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Each week, in a sidebar to his main review, Tom Sietsema of the Washington post answers a question from a reader, that, one supposes, illuminates one of the many intricacies or mysteries of fine dining.

This one caught my eye.

"Halfway through the main course...another couple was seated directly next to us," even though there were "several empty tables"... his "intimate dinner was ruined."

Ruined? Not "disturbed," "interrupted," "blemished," or "tarnished," but dashed beyond repair....the food apparently rendered inedible, his date unlovely and uncharming, and the glasses chipped and spotted?

Now, we all want perfect evenings, and it's surely annoying to have another couple seated near you in fairly empty restaurant. But can't we all handle a little imperfection in an imperfect world, without our world and our big nights out collapsing?

I seem to see this more and more in on-line discussions -- though not so much here -- people so incapable of dealing with life's realities that the merest slip results in outrage, regret, demands for comped desserts, gnashing of teethe and rending of garments.

Now, dining out is surely fraught with peril and I don't want to excuse servers who forget your fork while the meat gets cold, combative maitre d's, and kitchens that just aren't as transcendent as they are reputed to be. And what passes for inexpensive dining these days can be ruinously expensive.

And, in the handful of restaurants in the world which may indeed approach perfection, there is little margin for error.

But, for the other million restaurants on earth, whatever happened to shaking it off, taking it all in stride, and seeing the glass as half full -- of that fizzy water they're charging eight bucks a bottle for, even though you asked for tap -- whenever possible? In the end, it's just dinner.

[supplemental thought: it seems that the flip side of hypersensitivity in these fora is a tendency to wildly overpraise -- maybe not wildly, but utterly without critical faculty -- in cases where that overreaction is equally unwarranted. "If I like it, it must be perfect." Can we blame TV for this? Or is it the parents' fault? :wink: ]

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Spouse and I are introverts; we take this into account when we venture into the world of Other People. We KNOW that we're the weirdos with personal space issues. So, we either ask to not be seated directly next to other diners--nicely, and if the restaurant is mostly empty (which we largely accomplish by going during off-hours). Otherwise, we deal with it. We have the choice to not eat at a place that won't accomodate our oddness; to impose our issues on an entire establishment is patently ridiculous.

So, what, exactly, is this guy's problem? That the server didn't read his mind? Oh, wait, I get it: his poor communication skills are the restaurant's fault. If I were Tom Sietsema, I would've blasted this precious little assmonkey into the stratosphere. --but that's just me.

"She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

--Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

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Can we blame TV for this?  Or is it the parents' fault?  :wink: ]

I prefer to blame Big Corporations. Have it your way, yanno. The customer is always right. The answer is yes, now what was the question? Feh.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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Instead of complaining after the fact, I'd have asked if it might be possible, please to seat us elsewhere upon approaching whichever undesireable table.

I do have to say that we were quite put off when being entertained by a visiting British friend and his associate at a very elite Newport Beach club. We were given a lovely table and after we had just begun our first courses, another couple arrived and were seated directly next to us. We were the only two parties in the room. :blink: We didn't say anything--it really should have been up to the newer party, but we haven't been back since.

Deb

Liberty, MO

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So, what, exactly, is this guy's problem? That the server didn't read his mind? Oh, wait, I get it: his poor communication skills are the restaurant's fault. If I were Tom Sietsema, I would've blasted this precious little assmonkey into the stratosphere. --but that's just me.

I think just publishing that letter was enough. This guy's been exposed to the public opinionsphere where everyone sees he's an ass.

<a href='http://www.zenkimchi.com/FoodJournal' target='_blank'>ZenKimchi Korean Food Journal</a> - The longest running Korean food blog

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As much fun as beating up on this guy is, I'm wondering if he's part of a larger problem...or not. I'm reminded of the currently popular theory that the incidence of severe allergies in children today is caused by the extreme cleanliness of children's environment today (not a phenomenon that, admittedly, my kids experienced).

In my youth, you dealt with whatever song the AM radio in mom's car played, you didn't just thumb the iPod. You went to the neighborhood school and you dealt with the teachers you were assigned. There were three channels of VHS and a handful of UHF channels that you could get most of the time. Shit, I didn't even live in a house with central air conditioning until I was in high school (in the DC area; in Boston and and Denver I do OK without it). And ethnic dining was Chinese or Italian. In other words, there was a lot more "suck it up" than "everything should be perfect."

Not to sound like a geezer. iPods, central air, HBO, and Thai food make life better. But thinking of yourself as the little sun of a consumer solar system, as the sole source of heat and light: annoying.

On the other hand, maybe there were always whiners, but they didn't have web.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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[...]On the other hand, maybe there were always whiners, but they didn't have web.

