I've heard tell of some people so put off by lipstick on a wine glass that they could hardly continue, others who become personally outraged if the busboy touches the tines of their fork.

(Excluding the habits or appearance of your fellow diners) what puts you off your feed? Does the bug actually have to be in the salad, or is spotting one on the other side of the room enough? And what if a rat should dash across the patio (yeah, that was another place I worked. Wasn't our fault but, you know, city living...).

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Obviously ill kitchen or FOH staff handling food tends to raise my bile. Watching a cook or waiter hacking away onto my plate can turn off my appetite faster than just about anything. Another thing is simply knowing that someone in the kitchen handling food or a waiter either has or has just "got over" a significant communicable illness. That doesn't exactly stimulate my appetite either.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

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I'm a firm believer that if a restaurant is making customers sick it won't stay open for long. I don't worry about restaurant food making me ill, I eat street food all over the world without any trouble. A misplaced hair, some lipstick, whatever - if the food tastes good, I'm a happy camper. Granted, I'd be irritated if I were served another dessert with a used bandaid in it - but anything short of that is unlikely to bug me.

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Lipstick on my glass, unless it is my wife's lipstick, bring me another glass and I'm happy. Hair in my meal, I remove it and continue eating, I watch folks chew on their hair all the time and they live thru it (I've been known to nibble on my mustash on occasion.) Waiter touched the tines of my fork, so what? Unless someone is sick with a communiticable disease, I don't worry about it. If I can pick up my donut that fell on the floor, brush it off, and continue eating, what is the problem with a hair or two? (5 second rule folks) Obviously the folks in question don'thave/never had young children or they would know that you can eat almost anything and live thru it. If I can eat strained peas to make the baby eat them, I can eat anything.

Edited by dinwiddie (log)
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I think for me, it depends to some degree on context: a smudgy, dirty glass or a hair in the food at somewhere like Per Se smacks of carelessness. A dirty napkin or grimy cutlery in a rickety little market café is a somewhat more acceptable to my mind.

Edited by lexy (log)

Cutting the lemon/the knife/leaves a little cathedral:/alcoves unguessed by the eye/that open acidulous glass/to the light; topazes/riding the droplets,/altars,/aromatic facades. - Ode to a Lemon, Pablo Neruda

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I think for me, it depends to some degree on context: a smudgy, dirty glass or a hair in the food at somewhere like Per Se smacks of carelessness. A dirty napkin or grimy cutlery in a rickety little market café is a somewhat more acceptable to my mind.

Right. It's a service issue as far as I'm concerned not something to freak out over. If your server keeps bumping your chair while you're eating and you're spending $500/person for dinner, that's an issue. If it happens at your local $3/person pho shop on the other hand...

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Sharp pieces of metal in my food.

The other stuff, I can deal with. Bites that make me bleed tend to tick me off.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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The way I eat at home ("oh let's not dirty another plate" *wipes crumbs off one on his desk*) I feel it'd be a bit hypocritical to complain about the same sorts of things at a restaurant. It might be a shade annoying more from a carelessness standpoint, but I won't lose sleep or appetite over it. Seeing a waiter cough or sneeze and then handle my plate might draw a comment, but unless it was *onto* my food or else in the height of flu season I doubt i'd send anything back.

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Dead bug in food. Live doesn't worry me.

Unkempt wait staff...if they appear to have not washed clothes or body recently, not much hope for the sink in the restroom having been used.

"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

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Dirty cutlery - I'd ask for a new set, but it wouldn't stop me from eating once I got them. A hair. Not a problem - I have long hair and it sometimes seems to me like everything I cook is going to get a hair in it SOMEWHERE (no, I'm not a chef, I'm talking about home-cooking...) Nobody ever died from finding a hair in their food... Bit of eggshell - not a problem. It happens. About the only thing that would force me to quit eating and make a fuss would be a bug (live or dead) larger than a fruitfly in my food... I can't stand 'em! (actually that's not quite true either - one time my salad came complete with a cute little itty bitty garden spider in it. I rescued the poor thing and set it free...)

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We had a waitress that had all the signs of having a meth addiction. She had dirty stringy hair, open sores all over her face and neck, and rotten teeth. Hey, I watch plenty of documentaries and this was a classic meth head. I completely lost my appetite but I kept hoping that she was trying to beat her addiction and keep a job, etc. so we stayed at her table and tipped her well. I don't know how she got the job in the first place! She looked that bad.

