Poor taste

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - OPENERS - What was your worst din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence? saweek­[email protected]

I don’t eat out a lot th­ese days. If you have to pay for a babysit­ter on top of the food and drinks bill it be­comes a real lux­ury. So when one of my old­est and dear­est friends had his big birth­day nosh-up at a rather posh restau­rant the other night I threw the credit card to the wind. I soon dis­cov­ered that some fine din­ers think they are more equal than oth­ers.

We’d set­tled in at our ta­ble for 10 at seven and by eight ev­ery­thing seemed per­fect. The en­trees, the drinks and the con­ver­sa­tion were flow­ing per­fectly. Our ta­ble blended in with the mur­mur of the rest of the din­ers. Then they ar­rived.

Three im­pec­ca­bly well-dressed cou­ples sat at the next ta­ble and within a few min­utes were be­hav­ing like ya­hoos. They were aw­ful. I don’t care if they’d had Fri­day drinks be­fore they ar­rived or even if they were high as kites, they were so lu­di­crously loud it was painful. They were Ade­laide elite and to let the world know one of them even wore his Or­der of Aus­tralia medal. If they were giv­ing medals for bad be­hav­iour they would have all won gold.

We ate our main cour­ses lis­ten­ing to their whoop­ing, af­fected laugh­ter and gen­eral over-the-top be­hav­iour. The ta­ble next to us ate quickly and walked out. One of us mocked and mim­icked the chief hyena’s ma­ni­a­cal cackle at a sim­i­lar level to send a very un­sub­tle sig­nal that we were not amused but to no ef­fect.

We dis­cussed ask­ing the wait­ress to take ac­tion but de­cided to just eat up and get out of there. We went back to my friend’s house and had cof­fee and dessert, and ev­ery­one felt relieved to just get away from the bed­lam. I soon dis­cov­ered that this sort of ex­pe­ri­ence caused by bad restau­rant man­ners was not un­com­mon. One friend re­counted how her fam­ily had to lis­ten to a loud dis­cus­sion at the next ta­ble about the sex­ual fail­ings of a mar­riage. Another said they now al­ways booked pri­vate rooms for spe­cial events so they wouldn’t be spoilt by boor­ish be­hav­iour from those around them.

I still won­der if we had said we didn’t like all the noise what would have hap­pened. I once went to a restau­rant where three fam­i­lies had set up two ta­bles for a big Sun­day lunch. One was for the adults and the other was for their chil­dren. Great for the adults but aw­ful for me and my part­ner who had to en­dure be­ing stuck next to a ta­ble of ruf­fi­ans who de­cided to have a food fight and gen­er­ally run amok. I po­litely went to the adult ta­ble and sug­gested they ex­ert some con­trol over their un­ruly off­spring and was greeted with as­ton­ish­ment. “Oh come on. They’re kids en­joy­ing them­selves. Weren’t you a kid once?”

I felt like say­ing, “Yes I was and I had par­ents who taught me how to eat prop­erly, keep my el­bows off the ta­ble, not flick peas with knives so they hit other peo­ple and var­i­ous other ba­sic pre­req­ui­sites of civilised be­hav­iour.” But I didn’t. I just said it wasn’t very pleas­ant to have kids and food fly­ing about while we were try­ing to en­joy our meal and they still came back with: “They’re just kids.”

Apart from the rise in bad man­ners in restau­rants, have you also no­ticed that the gen­eral noise level is also on the in­crease? The days of quiet and in­ti­mate din­ing are over. A re­cent sur­vey in New York found that noise lev­els are well above 90 deci­bels in a num­ber of restau­rants. Ap­par­ently some mar­ket­ing guru says the nois­ier the place the greater the turnover and so the bet­ter the busi­ness. So those buf­foons the other night would have been right at home in the Big Ap­ple. They could be as loud as they like and you’d hardly no­tice them.

So from now on, if I want to cel­e­brate I will or­der in take­away or cook up a restau­rant meal my­self. I might buy a Nigella Law­son cook­book. Now there’s some­one who eats at home a lot th­ese days and knows about bad be­hav­iour in restau­rants.

Ian Hen­schke can be heard in the morn­ing on ABC ra­dio 891.

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