That's my opinion. If you asked all the world to post about some whiners and jerks from the pre-Internet age, you'd get more stories than could fit on even today's hard drives, measured as they are in Gigabytes.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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btw, busboy amen & amen.....

we live in a hypocritical world today. If no one had been seated next to this couple the writer probably would have complained that he/she felt "abandoned" because no one was seated next to him/her and therefore the restaurant must not be very popular. How many places are considered great restaurants not b/c the food/service/atmosphere is any good but b/c people are crammed in to the place as if they are anchovies and if so many folks are there it must be good. It does not matter that 4 other dining rooms are sitting empty.

As for hypocrisy I remember friends of ours who went out to dinner at an "okay" restaurant and returned complaining about the un-disciplined children who ran around the restaurant and ruined their evening. Mean while we seldomly went any where w/ this couple b/c they allowed their un-discplinied children to run around the restaurant and ruin people's dinner. I suppose that if you are looking for some thing about which to complain you will find it.

in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--

the best cat ever.

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Instead of complaining after the fact, I'd have asked if it might be possible, please to seat us elsewhere upon approaching whichever undesireable table.

I do have to say that we were quite put off when being entertained by a visiting British friend and his associate at a very elite Newport Beach club. We were given a lovely table and after we had just begun our first courses, another couple arrived and were seated directly next to us. We were the only two parties in the room.  :blink: We didn't say anything--it really should have been up to the newer party, but we haven't been back since.

I once wrote Tom Sietsema asking about your same situation, but he didn't answer. I've been in the shoes of the second couple, and always ask to be moved to a different table as we didn't want to feel crowded, and I'm sure the couple already there didn't want to be crowded either.

I've been lucky that I've never been in your situation, and don't know that I'd ask to be moved after the first course. I't wouldn't "ruin" the meal, but I know I can't expect everyone to be like me and ask to move so if it ever happens, I'll just have to make the best of it.

Thanks,

Kevin

DarkSide Member #005-03-07-06

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As much fun as beating up on this guy is, I'm wondering if he's part of a larger problem...or not.  I'm reminded of the currently popular theory that the incidence of severe allergies in children today is caused by the extreme cleanliness of children's environment today (not a phenomenon that, admittedly, my kids experienced). 

I'm with you senor. I think that the sense of entitlement in the American people has gotten much worse. Also, as a youth, dining out was a special occasion. I think that now people tend to view restaurants as extensions of their family room (because how many people actually use their dining rooms? Most new McMansions don't even have separate dining rooms) and behave not as if they are in public, but in their own houses.

Another common thread I see in the webosphere is a lot of people who go out seemingly looking to have a miserable experience. Have you ever noticed that there are a whole group of people that seem to attract restaurant disasters?

PS - Peanut, too, does not suffer from excess cleanliness

PPS - I still don't have central AC in DC

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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I do have to say that we were quite put off when being entertained by a visiting British friend and his associate at a very elite Newport Beach club. We were given a lovely table and after we had just begun our first courses, another couple arrived and were seated directly next to us. We were the only two parties in the room.  :blink: We didn't say anything--it really should have been up to the newer party, but we haven't been back since.

"It really should have been up to the newer party"---are you serious? Or do you really expect absolute strangers to intuit your own notions of personal space? (Although I have a sneaking suspicion that Maison Rustique wrote this with tongue planted firmly in cheek, I still have to ask...)

I've known a few delicate rosebuds who feel that an experience will be "ruined" if the outcome is not just so. The characteristics that contibute to this sort of personality include outsized feelings of entitlement; insanely high expectations (perfection is always just beyond grasp); control issues (expressed as a need to impose one's own values on others); selfishness/lack of regard for others; and the inability to compromise or tolerate disappointment. And I have no idea why they behave this way because it just puts people off-- they're forever cycling through new batches of friends.

"She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

--Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

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Under the circumstances, would anybody actually prefer to be seated next to the only other occupied table?

Unless there is some extenuating circumstance, leaving an empty table between parties is the safer practice, and a good restaurant should understand that.

SB (prefers to sit with his back against the wall, and near an exit) :wink:

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What I don't understand is why people have suddenly gotten SO PICKY about their damn table in a restaurant. It's a table. Where they bring you food. Why do people whine about it so much? What is a good table, anyway? And why are people so terrified of sitting next to others? You're in a restaurant. It's a -gasp- public place where there are -gasp- other people. If they want restaurant quality food in absolute privacy, they need to hire a personal chef.

It has never once occurred to me to bitch about a table I was given, or about people that were sat next to me. If the people are insufferable (i.e. drunk, screaming children, etc) I ask to move and go on with my experience, but I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened. It's just not that big of a deal.

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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Do I have to channel Rodney King -- "Can we all just get along here?"

While understanding that it's really bad form for an empty or nearly empty restaurant to seat diners right next to each other, I wouldn't call it a fatal mistake either.

