Let’s start with a bit of a Q&A session, shall we? Who doesn’t like eating out? You there…in the blue shirt? No? You…in that peach salwar? You neither? Well, looks like we all love eating out. And why wouldn’t we? Apart from the fact that we get to eat mouth-watering yummy food, it’s also an experience. The ambience of the restaurant, the cost factor, how the staff behave and plenty of other factors affect this adventure. But there's one primary point which can almost singlehandedly decided if your “restaurant experience” is going to be an enjoyable, stressful or amusing affair. And that is where you’re going to be seated.
I speak from experience. For once upon a time, I did man the tills for a very popular Brighton restaurant. Part-time of course. This goes back to the days when I was trying to juggle my Masters degree and two other part-time jobs (which was illegal by the way). Now, as you may have figured out already, I'm rather observant (Some people call me nosey. I prefer the word observant or information gatherer). So from my high seat behind the till, I’ve observed various kinds of restaurant patrons go about exhibiting their unique mannerisms. Some were pretty. Some were pretty appalling. Some others were pretty disgusting.
Here are a few that I've encountered over the course of my "restaurant visits":
The “Sound Machine”
Belches, slurps, chomps, smacks, scrunches - all in complete Dolby Digital surround sound is what you’re likely to be treated to if you are (un)fortunate enough to be seated next to this patron. Add to this mix the patron who decides that it’s perfectly acceptable to snort and blow-their-nose loudly, and you are going to be treated to a cacophony of food-y sounds. Make sure you carry those ear plugs. Or at least pieces of cotton the next time you eat out. Oh, and did I mention the covert fart-er. Just keep an eye out for that incessant shifting in the seat, which is a sure sign give-away.
The Uncivil Barbarian
I bet most of us have seen this type of patron. They are obnoxious, rude, boorish, loud, impatient and for the lack of another word, fairly uncouth. And of course they’ve made a lot of us cringe when they sometimes address the waiters with clap of the hand, snap of the fingers or occasionally even the dreaded whistle. Words such as “Excuse Me” and “Please” are considered a taboo and they’d rather be caught with their pants down before they even consider basic courtesy. Undoubtedly when you add a drink or two to the mix, they are some of the most unpleasant people to both deal with and be seated next to.
Ah, the humble replacer - where do I start?. They are polite and often very soft-spoken. But they take the “customer is always right” adage a bit too far. The Replacers believe that it’s their right to request the waiter to ask the chef to substitute enough ingredients till the dish no longer resembles the original. Slight changes are always acceptable to most restaurants, but the replacer (also sometimes known as the substituter) believes in getting their dish custom-made. It’s like how Harry tells Sally, in the famous romantic movie “When Harry Met Sally”:
Harry (imitating Sally): "Waiter, I'll begin with a house salad, but I don't want the regular dressing. I'll have the balsamic vinegar and oil, but on the side. And then the salmon with the mustard sauce, but I want the mustard sauce on the side. On the side" is a very big thing for you.”
Of course, I agree that sometimes substitutions are required for dietary, religious or allergic reasons. But the replacer takes it a number of steps too far.
Have you ever been to a restaurant with someone who says “Oh! I’m not hungry. I’ll just order a salad or a glass of water”? I bet you have. Of course you being the genuinely nice person that you are offer them a taste of what you’re having. But the moment you look away or pop to the washroom, some of your potato wedges go magically missing. Or that lovely, succulent, spicy chicken wing that you’d saved for later seems to have a few unexplained battle scars. Of course when it’s time to pay, they just flash you the nicest smile and offer to share. But to be honest, most of us rarely ask them to pay an equal share. After all, officially they’ve only had a salad.
On the other end of the spectrum, far far away from the Freeloader is the Anti-Sharer. They know exactly what they want and expect you to as well. And yes, they do not share food. Obviously family-style dining is not really their cup of tea. They are overly protective of their food and will watch like a hawk to ensure that nothing goes missing from their plate. Here’s a piece of advice if you ever encounter The Anti-Sharer. Do Not, I repeat, Do not ever ask them for a taste of their food. Your friendship (or date) could end right there.
Personally, I also refer to them as “the Take-away-er”. They always order a lot more food that they can consume and pay no heed to the waiter’s helpful comment of “The portions are quite large”. Unsurprisingly there’s always copious amounts of food left over after the meal, and you can be assured that they ask for a doggy-bag to take home that half eaten piece of steak or the quarter bowl of curry. Of course the dog never sees any part of this doggy bag. Well, at least they don't waste the food. So can't really complain.
