Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Some Eatery Tales

In the movies you are always seeing somebody slipping the Host a twenty-dollar bill to get a good seat.  In my entire life I have never bribed a host or hostess for preference.
As many time as The Better Half and I (or I alone on business trips for that matter ) have eaten out we have rarely gotten a really bad table.  On most occasions when we have the restaurant wasn't filled and there was nowhere else to put us.

I have occasionally been to restaurants that weren't full and been seated at bad tables, but this has usually been at high volume chains such as Bennigans.  The impression I have is these places have a rotation scheme to assure the wait people receive some quota of serving and so if it means a bad seat so a wait person gets their quota the host will seat you there even if other areas have good seats.  I might be wrong about this, but it is just an observation.
John Harvard's would probably fall into this category.  We like the place before the state banned smoking in all restaurants.  It doesn't have high prices and the food is to our taste with big portions. In the pass we always asked for smoking (though we don't smoke) because you were less likely to have families with babies or small children who would disrupt a quiet meal. The smoking section was in the bar area, where the bar tender also served double duty as a waiter at those lunchtime forays and he was a very friendly fellow and after our first visit he always recognized us and greeted us when we came. Seating in the bar was never a problem until Governor Minnor signed the anti-smoking law.  The last two times we went to John Harvard’s we had a seating hassle, so they may be on the verge of losing a regular customer. (They have since closed. -- Larry)
The firsts was when I was on vacation at the end of December.  The Better Half had to work and on those days I took her to work and picked her up.  Since she got off at 1:00, I suggested lunch at John Harvard’s.  Since lunches there had always been enjoyable, we went.
We entered and the Hostess asked how many.  With no further question she quickly led us off into the dining room.  Although this time we had a decent table, that room is still a brightly lit sea of tables and had a number of other customers, including some babies that you know are just going to yowl before leaving.
When the waiter came I asked about the bar.  Since it had appeared pretty much empty, I thought it was closed.  He said, no it was open.  I asked if we could go there and he said sure.  Then he said, "The bartender's name is Eric.  He’s a great guy.  Tell him I sent you."
As we headed there the hostess came by and asked where we were going.  I told her to the bar.  She didn't try to stop us, but gave me a dirty look.  Went anyway not realizing this was portents of the future.
Eric the Bartender turned out to be the usual one and he greeted us warmly as soon as we entered and gave us a nice quiet booth.
We chalked this seating mishap up to an aberration, but after last night I don't.  Last night we specifically requested the bar and since there was obviously empty seating in the bar saw no reason why that request was unreasonable, especially since the dining room was fairly crowded. However, the hostess insisted we could not sit in the bar and took us to a table near the back of the dining room. We were next to the kitchen door, so had that swinging back and forth constantly, and the room was full of both squally babies and parents who let their children roam freely.
We have no desire to go back there.

Now on the opposite end side of the John Harvard's are those other places where we have become recognizable.  It is very nice to be known in a restaurant, makes one feel like a celebrity.  The last time we went to Hugo's, I commended to the Better Half, after we were seated at our favorite front corner table, that I felt like Cheers where everyone went "Norm" whenever George Wendt made his entrance.
One Saturday we went to Hugo's without a reservation and they were really busy.  The only table in the bar area was far in the back just before the entrance to the Men's Room.  This is probably the least desirable table in the bar, but was the only one open so we took it.  We ordered our drinks, but when the waitress brought them she said follow me.  A much better table had just opened and she took us to it.

I guess some real snooty in-places would demand a bribe to even seat you, let alone move you to a better table, but I have usually found even the upscale restaurants in this area have more class than crass.
Two instances of true class come to mind many years apart.
One was about a year ago. We had not made a reservation anywhere and just set out.  We decided to go to Hugo's. When we got there the parking lots were very full.  We walked in and the place was unusually busy.  The Hostess told us it would be an hour wait.  We decided not to stay, especially since there were an extraordinary number of kids there that evening.
I had overlooked the fact it was Mother’s’ Day weekend and I guess a lot of people were taking mom out a day early.
We weren't certain what to do, but as we drove back up Route 1 (Baltimore Pike) we passed The Gables at Chadds Ford.  This was a fairly new restaurant that had gained popularity.  It was much more pricey than Hugo's and we figured it would probably be full too, but I said what the heck, let's give it a try.
We went in and were confronted by a formally dressed host.  I told him we had no reservations.  Did he turn us away?  No.  He said he could seat us in the bar area, but he would need the table at eight o'clock.  It was about quarter of seven so I figured we could eat in an hour and quarter.
The waitress was very friendly and the food was excellent.  Though we were a bit more rushed then usual, it was still an enjoyable experience.  There was a live jazz combo playing and the staff couldn’t have been nicer.  We became a regular thereafter when we could afford the tab.
Another instance of a place showing class, or perhaps plain pity, was over twenty years ago before our kids were born when we lived in New Jersey. One day we decided to try the Silver Lake Inn for lunch having never been there. We arrived right at opening time and as we walked in found the dining room was empty of customers, but there were an army of black bow-tie-bedecked waiters poised like soldiers at various stations in the room.  We were given a table with a view out the window of the lake and our drink orders taken.  I opened the menu and lost my appetite.  Every choice was a complete luncheon and the prices were so high I knew I didn't have enough money on me to pay for lunch for two.  I didn't carry credit cards in those days.
First I panicked, then I swallowed my pride and waved back the waiter telling him to cancel the drinks and we got up.  I kind of mumbled an explanation.  The waiter looked stricken.
The Host came over and he and the waiter followed us as we retreated, pleading we stay, saying, "Don't go.  You’re hungry.  We'll make you a sandwich."  But I was too embarrassed to except and we just kept going and we never ever went back there.  Of course they probably forgot us an hour later.

My pants were never being pulled down at these restaurants either.
The closest that came to happening was at the Longwood Inn on Valentine's Day a decade ago.  That was the first and only time in my life I fainted.  It was during my thyroid problems and I was just on new medication and I guess this affected me.  The Better Half and I had just ordered and had one drink on the table.  I hadn't even started to drink that, because I felt a bit odd.  I told the Better Half I was going to the men's room to sit in there to see if I would begin to feel better.  Going through the next dining room over things turned black.  Next thing I know the host and two waiters or busboys are carrying me to the lobby.
They sat me on a chair.  I remember people waiting to be seated looking over.  Next one of these guys is undoing my belt and the button on my pants.  I thought he was going to unzip them and pull them down.  Since I was only wearing a very brief male g-string underneath, (it was Valentine's day, see) I didn't want that to happen.  I quickly said I was okay.  I got up, buckled up and had our dinners boxed and we got out of there, never to return.
Another culinary bridge burned.

(Note: since this was written these restaurants went out of business. Bennigans, John Harvard's, Hugo's and the Silver Lake Inn. -- LEM 2009)  

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