Friday, June 03, 2005

Restaurant Revolution

I haven't been in a New York City restaurant in forty years. Reading Waiter Rant's blog last night got me thinking about my first visit to a 'fancy' New York restaurant. I was in uniform and never got past the front door. We were between wars (Korea and Vietnam) at the time and servicement were looked upon as a lower form of life, especially by the elite of New York's rich and famous. A couple of years later I tried again, this time dressed appropriately (I thought) but the experience was not pleasant. The waiter immediately recognized me and my wife as out-of-towners and midwest yokels and treated us as such. We hardly recognized anything on the menu and the 'wine list' was far above our knowledge. He knew his tip (even in those days) was not going to be big enough to buy a pair of shoe laces.

As a kid who grew up in a large midwestern restaurant, I knew hamburger steak was always the lowest priced dinner on any menu and, when I asked him if he had it under some other name, I got my second reminder of how he felt about out-of-towners: a one eyebrow raised, down the nose disgusting look. So he got my taste of how I felt about his attitude as we got up and walked out...but it was not only him but I'd also calculated the menu prices and food costs (which I learned to do when I was about fourteen) and knew we were going to pay an outrageous and unwarrented price for nothing more than 'Atmosphere'.

Nowdays things in New York (if I read between the lines of Waiter Rant's essays which, by the way, are fine examples of interesting writing) have changed little. In the midwest, both north and south, however there has been a revolution in the general restaurant business. Americans of every class eat out often, even the poorest of poor, and middle-incomers hit the classiest (read 'atmosphere') often. Food costs have remained fairly relative so most folks are still paying outrageous prices for their 'atmosphere'.

I have no advice to give you about how you choose a particular style of restaurant except this: If you're a middle-income family man, I would suggest the 'buffet' style of restaurant where you can get the most bang for your hard earned buck. Because most of them are chains, the quality is good and the choices you can understand by looking, and tipping is still how you feel about the limited service and some even have 'no tipping signs' posted which I've never agreed with (and in fact have argued with some managers about).

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