You can identify the VIP the moment he or she walks in through the front door. They have an aura of arrogance about them and will expect to be recognised by everyone. They like to be fussed about and expect complimentary treatment, maybe a bottle of Champagne or aperitifs on the house. I’ve even seen some of them expect the chef to pay them a visit and make a fuss when the chef hasn’t been able to.
Also sometimes known as “The Splitter”, they are given paramount importance towards the fag-end of a group meal. Adept at splitting a cheque in ways that would put Aryabhatta to shame, they also sometimes assume the role of “The Tipster” deciding what percentage to add to the final bill. They can also occasionally be Mr. Scrooge McDuck and decide to cut the tip to help round off the bill.
The Solo Diner
I’m going to briefly interject before you “Aww” this patron and feel sorry for their lack of company. Some of them are actually solo diners by choice. I know people who don’t mind eating alone and instead take this in their stride and consider it as some well-earned “me-time”. The Solo diners find solace mostly in reading, using their phone to catch up on the latest happenings or sometimes even watching a movie on their tablet or laptop. If you have a choice, always choose to sit at the table next to a solo diner. They are the perfect table neighbour, who minds their own business.
Usually a talkative bunch, the Lingerers are also sometimes very hard to understand. They seem to thrive on the motto “I’ve finished eating. So What?” and “So what if people are queueing outside the door? I think I’m just going to sit here and finish talking”.
The Party Animals
These patrons are often hard to miss in any restaurant. They are the bunch of overdressed people with flashy accessories, laughing away loudly and happily. They could also be sporting party hats complete with whistles and bells and honestly, you would be excused in requesting that you be placed as far away as possible from them. But they’re not without their positives. For example, they are likely to order giant-sized portions of food. So just take a look at what looks appetising and make your decision. It’s like modelling for food.
No, not the fake ones. I mean the ones who are so obsessed with their phones that they’d rather WhatsApp a joke to the person sitting right across the table rather than talk to them. Of course they are also obsessed with updating their Facebook status, checking in on FourSquare, or tweeting away asking for suggestions on what to order. They also remember to check the Sports score whilst they’re waiting for the food to be delivered. I’m also going to add to this list, the patrons who believe in answering calls whilst at a restaurant and show no hesitation in having full-length conversations (often loud enough to be heard by all fellow patrons) whilst the sizzling food is on the table waiting to be devoured
The Food Connoisseur
If you can get over the fact that they may appear at times a bit obnoxious and can be every waiter’s and some chef’s worst nightmare, the foodies are pretty good patrons to be around. They are well-researched, know their wines, appetisers, mains, desserts and accompaniments. They know how to pronounce Blaufränkisch (in case you’re wondering, it is pronounced Blahw-FRAHN-keesh) and will know exactly what the best dishes are. If in doubt, just take a peek at what they’re ordering. You could hardly go wrong.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen a lot of these in India. But they are a very frequent breed of patrons across the globe. They’re often couples with the clear give-aways being severe Public display of affections like hugging, curling, coochy-cooing and can often be seen sitting extremely close to each other. Sometimes close enough to make the other patrons in the restaurant a bit uncomfortable. Of course on closer observation, you may also notice the feet of one of PDA’er running up the legs of another PDA’er too. Another tell-a-tale sign is the way they try to feed each other food. Squirms
No, not the Italian ones. I am talking about the good old family diners. Before the parents who are reading this vehemently oppose me and call for my beheading, let me tell you this. I've been on both sides of the fence. On the Single/couple side, tut-tuting “family patrons" wondering why they couldn't leave their little ones at home. And now on the “family-side” wondering why the heck fellow patrons give us the evil eye. I’ll be honest. If you have a toddler, dining out at a restaurant is hard work. Simply because no amount of coaxing, bribing or food will serve as enough ammunition to keep them in their seat. They’ll want to explore the restaurant, see what other people are eating and as sometimes luck would have it, scream for no apparent reason. Or make heck of a noise using the table cutlery as percussion instruments.
And so as a parent, I’m going to give you this piece of valuable advice. If you are a parent to a baby or a toddler, do make sure to check in advance if the restaurant is baby-friendly. If it is, you'll have a fairly relaxed meal along with the rest of the patrons.
Singletons and Couples - If you are "fortunate" enough to be sat next to a "family", do spare us a thought. It's not that easy. And yes, we deserve a break too.
The Food Picture-ers
These are the patrons who believe in the motto “What good is food if no one knows what you’re eating?" They often demand the fellow patrons not touch the food until they photograph it and tweet about it. Food going cold is of no concern to them. I’m also going to add to this list, the patrons who love to take the ever-popular selfies and groupies. Yes, right in front of the food. Not to mention that rather disturbing duck face that you sometimes have to look at while trying to dig into that plate of roasted duck in front of you.