And even though the disparaging comments about this practice when it occurs are justified, there is a whiff of overentitlement and underexposure to the public sphere about this whole conversation. I'm straining mightily to keep from going off on a tangent about how we as individuals have overinsulated ourselves from the world's rough edges.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Pardon me all the hell, but if you want to have a special, intimate dinner with that special someone, and you're so concerned that this here dinner should be so super-duper special & intimate that the mere presence of other human beings on the table next to you would so utterly ruin it -- wouldn't it make sense to tell the staff about your concern BEFORE the meal? If you're THAT damn obsessed over it, it doesn't make much sense to just assume things.

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Just to throw it in the mix...

This seems to be a patently American issue so far. The number of times I've chatted with waitstaff around the world who have mentioned/spoken/ranted/alluded to the 'difficult American customer'... If I was only given a dollar each time... :biggrin:

"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

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This seems to be a patently American issue so far. The number of times I've chatted with waitstaff around the world who have ...

Yeah, that IS a really depressing, and disturbing thing. A collegue of mine settled in England and like me, took to it like a duck to water -- but his wife utterly hated the place. Some people are just not willing to adjust to cultural differences. He always had stories about how they couldn't go to a party because his wife "tried" to buy a dress, but failed, because the staff had some fancy store had been "rude" to her (ie., she expected US style service, where someone attends to you the moment you walk in the door, with a shallow smile and an equally shallow, friendly and cheerful "can I help you?" -- instead, she'd been left alone to peruse for five minutes, before storming back out in a rage...)

She finally had a complete meltdown in a Pizza Hut after ordering a rootbeer float, and the waitress didn't know what rootbeer, nor a float was... In all fairness, there are far more nice Americans than bad ones. It just takes about 20 nice ones to make up for every single bad one. :sad:

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Busboy, to answer your question with a question: Doesn't every country has its share of "hypersensitive jerks"? Or do you find such behavior uniquely American, as PCL posted previously?

If the answer is yes, then what should be done about it? Move all the whiners to another place until they learn to behave themselves?

PCL, I wouldn't mind if you expand on your statements. Aussie diners not whiny, ehh? Fair dinkum? How about them Kiwis, mate?

Russell J. Wong aka "rjwong"

Food and I, we go way back ...

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Under the circumstances, would anybody actually prefer to be seated next to the only other occupied table?

Unless there is some extenuating circumstance, leaving an empty table between parties is the safer practice, and a good restaurant should understand that.

SB (prefers to sit with his back against the wall, and near an exit) :wink:

I agree. This has happened to me several times and though it didn't ruin my evening I do remember being in a small, less than 10 table, restaurant for lunch with my wife in a resort town in Colorado. We were the only people in the place. A family with two very young children came in and they were seated directly next to our table. The husband was on his cell the entire time and the kids were whinny. Where's the logic in seating people directly next to each other unless you are in a pack restaurant.

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Busboy, to answer your question with a question: Doesn't every country has its share of "hypersensitive jerks"? Or do you find such behavior uniquely American, as PCL posted previously?

If we, as Americans, have come to take for granted service that's at least superficially courteous, sanitation of a relatively high standard, and and some resemblance of order and construct from our dining experience, I'd say that's not such a bad thing.

On the other hand, I'm sure x% of modern Americans, here and abroad, react to the deviation from our accepted norm with boorish behavior, which is bad.

However, I suspect the percentage of early Americans, modern Chinese, medieval Europeans, or ancient Egyptians who are/were "hypersensitive jerks" would be about the same.

SB (The same x% of extraterrestrials are probably louts too?) :huh:

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If sanitation and unnatural service if your thing, then good, but many prefer some measure of sincerity in the experience.

Aussie diners complain too, won't speak for Kiwi's because I'm not one, but mostly to ourselves and rarely in a loud attention seeking manner. But hypersensitive jerks are universal in all walks of life, let alone dining!

Anyway, some stereotypes are prominent and sometimes reinforced more often than others, and it's all in good cheer to poke fun now and then.

Hey, I sent back a dish just last week!

"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

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hey, I'll dob myself in here - I'm an aussie diner in the UK, and I whine all the time. I like to think however it's because there's so much to whine about.

Hey, I just about have to rugby-tackle waitstaff to get the bill in half these places :laugh:

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I'm not saying, by the way, that there's a problem with being annoyed when someone's seated unnecessarily close to you in a restaurant. The thing that cought my eye was that the dinner was "ruined." It reminded me of that last scene in Carnal Knowledge where Jack Nicholson can't keep it up unless the hooker does everything just right. There's kind of a binary thing happening, it seems as though unless everything is perfect, it's all horrid.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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See, if the food was good, it would take a lot to ruin the dinner for me. More often than not, it was one's immediate dining companions that stand to commit the most hideous crime of ruining a dinner.

What is interesting to me here is that the subtext seems to concern itself with how there should be a basic standard for service and seating. This may work in one culture/environment/set of circumstances but to think that it could be universal, well, then universal it is, but possibly only among hypersensitive jerks. :wink:

"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

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