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Way back in the late '60's, when I was in high school, I was a dishwasher at a country club, and another dishwasher and I would often show up early for work on a Saturday or Sunday. The "chef," Frank, was a classic drunk broiler-cook type of guy from the era. He'd always show up for work about 7:00 or earlier--he didn't sleep much, just smoked three packs of Pall Malls a day and drank about two quarts of whiskey, washed down with plenty of beer. Frank was really good about cooking us eggs when we showed up. Often, we had been out the night before drinking beer (we were seventeen or eighteen years old). Anyway, Frank would use the same kitchen towel to wipe the counters, wipe out the egg pans, and blow his nose. That's right, blow his nose. Imagine eating eggs over easy, somewhat snotty, and having seen Frank blow his nose in the towel that he used to wipe the pans. There are many other Frank stories, watch for the book.

People with whom I go out for dinner are especially put off by servers who handle glasses by putting their hands over the top of the glass. I've taught service for many years, and I am aghast by this ignorance, but it doesn't basically bother me in the sanitation sense. Any comments?

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The hand over the glass thing only bothers me if I can see dirt on said hands.

The couple of things that gross me out in our kitchen are:

1) When there is beef blood on the floor that I slip on and almost fall into

2) Giant vats of mashed potatoes. I love our mashed potatoes, but seeing them in being mixed in the giant vat turns me off somehow.

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I'm a firm believer that if a restaurant is making customers sick it won't stay open for long.  I don't worry about restaurant food making me ill, I eat street food all over the world without any trouble.  A misplaced hair, some lipstick, whatever - if the food tastes good, I'm a happy camper.  Granted, I'd be irritated if I were served another dessert with a used bandaid in it - but anything short of that is unlikely to bug me.

I gotta love you for that Melkor! Agree totally but...I cant BEAR someone using gloves to make my ( for eg) pita wrap then use those same gloved hands to take my money, scratch nose, pick a pimple, clear a table et al et bloody al.

Then.....NEXT PLEASE!

Gloves are the worst thing invented when it comes to foodhandling IMO. Just wash hands and/or sanitise between tasks. 'Nuff said.

Anyone in the biz should have enough commonsense to assign certain work to certain people. You make the wraps, and you over there, collect the money. Sheesh. Rocket science it sure aint. :rolleyes:

Edited by Sentiamo (log)
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Crusty food residue between the tines of a fork freaks me out, and I am not one of those germophobes. I can handle most lapses in sanitation, but the idea of eating off the fork that someone else ate off of, which was then allowed to crust over, just gets me for some reason...

"It's better to burn out than to fade away"-Neil Young

"I think I hear a dingo eating your baby"-Bart Simpson

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I can't stand when there are dirty sinks in the kitchen. Food left in the drain is just gross.

Hair is also tops on my list. If I find a hair in my food I want to hieve. The longer and darker it is the worse it is. So, when I see a Chef with long hair I start to worry.

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  • 1 month later...

Putrid, food encrusted, old running/Birkies/leather shoes of cooks bother me, if they cannot keep their shoes clean, it makes me wonder about their personal hygiene. Then I do not to expect much out of their finished product. I do keep my opinnion to myself and do not walk out.

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Not very long ago, Daniel Bourillot died. The world goes on much as it was, however, because most people are blissfully unaware of the fact that Bourillot ever even lived. In truth, even most of those who had come in contact with him probably never knew his name. Bourillot was, after all, "only a waiter" and the fact that he died six months after he celebrated his 100th birthday was merely a curiosity.

I first met Bourillot, who was a waiter at the restaurant in the "Touring Balance" hotel in Geneva, when he was a far younger man - a mere seventy. Even then, however, Bourillot was far more than a mere waiter. He was a professional, a man who took his job with seriousness and pride. As most European waiters, he had started his career at the age of 12, working as a "piccolo" - an apprentice waiter whose job includes clearing dishes from tables, cleaning ashtrays and mopping floors after the last customer has gone home. At sixteen, to the great pride of his parents, he was promoted to the rank of assistant waiter and by twenty-two he was acknowledged by his peers as a full-fledged waiter. Only when he attained the age of 58 did he finally attain the status of being the senior waiter in the restaurant.

Bourillot could have retired with a good pension at 75 but so enjoyed his work that he chose to continue at the restaurant. Even when he celebrated his 100th birthday, he continued to work four days every week. It is true that he had assistants who carried the heavy trays and did the most difficult parts of his work, but he insisted on personally greeting his regular clients, seating them, taking their orders and presenting them with the bill. I last saw Bourillot about five years ago. At that time he proudly boasted that he had been to the funerals of "three wives, three owners of the hotel and more chefs than I can remember". He attributed his longevity to his daily habit "of drinking a small glass of white wine with my morning croissant, a carafe of red wine with my dinner, and a very small glass of eau-de-vie de framboises just before I go to sleep".

