The Art of the No
I sat near the front door of the little restaurant. Limited outdoor seating said the sign. And it wasn’t a lie. Tables were strewn around the little alcove/sidewalk/patio/parking lot area, all six feet apart, but certainly not placed there by any restaurant design firm. In fact, an interior designer or fengshui expert would probably have cringed. The two and four top tables were stuffed in wherever they fit. None of the tables in the outdoor area were capable of seating more than six people, so it felt a little haphazard, sort of like Valentine’s Day seating at your favorite restaurant with one big exception: instead of people sitting too close together, they were sitting rather far apart. Now, normally sitting by any door in any restaurant is not ideal, but these days one is happy to get what one can. At least this one is.
The man who approached the little makeshift hostess stand that was wedged into what was actually the front door had to be reminded to put on his face covering, even though everyone else was wearing one and there were at least two large signs making clear the necessity of such. He also had to be reminded to stay six feet back. And he wasn’t happy about either reminder.
“I would like to sit in there,” he said pointing inside the restaurant.
“I am sorry, Sir, but you cannot,” said the hostess.
“But that guy is,” he said pointing at the man sitting at the bar/counter.
“He’s the chef and he’s eating his lunch,” said the hostess.
“Can I sit there?” the man pointed at an empty table.
“No, I’m sorry,” she said.
“How about there?”
“No” is not a word you hear very often in the restaurant business. “Yes” has always been the go-to, with “let me see” or let me check” following close behind.
But the new normal is going to be different. In fact, it is already different.
Finally, the man relented.
“Alright I will take whatever table you’ve got,” he said.
“Do you have a reservation?”
Now it was his turn.
“I’m sorry then, I don’t have anything.”
“Would you like a reservation for tomorrow?” she asked. “We are taking reservations one day in advance.”
“I guess,” he said, his shoulders slumping somewhat.
“I have a table in the parking lot at 4.”
He stormed off, knocking over one of the little table tent face mask reminders in a pathetic adult interpretation of ineffective infantile rage. Only to return 15 minutes later.
“I’ll take it,” he said sheepishly.
“I’m sorry but it was just taken,” she said, simultaneously picking up the table tent off of her little table, as well as her pen, and anything else that might be subject to infantile expressions.
When he left, I wandered over to her.
“That’s a change,” I said from behind my mask.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Getting to say ‘no’ for once,” I said.
She looked at me and I looked at her.
“It wasn’t terrible,” she said.
A couple walked up, the woman pulling on her mask and the man pulling up his gaiter.
The hostess looked at me.
“I’m sorry sir, but you have to stay six feet back,” she said. And then she winked at me.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-Saying ‘no’ sometimes feels really, really, good.
-When did we become a nation of petulant three year old’s, who all can’t be told fire will burn us, but instead are only convinced of the fact when we touch it for ourselves?
-Facemasks, no longer a suggestion, but now a requirement.
-Father’s Day has always been somewhat of an afterthought in the restaurant industry. Mother’s Day and Easter are truly the brunch kingpins, or queenpins, as it were. But this year I suspect many dads are going to get their real wish: barbecuing at home with a beer in their hand.
-There is no cure, and there is no vaccine, the only thing that has changed is that businesses are starting to reopen. Please be vigilant, please be careful, please follow the rules. Otherwise you can reasonably expect to be spending the Fourth of July on your own patio, and not ours.
-“Saying ‘No’ does not always show a lack of generosity and saying ‘Yes’ is not always a virtue,” once wrote Brazilian Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist.