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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