Whatever his personal habits, Bourillot knew, as do most of his European colleagues, that whether people have chosen to dine in a prestigious or an ordinary restaurant, the waiter is of no less importance to the success of a meal than the chef. He was also privy to a great secret - that as go-betweens between the chef and the diner, waiters have the option of transforming the most ordinary meal into an absolute delight or of changing the greatest gastronomic delights into an ordeal of pain, suffering and embarrassment.

Bourillot would have been absolutely shocked at the level of service found in many restaurants. In honor of his memory, I have compiled the following list of personal complaints, a compendium of the sins most often committed by waiters, waitresses and maitres d'hotel. To his great honor, during his long career, Bourillot was never guilty of any of them.

On Entering a Restaurant

- I have nothing but contempt for the waiter, waitress or maitre d'hotel who ignores me after I have entered and leaves me standing at the entrance or in the foyer of their restaurants. No guest should have to wait more than sixty seconds to be greeted after they have entered a restaurant.

- I sense hostility in waiters whose first words are "A table for two?". It really does not take very much time to greet one's clients with a polite greeting. "Good evening", or "Hello" will do.

- Especially at restaurants where I am not known (and this happens most often in cafe-restaurants and fast-food eateries), I become upset by waiters who greet me with the kind of warmth and affection usually reserved for one's family members of lovers. Such greetings are so obviously artificial that they are offensive.

- I smile, but only barely, when waiters ask me banal or useless questions such as" "May I help you"? Obviously they can help me. Otherwise I would not be standing there.

- Especially in prestigious restaurants, waiters frequently surprise me by forgetting that every client has a title, even if it is only "sir" or "madame".

- Far too many waiters have forgotten that in addition to being a rampart of civilization, politeness is also the basis of good service. The ideal waiter, for example, will be friendly but not familiar and formal but not stiff. They should realize that with few exceptions when regular clients ask them about their health they should reply "I am well, thank you" and not give a detailed medical bulletin.

- I become agitated by waiters who inform me that my table "will be ready in five minutes" when they know full well that it will be at least twenty minutes. I much prefer honesty because that gives me the option of choosing another restaurant or sitting at the bar and enjoying an aperitif until my table really is ready.

- When being seated, some guests will request a specific table and if that table is not reserved, there is no reason why their request should not be granted. Other guests, usually in a party of two, will sometimes request a table that is generally used to seat four. If the restaurant is not crowded and if a rush of guests is not expected, the couple should be given the larger table. Many, including this writer, will be deeply offended if they are forced to sit at a table for two when all of the larger tables are still empty.

Once I Have Been Seated

- Once I have been seated, I do not enjoy having to wait for ten or minutes until my waiter finally decides to bring me a menu.

- Once the menu has been presented, I become upset by waiters who cannot answer my questions intelligently. If I want to know, for example, whether the shrimp in a certain dish have been boiled or fried, the waiter should either know or should check for me. I absolutely despise the answer "How should I know?"

- I rapidly develop a sharp sense of dislike for waiters who have to be constantly reminded to keep my water and wine glass filled or that the ash trays on the table should be replaced as they become dirty.

- I have no respect for waiters who, when they bring your dishes to the table ask "Who gets what?". This question shows a lack of concern for me and waiters should be well enough trained that they remember which dish goes to which person.

- Although service need not always be formal, it should always be correct and careful. I do not appreciate waiters who place dishes on the table noisily; I become frustrated by waiters who do not know the correct locations of forks, knives and spoons; and I fume quietly when waiters treat my food with disdain.

- I do not like waiters who feel that they can ignore me once they have placed the food on my table. It is perfectly acceptable in the middle of a meal to realize that something extra is needed (extra sauce for a salad or a pepper grinder, for example) but there are few things more frustrating than when one cannot catch the eye of his waiter.

- If I receive a dish that I consider inferior and want to return it to the kitchen, I do not want the waiter to fight with me. If I have received a dish that is not what I ordered, I do not expect the waiter to become aggressive or defensive. I expect that my dish will be replaced. When, for example, as happened to me recently, I received an omelet that was hot on the surface but cold inside, I did not appreciate the waitress who looked at me as if I were quite insane and remarked "that's ridiculous ". I do not expect my waiter or waitress to enter into a battle of wills with me. I expect polite, good service.

