Epicurus Interruptus

Just a little rant, which is always good for one’s system. The title subject occurs most often in American restaurants, specifically in establishments which send the manager, the chef, and—I think—the busboy out like robots to check and make sure everything was “excellent,” because I guess the server doesn’t believe us.

Why do we go out to eat? In my case it’s to enjoy good food, usually in the company of people we like and maybe even haven’t seen in a while. We pay a lot more than we would if we cooked it ourselves at home, because we want the time to converse instead of prepping, chopping, cooking, serving, clearing plates and cleaning up afterward. We pay a lot for the food and for the service, tipping the servers because they’re on their feet all day, juggle a lot and make sure things show up on time. But the clincher is—I go out to eat so I can talk with the people I’m meeting for lunch or dinner.

So why does the American restaurant experience consist of loud music and revolve around the servers’ schedules and convenience? First of all, I spend a lot of energy trying to find seating away from the loud speakers and the a/c that’s dumping on my shoulders, keeping most restaurants at an apparent 60 degrees Fahrenheit, not enough to actually freeze anyone, but enough to keep diners from parking too long in their chairs. I have to bring a sweater with me, no matter the time of year, and frankly a lap blanket is often recommended.

And whenever the server shows up, it’s time to shelve the dinner conversation (which has usually required shouting and a bit of lip-reading anyway), even if he/she is only filling our glasses with water. Countless times a diner has been telling a funny story, only to have to put it on hold to let the manager know how excellent the experience was. Or, worse, to get into a lengthy, unintended conversation with the server, who talks about what classes she’s taking, what her work schedule is for the week, and how her dog was just spayed.

Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I don’t go to a restaurant to talk with the restaurant staff, listen to loud music or burn off a thousand calories shivering. I don’t need a conversation buffer or a random conversation with strangers. I need space into which we diners at the table can talk and catch up with our lives, without a thousand interruptions. I freely admit that interruptions are a hot button for me, relaying the subtextual message, “Your time and comments don’t matter.” But I have to think that most people find them annoying.

I’ve often thought a good device would be a little flip-board on a stand that diners could put at the edge of their table, with a variety of messages like “Don’t need service right now, please don’t interrupt,” “Please refill our drinks, but don’t interrupt,” “Please bring more bread and butter,” “Everything is excellent, please don’t interrupt” or “Don’t bring the check until we flag you.”

They’d sell like hot cakes.