by Chrysa Smith

I remember it very clearly.

It was Christmas, 1982. And I had landed a very nice job right out of college. It was in the Film Industry in NYC and the CEO of our company invited several of us to lunch at 21. Now, back in the day, it was one of the most prestigious, high-brow eateries in the city. A distinguished brownstone, lined with those painted, concrete jockeys carrying lanterns, it housed a traditional dining room with high ceilings. Lunch was a sitting—yes, a sitting that lasted from midday through late afternoon rush hour.

I don’t particularly remember the food, but what I do remember was an elderly gentleman seated behind me. He dined alone. And before my life as a travel widow, it had tugged at my heartstrings. Well, at least until he attempted to force the waiter’s attention upon him. No excuse me, pardon me, waiter! His ‘call’ for service came by banging his utensils upon his plate until someone–anyone paid attention to him. And as for me, I wasn’t only surprised, but looked around to see where the bride and groom were hiding. To my knowledge, that is the only appropriate plate-banging time—when wedding guests demand to be entertained by newlywed kisses.

The elderly man was clearly a regular—and the wait staff, accustomed to his ways. Yet somehow, I was appalled. It wasn’t polite. It wasn’t proper etiquette. My God, where were his table manners?
Maybe age gives you a pass on proper rules and regs that you no longer care about. But, as I learned through the years, behaving poorly at the table is not only reserved for the elderly. So, I propose some common sense dining rules that seem to sometimes defy logic:
  1. Motherhood seems to give certain women a pass as well. Please don’t sit in my eye’s view and whip out your breast to nurse. I’m no prude, but come on, I don’t want to see that while eating. And when you’ve got a whining, finicky or colicky child, please take that child to McDonald’s, Friendly’s, or some other child-friendly restaurant. If you need a better meal, do everyone a favor and get a babysitter—so everyone at the restaurant can enjoy a nice, relaxing meal without the need for a digestive aid.
  2. Put that cell phone away! Can you disconnect for life’s most basic functions? I’ve been in bathroom stalls where someone was relieving herself while talking on the cell phone. Have we gone mad? Short of calling 911, let’s pull the plug and learn to chill out. And respect the quiet privacy of someone seated next to us who might have come into that restaurant for a little quiet atmosphere.
  3. Groups of ladies at lunch don’t realize just how high the volume gets. I hate to say it but the last few times I couldn’t hear at a restaurant, it was thanks to ladies who needed to turn down the volume—many decibels at least.
I must admit, I have played games of Paper Football and Penny Hockey at the table myself—but it wasn’t in a restaurant like 21—-nor were there any goal sirens, cheering fans or vevuzelas (soccer horns) to ruin the experience for anyone else.

New motto: If you’re happy, chatty, playful and you know it, shhhhhhh! Just keep it to yourself.