- I never get upset with waiters who make honest errors. Even the most dedicated and experienced waiters have occasionally spilled soup on a customer. In cases of minor incidents, waiters should do no more than apologize quietly. In the event of a major accident on the part of the waiter (an entire bowl of soup in a customer's lap, for example), the waiter should apologize and the owner or maitre d'hotel of the restaurant should offer remuneration. Under no circumstances, however, do I appreciate a waiter who denies his or her responsibility or becomes aggressive.

- Even customers make errors (using the wrong fork with the wrong dish, spilling soup onto the tablecloth, knocking a wine glass over), but no matter what faux pas guests commit, they should never be made to feel silly. I actively dislike waiters who try to make their customers feel guilty or foolish.

- Too many waiters, both male and female, tend to relate to women as if this were the 19th century. I do not appreciate waiters who ignore the women and listen only to the men at the table. Nor do I appreciate waiters, especially in "better" restaurants who automatically assume that men will order for women. I also become upset when wine is automatically given to the man at the table for tasting. Waiters should be taught that members of either sex are equally qualified to taste wine. They should also be taught that it is terribly bad manners to address a woman only through their male companion. Women also have voices and opinions and it is time that most waiters learned this.

- Because children have no rank and nothing can be gained from them, it is especially easy for waiters to be rude to young people. I have a special grudge against waiters who have such an attitude.

- There are few things more disturbing to me than seeing a waiter with a finger in a glass or in my bowl of soup.

- I do not know why most waiters cannot learn that even in the simplest restaurants, life can be more comfortable for all involved if only they would serve dishes from the right and to clear them from the left. More than correct etiquette, this allows a logical flow of action, especially at large tables when more than one waiter may be serving.

- For some reason, many waiters have never learned to judge the appropriate moment for removing dishes from the table. If one person at the table finishes his or her meal before the others, it is not appropriate to clear their setting before the others have eaten because this gives guests the feeling they are being rushed. (An exception to this rule should, of course, be made if a guest asks for his plate to be removed). From the moment the last person at the table has completed their meal, clearing should be done as quickly and unobtrusively as possible.

- I hate nothing more than having to make desperate attempts at any time during my meal to catch the eye of my waiter. There is a world-famous cartoon (originally published in the "New Yorker Magazine" in 1936) about the restaurant guest who is having a heart attack and, when he finally manages to catch the eye of a waiter, the waiter responds by saying "I'm sorry sir, but its not my table". Although should not be expected to serve tables other than their own, they should respond politely to requests and refer them to the waiter who is serving that table. No matter whose table it may be, no waiter should ignore simple, polite requests.

After The Meal

- Like most people, I like to receive my bill promptly after I have finished even the most leisurely of meals. Because too many waiters think their job is over when they have given my coffee or brandy, many an otherwise enjoyable meal has been spoiled for me by trying desperately to get a bill.

- I do not like waiters who, once they have presented the bill, then linger at my table waiting for payment. The waiter should retreat to give me a chance to review the bill before I make payment. If I have questions about the bill, my questions should be answered promptly and politely (and not, as so often happens, defensively) and once I have put cash, a check or a credit card on the table it should be quickly picked up. Change should also be made quickly.

- Once the bill has been paid, too many waiters and maitres d' hotel really show their scorn by ignoring customers completely. Guests should be thanked. They should also be asked if everything was to their satisfaction. Even though most departing clients will not respond in depth to that question, the maitre d'hotel or owner who is seeing them to the door should be prepared to listen to any complaints or comments his guests may have had. If clients go to the trouble to say what they really feels, they should be taken seriously.

Let it be known that I have enormous respect for waiters, regardless of whether they are life-time professionals or students working part time, if they add to the pleasure of my meal. I do not expect waiters to grovel before me, nor do I perceive them as my personal servants. I do, however feel that I have the right to respect and good service and when I receive these I reciprocate with respect and a good tip.

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sorry fugu, but i think saying that chefs need clean shoes is kinda ridiculous. Being a chef behind a busy line is a messy job no matter how clean a person you are. The line at the restaurant my dad owns is spotless at the beginning of each day and it looks like a war zone by the end of the night, i really dont think you can do anything about it.

on the topic of things that would gross you out though, a large party ordered their meals and for whatever reason one of the entrees didnt make it to the dupe for the chefs, so as the entrees come out the waiter realizes and quickly fires another entree. The womans meal comes out a few minutes late and as the waiter lays down the plate a small green catapillar comes crawling out from under a small bundle of sage leaves... How it was missed by both the prep cook who picks over the herbs in the morning and also the expediter i have no idea. but yea..that one is cringe worthy.

