You may remember a time when you had to get dressed up to go out. A time when having a meal became very special event.
Now I will prefix this with the reader knowing that my father was the manager of a private club so some of my examples for fine dining were just part of growing up.
With that out of the way, what happens when you decide to go out for lunch or dinner? You have a favorite spot at a local eatery or a certain taste requirement meaning the search for a specialty restaurant.
The décor may be a theme or overwhelming junk on the walls or mixed up decorations that may have been leftovers from the grand parents. There are usually tables scattered about and possibility booths. There maybe table cloths or not with condiments of salt, pepper, and sugar packs in a rack. There are no rugs or much padding on the chairs. The owner or person who runs the register gathers some menus and points you to a table. Unless in a theme restaurant a waitperson will come over in the white shirt black pants uniform and ask if you want drinks. This request is to give the patron time to read the menu and decide what meal they prefer. The whole operation is to get the patron in and out as quickly as possible so the next patron can take the table.
The menu consists of a beef dish, a chicken dish, a seafood dish, and lots of sides. Like theatres that make their money from the popcorn, a restaurant makes their profits from deserts and drinks. Beach restaurants may have more seafood and Midwest restaurants may have more beef dishes, but they all will have dishes preferred for the most patrons. Some chain restaurants offer the same menu wherever you go. The consistency makes it easy on people who don’t really care about variety.
These restaurants are cozy and are fairly uneventful except for the occasional birthday cup cake when perhaps the waitpersons will gather around and sing “Happy Birthday”.
The real experience of dining out requires a little more work. First, get dressed up. Put on a suit, shower and shave, and put on some of the smelly sauce to be as fancy as if you were going on a date with a movie star.
Fine dining required waiting for a table. A table covered in one or two linen crisp white tablecloths with polished chairs and silver condiments on the table. The maitre d will check the reservations list before assigning a table. In his dark tux jacket with a snap of the fingers the oversized menus will be handed to a person in a short white jacket to escort you to your table. The ladies will be seated and before the waitperson arrives the water glasses are filled and the party will be asked if there are any other requirements before observing their menus. Always “Yes madam” and “Yes sir”.
After an appropriate amount of time the waitperson will arrive quietly to the table with a linen napkin over one sleeve. Answering questions about the menu and recommending the specials of the chef the waitperson produces a wine list always complimenting the ladies and confirming to the gentlemen their selections are excellent.
Another person arrives and delivers the drinks, testing the wine sample before pouring. Toasts are made and the event of the evening is becoming a civilized festivity.
There are more folks and knives and spoons on the table than usual at home and little plates and several glasses. The sugar is real in a silver bowl and the salt and peppershakers are silver. The plates are thick ceramic. The linen napkins are folded in a triangle tent and must be carefully placed in the lap.
With the arrival of the salads a silver bowl of crackers are placed on the table. Pats of pure butter are placed in ice. Chilled wine glasses with pure water are delivered and refreshed without a moments notice by the wait staff.
The entry of the entrees is timed exactly when the salads are finished. Steamy plates covered in stainless steel hoods are delivered allow the patron to awe at the chefs presentation. Always asking if everything is up to expectations, the party enjoys the meat and starches with a slight side of vegetables garnished with parsley.
The steaks are thick, the chicken is tender, the potatoes are soft and creamy and everything is soaked in butter. The coffee is fresh made and the desserts rich.
Now again I must review that I never saw my father pay for any meal or even tip for the over exuberant service brought on being the bosses son. That alone does alter the perspective on future service expectations but it was great when I could enjoy it.
Today I realize I have been exposed to some of the finest dining experiences available to the rich and famous. I have inspected the kitchens, met the chefs, watched the process of food preparation and heard the tales of unsatisfied patrons who must be convinced their meal is the best. Behind the scenes it is all a con game.
Just like what you see on all the television cooking shows with all the latest utensils and gadgets and assortment of spices and the flash in the pan preparation it still comes down to frying or searing or baking or…. Well the methods are all the same.
So after all that, what eating establishments do I frequent?
The mom and pops eatery are my preference. Perhaps the expectations of a French cuisine or an arrangement of foreign spices and special oils to cook are lowered to grease, but there is certain honesty for straightforward cooking with no frills.
Walking up to a counter and sitting on a stool that is a few feet away from the cook slapping eggs and hamburgers on a hot grill with smoke filling the air and a menu reduced to the basics is appealing. The grease is scraped off from the burgers and another tub of butter sizzled on the grill for the eggs. The toast soaks up the same juices. There is no ceremony just an honest job of heating foot for a customer.
The waitresses, because most of these places have young friendly girls who present a vinyl covered sheet with a few selections of eggs or burgers or sandwiches with few sides. They make up for a limited selection with a homegrown friendliness.
The coffee cups as chipped but always full. The chatter and smiles are genuine. The atmosphere is hometown comfortable. There is no rush to get you out and everyone acts like you are neighbors.
So the next time you are dining out, decide what your preference is. High style or home grown.