Friday, July 29, 2005

The View from Table Six.

You can tell a lot about people from what they eat, and how they eat it. Look around in any restaurant, and you could draw a pretty accurate personality profile of most of the patrons.
See that woman over there? The one ultra-slim one in the tight black business suit with the blood-red fingernails? She just sent her salad back – too many carrot shavings, and her stem of white wine was not “leggy” enough. How would you like to work for her? Think she is likely to get tense about deadlines? She orders for the man she is eating with even though he does not appear to be particularly hungry.
But now take that guy eating lunch by himself. He ordered his food by saying “the special” without even knowing what it is. And now he is eating it while reading an annual report. So far he has not even glanced at his plate. For all he knows he could be eating a big bowl of Purina Executive Chow. Over the years, he has probably consumed a number of Big Macs with the wrapper still on. This is what you’d call a “big picture” guy: don’t bother him with the details, just get the job done or get out of the way.
On the other hand, here comes a guy who is about to ruin the day for his server. Tall, thin, frowning slightly, he glances at his chair before sitting down to make sure there are no food stains, and then, while he waits for service, he polishes the cutlery and water glass with his handkerchief. His selections from the menu are comprised primarily of rice and vegetables, but he does not make his choices before having sent the server back to the kitchen half a dozen times to get accurate accounts of what ingredients actually go into the preparation of the food, and how fresh these ingredients are. This is the kind of guy who knows what cumin is, and can actually detect its presence in food. All through lunch, the slight frown never leaves his face, and you know he would rather die on the spot than have to use the public restaurant washroom. I’d like to see his condo – you know he lives in a condo. Do you think he has any pre-Columbian art?
Ah. Here come a happy young couple. They select a little table out of the way, and as soon as they sit down, they hold hands across the table and talk earnestly about whatever young lovers talk about. The server has trouble getting their attention, and they have trouble making out the print on the menus. Finally they order, but they order nothing that can drip, smear, stick or wind up as green patched between their teeth. Their appetites will not really perk up until the dessert cart is wheeled in, at which point they will select a single slice of something with a large strawberry on top, and two forks. They will look dreamily at each other as they slowly eat, and when she uses her fingers to feed him the strawberry, we look politely elsewhere lest we be thought voyeuristic. Hard to imagine that in a few years they will each be eating totally unrelated dishes in stony silence.
And finally, here is a family. Two tired looking adults and three perpetual motion children all under the age of ten. It has been a decade since the adults ate a quiet meal together, or contemplated a menu that didn’t have “kidz meals” on it. They wouldn’t recognize a dessert cart if they tripped over one, and strawberries stain. The children order grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries, hamburgers, a chilly dog, milkshakes and chocolate sundaes and large glasses of cokes, and they eat sugar packets and pour salt on the table while they wait. The parents order black coffee and ask for extra napkins. While the “kidz” inhale the cheese sandwiches, the parents poach French fries and look at their watches. When they are gone, the server will have to wash the ketchup and salt from the handful of coins left as a tip.
We are what we eat.
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