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Not very long ago, Daniel Bourillot died. The world goes on much as it was, however, because most people are blissfully unaware of the fact that Bourillot ever even lived. In truth, even most of those who had come in contact with him probably never knew his name. Bourillot was, after all, "only a waiter" and the fact that he died six months after he celebrated his 100th birthday was merely a curiosity.

I first met Bourillot, who was a waiter at the restaurant in the "Touring Balance" hotel in Geneva, when he was a far younger man - a mere seventy. Even then, however, Bourillot was far more than a mere waiter. He was a professional, a man who took his job with seriousness and pride. As most European waiters, he had started his career at the age of 12, working as a "piccolo" - an apprentice waiter whose job includes clearing dishes from tables, cleaning ashtrays and mopping floors after the last customer has gone home. At sixteen, to the great pride of his parents, he was promoted to the rank of assistant waiter and by twenty-two he was acknowledged by his peers as a full-fledged waiter. Only when he attained the age of 58 did he finally attain the status of being the senior waiter in the restaurant.

Bourillot could have retired with a good pension at 75 but so enjoyed his work that he chose to continue at the restaurant. Even when he celebrated his 100th birthday, he continued to work four days every week. It is true that he had assistants who carried the heavy trays and did the most difficult parts of his work, but he insisted on personally greeting his regular clients, seating them, taking their orders and presenting them with the bill. I last saw Bourillot about five years ago. At that time he proudly boasted that he had been to the funerals of "three wives, three owners of the hotel and more chefs than I can remember". He attributed his longevity to his daily habit "of drinking a small glass of white wine with my morning croissant, a carafe of red wine with my dinner, and a very small glass of eau-de-vie de framboises just before I go to sleep".

Whatever his personal habits, Bourillot knew, as do most of his European colleagues, that whether people have chosen to dine in a prestigious or an ordinary restaurant, the waiter is of no less importance to the success of a meal than the chef. He was also privy to a great secret - that as go-betweens between the chef and the diner, waiters have the option of transforming the most ordinary meal into an absolute delight or of changing the greatest gastronomic delights into an ordeal of pain, suffering and embarrassment.

Bourillot would have been absolutely shocked at the level of service found in many restaurants. In honor of his memory, I have compiled the following list of personal complaints, a compendium of the sins most often committed by waiters, waitresses and maitres d'hotel. To his great honor, during his long career, Bourillot was never guilty of any of them.

Wow. Thanks for sharing that Daniel.

Chicks dig wheelguns.

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sorry fugu, but i think saying that chefs need clean shoes is kinda ridiculous. Being a chef behind a busy line is a messy job no matter how clean a person you are. The line at the restaurant my dad owns is spotless at the beginning of each day and it looks like a war zone by the end of the night, i really dont think you can do anything about it.

The Chef's table, while I was Executive Chef, were run by well groomed cooks who made sure their uniforms are laundered, pressed and their shoes cleaned on a daily basis. They had a sense of pride. I don't even allow running shoes in the kitchen.

Shoes do not normally get encrusted and putrid in one evening of service. I am not sure how filthy the cooks get in your father's restaurant but I would hope that at least they come in to work clean and not just their stations?

Cooks who go out into the dining room change their aprons, brush off debris from their shoes and turn their jacket around, it is so that they look presentable to the public. Isn't this just common sense?

Edited to explain my point clearly..

Edited by Fugu (log)
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When something is spilled, it should be cleaned up immediately, as opposed to standing in it thru service. If a cook spills something on themselves, they should change their apron and jacket immediately as opposed to working thru service filthy. Shoes take two seconds to wipe off. Thats just proper sanitation and professionalism.

Edited by Timh (log)
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- For some reason, many waiters have never learned to judge the appropriate moment for removing dishes from the table. If one person at the table finishes his or her meal before the others, it is not appropriate to clear their setting before the others have eaten because this gives guests the feeling they are being rushed. (An exception to this rule should, of course, be made if a guest asks for his plate to be removed). From the moment the last person at the table has completed their meal, clearing should be done as quickly and unobtrusively as possible.

I really agree with this. I eat faster than my wife, and it makes me feel bad when I end up sitting there with nothing in front of me but a water glass, while she continues to finish her meal.

Thanks for that post. Pride in one's work is important regardless of the field. I'm sure we can all take a lesson or two from Mr. Bourillot.

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