My sister is starting her job at a fancy downtown restaurant this week.
My sister is starting her job at a fancy downtown restaurant this week. Of course it's not anyplace I've ever eaten at, the word "fancy" rules it out for me. I eat at places that have children's menus and signs which read "please bus your own table."
In terms of having some class and poise, my sister has always led the way, which makes her perfect for being the kind of waitress who knows how to suggest a wine, which side to serve food from, and how to set the forks out. I don't think I even used a fork for the last couple meals I ate, which is bad sign, since none of my recent meals have been what would normally be deemed "finger food."
Maybe this summer will be a turning point in my gastronomic life. I like to imagine that I could be the kind of person who can successfully walk into a restaurant wearing stiletto heels, order something off a menu read by candlelight (pronouncing everything correctly is also part of the fantasy) and walk back out again without spilling food on my clothes, falling down, or slurping the soup. I'd also like to figure out, once and for all, which is served first, the soup or the salad.
I love to eat out, since eating food that I have either burnt or undercooked is not an exciting prospect for either me or my son Silas, but I seem to always frequent the same half dozen places. The places I eat have toys available, paper napkins, and something Silas can order which he can dip into catsup. "Food dipped in catsup" is the base layer of a five-year-old's food pyramid.
Even at the height of the tourist season I always run into people I know when I dine out at one of my regular spots. It makes me wonder, would I know anyone if I was eating at one of those restaurants that give people more than one fork? From the little bit of asking around that I have done I have come to the conclusion that I would not. Not to say that locals don't eat fine foods, after all not all businesses on the plaza close down in the winter, I just don't know the right kind of people. The solution is obvious. I have to make some new friends.
I'm excited to try some new places out this summer. It might be fun to eat little tiny servings of decadent food rather than my usual habit of stuffing myself with pizza and burgers until someone rolls me out to my car.
My fear is that I won't be able to focus on the food though. In my fine dining nightmares I not only fall down the stairs, but get so distracted by the shear number of forks available to me that I forget to eat. I believe that if I threaten my forks long enough with the butter knife, eventually one will jump up from the table and confess that they are, and always have been, the dessert knife. I'm interested in trying my theory out the next time I'm faced with this situation.
But this summer I'm in luck, I have someone on the inside; my waitressing sister.
What we really have to do is devise a secret series of hand symbols to let me know all the rules of etiquette. One finger would mean "take your elbows off the table," two fingers means "that's the finger bowl, not a drinking glass," and a sharp knock on the back of my head would mean "stop chewing with your mouth open." If you want a complete set of the secret symbols you'll have to e-mail me, that way we can be study buddies of "Fancy Dining for Dummies."
This is Zoë Abel's 26th column and her 26th birthday is tomorrow. Coincidence? Stroke of luck? Sign from the cosmos? Your guess is as good as hers. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.