Herald on Sunday
Buy your own sodding chips — and other rules
The story of Peter who asked his mate, Alex, for 47 cents to cover the three fries Alex had taken off Peter’s plate struck a chord with me.
In my time in restaurants, I was sent from Wellington to manage the Armadillo, a cheap and cheerful eatery in my hometown of Hamilton. Previously, I’d worked as a maitre d’ at Cafe Paradiso, in Courtenay Place, just as the area was transforming from an industrial area to a late night reveller’s epicentre.
Paradiso was a fabulous place in its time — open for dinner, then a late-night supper menu from 1am til 4am and a notorious back bar that I never felt quite cool enough to venture into, despite the fact I worked there.
It was champagne and fine red wines and expense accounts and excess. Deals were made, movies were written and relationships began there. Famous Hollywood actors who dropped hundred dollar tips were at the table across from the couple from the ’burbs who’d saved for a month to be there. It was a mad, bad glorious time.
Hamilton was a little different. For a start, Armadillo, a cavernous space that could seat 120 at a time, was only doing about 5-10 covers a night. It was haemorrhaging money and we had to turn it around. And so we did, with a great chef and vivacious floor staff.
It too was loads of fun, but it was good solid provincial fun. Fun without nonsense and fun without excess. And that was typified by the way people paid their bills.
In Wellington, there was generally one big noter at the table who had either the money or the company credit card.
When the time came to pay the eyewatering bill, the big cheese would slap down the card and pay for the table.
In Hamilton, people paid for what they had — down to the last cent. I would get a party of six at the till and one by one they’d present themselves with their exact share and an accounting of their meal. “I had half the entree, the chicken, a quarter of the garlic bread and three beers.”
It was quite a shift in culture and made for some lengthy wait times at the till on a Friday night but from what I could see, there was nothing mean or parsimonious about it — it was just the principle that you paid for what you had and an innate horror about being thought a big-noter.
I learned my lesson about big-noting. Many years later some old school friends came to Auckland for the weekend. We went out for brunch and being good Hamilton girls, when the time came to pay, they started doing the divvying.
“No, no!” I cried, the only Aucklander. “I’ll get it! It’s on me. You came up to see me — I’ll pay!”
I made such a song and dance, they gave in and I flourished my debit card — only for it to be declined. Always ensure you have enough money in your play account before big-noting, is the moral of that story.
The other lessons to take from the Peter, Alex and the three chips story is don’t have a friend like Peter, unless you are a Peter.
If Alex had said, “Oh quite right. Sorry, forgot I had those three chips,” and paid up, the friendship could continue. As it is, it can’t. If you’re not a Peter, you can’t be friends with one.
Another lesson — and this is mainly for women — is order your own bloody chips. Nothing worse than a gorgeous slim wee thing demurring when it comes to ordering good boysy side dishes and then hoovering into your chips or macaroni cheese. It’s as if they think if they don’t order, then the food won’t have any calories.
If you’re a big drinker and the others with you are not, pay for the alcohol and then split the meals — that way you can hook in without fear or scruple. And on a first date, pay your way.
Food is meant to be shared, but as the Alex and Peter story showed us, there are rules about how.