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”