A rather unpleasant birthday “gift”

It was my birthday. Not just my birthday, but also my daughter’s birthday., which we have shared for 23 years. For the last decade or so we have dined at the same restaurant for our joint birthday celebration. Not because the restaurant is so great, but because it is the only local restaurant that serves live lobster and live crab, making both of us happy.

This year, because of the moratorium on commercial Dungeness crab that possibility no longer existed. The end of one thing only means the beginning of another. So this year we picked a new restaurant, one specifically chosen to remind me of my recent trip to Paris.

I made reservations well in advance and noted to the hostess that it was both our birthdays. Many restaurants keep notes on diners (those computers aren’t there just for show.) Good restaurants know when you were in last, how often you’ve been in and whether you (or they) have ever had a bad experience. So the next time someone shouts at the hostess, “We come here all the time!” rest assured, she already knows.

We arrived a few minutes early and checked in, because we know that reservations are not guarantees, they are best guesses based on the behavior of people not always inclined to behave according to expectations. Plus, arriving early gives one a chance to have a drink at the bar, a behavior near and dear to my heart.

Service professionals will tell you that there are two times in the dining experience when people are less inclined to wait patiently: One is the initial beverage order and the other is after the check has been requested. We had taken care of the first step on our own and with the other off in the distance we settled in for the evening.

The first hiccup occurred when we ordered our entrees. My wife didn’t like her entrée salad. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, she just didn’t like it. She tried a different dressing and when that didn’t help she opted for an entirely different dish and we resumed our celebration.

Dessert menus were presented and we politely declined. But, as many restaurants do on birthdays, when no dessert was ordered they presented us with a token of their appreciation for sharing our special day. This token came in the form of two profiteroles, one for me and one for my daughter. Actually two for me since the birthday girl is gluten intolerant. Happy birthday indeed!

When the check came, I took a cursory glance and noticed that the charge for my wife’s entrée salad had been removed, but we had been charged for the profiteroles. I called the waitress over and pointed out the discrepancy. She frowned and took the check away, presumably for the manager to fix it.

Ten minutes later she returned with the check. I took another glance; no profiteroles, but we had been charged for a Caesar salad that we had never ordered.

I called the waitress back and pointed this out to her. She frowned again, this time for longer.

“We gave you a discount on the salad,” she explained.

“Beg your pardon?”

“The other salad was more expensive, so we took that one off and charged you for a cheaper one,” she said.

I’ve heard a lot of explanations for a lot of things, but that one took the cake, or the profiteroles, if you pardon the expression.

“I’m not paying for a salad I didn’t order and didn’t eat,” I said.

“I guess I can get the manager,” she said as if that was a threat.

“I would love to talk to your manager.”

Five minutes later she brought back the bill with the salad removed.

“The manager’s busy, so I just took it off.”

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• I know where we are going next year.

• In grammar a mistake is an accident and an error is a bad choice.

• Always check your bill because sometimes it may have a mistake, and sometimes it may have an error.

• Never be afraid to speak to the manager. They are actually there to help.

• Parisian waiters have a reputation for rudeness. In my limited experiences on both the rive droite and on the rive gauche, I didn’t find that to be the case. Here at home however …

• Getting caught padding a bill will not only reduce the amount of the bill, but the percentage of the gratuity as well.