Awkward. Difficult. Uncomfortable. Embarrassing Words some like to associate with the act of asking for something that is slightly uncommon or requiring some effort on the waiters part, within a dining environment.
I have a good friend. His name is John.
One of John’s most actively avoided situations are those containing any level of confrontation. Said confrontation is often only seen from John’s side and in fact, does not exist. Such situations involve seemingly present but in fact phantom ‘bad vibes’ or ‘atmosphere’ when requesting something not following the default to and fro of conversation between diner and waiter. For example, asking for brown bread instead of white; raising a hand for another small plate; pointing out to the waiter that the starter is in fact cold.
I was out for dinner with John and an ex-colleague at The Stonhouse in Clapham in South West London. It’s a gastro-pub affair which is seemingly revived in the evenings after the gym-clad roosting mums of Nappy Valley have polished off their lunches and disappeared to Starbucks for a scalding excuse for muddy water – they’ll take a venti vat.
John’s hopes for an awkward free rendez-vous were dashed from the offset. Whilst waiting for me to park my car, they gave my reservation name only to be met with ‘A table for three? We only have a reservation for two under this name’. The instinctive reaction in my absence was to apologise unreservedly and admit immediate fault and responsibility on my behalf in order to avoid what would have been interpreted by John as an ‘atmosphere’ between client and staff. Discreet and comfortable table for three offered nonetheless, and dining disaster swiftly side stepped.
I join the party of two and announce from the offset that I won’t be partaking in The Stonhouse’s rather good pies, as I’d had a huge and very tasty full English down in Bournemouth earlier in the day and was still rolling from its digestive presence. What I would in fact have was – two starters. No main. Just two starters. Perhaps a pudding after if I was still hankering. The duck parfait and potted beef caught my eye – I had made my decision. Two starters it would be.
John was quietly but visibly mortified by this brazen act of what I suspect he viewed as a complete disdain for the proper order and unwritten rules set about by a restaurant environment. A starter and a main can be ordered. Perhaps a main and dessert. If you’re feeling brave enough to up the chances of interaction with the waiter further, why not go for all three. But ordering two starters? And no main? A request that has probably never been raised in the history of dining out. Ever. The only possible outcome of this was pandemonium. This tortured soliloquy churning through John's head, I’m sure.
‘I’m going to be a bit odd and order two starters, and perhaps a pudding later.’
The bullet from my gun of confrontation had been fired. John closed his eyes and positioned himself in the brace position.
‘Not a problem – what would you like?’
The waiter did not recoil in disbelief. He did not skulk towards the kitchen pale faced and full of terror. John opened his eyes and after an initial bout of vertigo, recalled his whereabouts mid-gaze into a smiling face patiently waiting for his order.
‘I’m going to be normal and order a main.’
We shared in the joys of good food, company and a glass of wine, and the evening was a success. The potted beef could have done with more seasoning, but I wasn't keen for John to see his food twice that night, so I thought I’d spare him the 'embarrassment'.
A lesson for those cautious of requesting something a little off the beaten track in a dining environment – if they’re an establishment worth the salt in their kitchen, they’ll always try to accommodate without a hint of disdain.
Retuning back to my inbox the following morning:
Booking confirmed : Table for 3 for Dinner at The Stonhouse 17 October 2012 - at 19:00