Old Money: In Their Own Words

The moment one enters a dining establishment is the moment the person dining there accepts that he or she will always be ‘wrong’ that evening. What do I mean by this? I mean that you, as the customer, are going to accept responsibility for any misunderstandings that occur with the restaurant staff that evening. 

The older the money, the truer this is. There is a clear power dynamic in play: one is aware that the person providing the service to your table is, most likely, in a very different financial position, as the server is understood to be at the disposal of hungry customers.

This is why you’re always wrong: for a short period of time, it’s a kind and generous thing to be. If the waiter brings the wrong glass of wine to the table, sets it down, and begins to take the orders for entrees, point out ‘your’ error. A very kind, “Oh, that looks like Chardonnay and I believe I asked for cabernet sauvignon, but I need to speak up and not speed through my drinks order. My mistake.” should be offered without fail.

By taking this responsibility, you relieve the waiter of any embarrassment and allow him to look competent in his job’s role. Certainly everyone knows what happened, to some extent, but no one knows if he found out his mother was diagnosed with leukemia that same morning or if he left a 13-year-old child with a cold at home for the evening.

Old Money understands that with certain financial power must come the grace of knowing what’s best for everyone present. From my experience, the level of service becomes much more precise as a diner’s forgiving nature can be cause for the wait staff to want to do a fantastic job at that table.

I can hear you already: But this was my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary and the waiter made several mistakes. Well, you’re wrong.

If an event is THAT important (e.g., dad’s retirement, wife finished her Ph.D. program, husband qualified for Ironman, son finished his last chemotherapy treatment), one cannot leave that type of celebration to people who are serving eight other tables and trying to cover for a short kitchen. In this case, consider a privately catered event at your home and staff this with top service people, brought in by the chef, to attend only to you and your party. This conveys to everyone present how important this event is and why there should be very firm control over the situation so as not to interrupt others from sharing and enjoying a family milestone.

I remind people dining out with me (and I dine out almost exclusively as I do not cook well and have no desire to keep trying) not to oversell an establishment (“I heard this is THE hot place to be!”). I also hope that they will not arrive on the brink of starvation. The purpose of eating in a restaurant or even at the country club dining room is to speak with your fellow diners while plates and glasses are brought and removed by professional staff.

If you’re far too hungry and impatient, chances are good you’ll snap at the waitress if the kitchen is slow. There is never, ever an excuse for this, under any circumstances. Within some of the circles I’ve been lucky enough to travel and dine, the people at my table treat the wait staff better than they treat their own children. There’s a reason for that: you must be generous in your personal nature to those who are in a position of serving you, without exception. *

Be genuinely charming to everyone who is working in the establishment where you’re enjoying a meal; relieve the stress of the person who may have to work 11 hours straight, on their feet, when they would rather be home relieving an old back injury and in dire need of sleep.

There is no substitute for authentic well-cultivated charm and putting yourself across as the mistaken party when there’s an error with restaurant wait staff puts you in a rarefied class of gentlemen.

*The other Golden Rule remains the same: Never show up late for cocktails; it’s uncivilized.

  • “Mary Louise Case”

17 thoughts on “Old Money: In Their Own Words

  1. Wonderfully stated and extremely informative. Thank you for sharing this timely wisdom. I haven’t yet arrived, alas I will soon be coming into an inheritance and needed to know how to behave as pertaining to the responsibility that comes with true wealth.

  2. This is very true. Being rude or short with someone who prepares or brings food is rarely a recipe for success. Leaving out the obvious issues, these people work for hours at a time and get generally mistreated by many customers and managers, cut them a break. Being polite and patient and engaging has ended up earning a free drink or two on many an occasion.

    It all goes back to the age old, do unto others etc.

    Enjoy the people you’re dining with, the food is merely an added plus.

  3. Having worked in a restaurant as a second job ( meaning, 5-11 after a day at the office), thank you for writing this. And since I truly can relate, I certainly will never mistreat or take for granted anyone in the service industry. I will add, if someone does a great job, if their smile and manner improve the atmosphere at the table, please mention it to them, as well as their manager if you have the chance. Honestly, I enjoyed the work overall. It is a crash course in human psychology and there is a rush that comes from moving seamlessly through a busy night as a team.

  4. I do not recall off-hand exactly who it was, but a now deceased Duke once famously said –

    “ In this world there are just two kinds of people : those who are kind to their servants, and those who are not “.

  5. I loved this post! A relative of mine used to treat wait staff so horribly – curt responses, eye-rolling during the specials description, seemingly annoyed at the staff’s very presence. (She likely still does this, but I stopped dining with her in public.) I always silently wondered to myself, “Who do you think you’re impressing?” And I always left a sizable tip to make up for her rudeness.

  6. I agree with the home catering. Eating out really is not a pleasant experience. Used to be you could make a reservation and when you arrived at the restaurant you were acknowledged and your time was curated by the staff including soft music playing in the background. Now a days everything is very loud. Both my wife and I very reclusive and firm believers in home cooking. A very fond memory is the time 15 relatives came over on short notice. Since it was brunch time I went to my secret market (they only take cash) and I purchased several dozen eggs, a couple pounds of bacon, whole grain bread, a selection of fruit, coffee beans and granola. We fed our guests a substantial meal off inherited bone china. My Aunts relaxed in the front room, the kids were playing on the property and my Uncle relaxed with the paper in the conservatory. The brunch lasted about three hours. This is an experience that couldn’t have been replicated in a restaurant or club. After our guests left my wife asked my how much I spent. I said $23.00 compared to $2000.00 I spent at a nice restaurant but the kids were restless, my Aunts needed help getting up the stairs and my Uncles wanted to go home early. I did have to send some cutlery back for cleaning and they gave us paper napkins which we are not fond of.

    1. Bob, your brunch sounds lovely. Too few people entertain at home anymore. Like weddings, people seem to believe entertaining has to be extravagant. It really is about the atmosphere, the company and well prepared food, whether it is fancy or not. I have such fond childhood memories of sitting in the kitchen listening to my grandmother, mother, aunts, great aunts and cousins talking while cooking and washing up dishes, while the men “read” in the recliners (there always seemed to be a lot of snoring involved).

  7. Great advice Byron. Good manners, etiquette and class. If for no other reason, remember that they are serving you food. 😉
    We must never forget the importance of style and class in our dealings with everyone, especially to those in subordinate positions or roles.

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