A reader, R.W.I., would like a discussion of restaurant etiquette. It's a large topic, but he has a specific question. This is his story:
"On Tuesday, March 9, 1999, ?my friend, my brother and his new girlfriend and I got tickets to the show at the Tralf featuring Bruce Cockburn. Before the show, we all agreed to ?meet at the Bijou Grille for something ?to eat. I ordered the pork roast, very good, but soupy. I hailed the waiter ?as anyone would do and requested another roll to ‘soup up' the gravy. ?On the side, I see the new girlfriend with ?her head down, hands over her eyes, almost crying. I call to her ‘What? What did I ?do now?'
"She chimes back that they do not like to be called ‘waiters,' they liked to be called ‘sir!'
"I tell her I have been in Paris ?three times in the last two years, and ?it is ‘waiter.'
"Well, the concert was thus ruined.
"The next day, I called you directly, told you the situation and asked ?your opinion. You said, ‘Hold on, I'll ask the group.' I could hear laughter in the background. You get back to the phone and say: 1) ‘Thanks for making our ?day,' 2) ‘It is perfectly acceptable to ?call a waiter or waitress a waiter or waitress,' 3) ‘Tell your brother to find another girlfriend.'
"Well Ms. Okun, I'm back to tell ?you that you were wrong on one item. They got married, kept each other for some 13 years, raised three kids. But, I'm still the ‘bad uncle / brother-in-law.' Thanks again."
A: You should know that I have absolutely no recollection of this phone call, RW, and it doesn't sound like the kind of thing I'd do, but I will stand by the advice anyway – at least the part about using the term "waiter" or "waitress." Why wouldn't you? It's an honorable profession, especially when done well.
Some people might think it's more politically correct to call this person a "server." Also honorable, but it sounds a little strange in this context. And, as you have traveled in France, you probably know that the word garçon, which some people might think is correct, means "boy" in that country and is only used to call the busser. But even there, you could also say "monsieur or "mademoiselle."
Speaking of that "new girlfriend" reference, even though I don't recall saying it, I am glad things worked out for them. And by the way …
Here's another etiquette question (well ?sort of):
"My friends and I have noticed this summer as we dine out in restaurants that it is freezing cold inside. I mean, so cold that you can't wait to finish eating to get outside. Of course it doesn't help that the weather has been warm and we are wearing light clothing. Have you noticed this? Or are we crazy?"
A: You are definitely not crazy. AC can be crazy, though. Everywhere, not just in restaurants, it can get too darn cold. So what to do? Here's where the etiquette part comes in. Ask politely for the AC to be turned down – that's acceptable.
Or ask to be moved. Maybe they put you under a vent.
I always carry a lightweight sweater or ?shawl with me if I'm wearing short sleeves. ?(It's definitely NOT cool to use a napkin as a cover-up although it might help drive your ?point home.)
Send your questions and comments about dining out to Janice Okun at firstname.lastname@example.org.