Like father, like son – sometimes

The little girls in their pastel prints ran around the front door, making their way through and around adults holding vases of lilies and tulips. Brunch was in full form.

The man who sat at the bar was in his late 60s, and it became immediately apparent that he was one of those people who wanted the approval of the bartender. When he ordered his Manhattan, he dramatically paused after his choice of whiskey, as if expecting me to say, “Good choice.”

“Good choice,” I said on cue, not because it was, but because I knew that’s what he needed. In a business built on gratuities, you quickly learn that gratuities are about gratitude, and ironically, gratitude often begins with feeling good about yourself.

There is a lot of talk about whether bartenders judge a person’s drink order. There are internet lists of “drinks hated by bartenders” and every now and again, a major magazine will run an article about just such occurrences. My answer to these queries has always been the same. So what? Does that change anything? And if it does, there may be bigger issues at play.

“My kids are meeting me here today,” said the man, holding his Manhattan in both hands as if it were a holy chalice.

“Great,” I said, noting all the other people in the bar who were probably doing the same thing.

But restaurant experiences are not about everybody else. If they were, there would be no need for online review sites. Because one thing that you never see online is someone wondering about how their behavior might have affected someone else. We’ve all witnessed an awkward complaining scene with a friend, relative or stranger. The kind of complaint that is so trivial but goes on for so long that it makes you want to disappear. Trust me, those types of people never consider how that makes anyone else feel.

“I have four kids,” he said.

“Are they all coming?”

“Yes,” he said. “My son Billy, the organizer, is making sure.”

He further set the brunch stage for me: Donny, the oldest, was the good-looking one. Bret was the smart one. Kelly, the youngest, was the irresponsible one, and Billy was the organizer.

I figured Billy was the first to arrive. It wasn’t.

“Nice of you to show up,” said the father, not even looking up.

“Dad, I always show up.”

“Whatever, Kelly,” he said.

Kelly shook his head. “I’m the one who always makes the reservations.”

“Whatever you say.”

The next son to arrive was the spitting image of the father. In fact, he and his father could have been twin brothers, which might seem like a compliment to the father, but it really should be read as more of an indictment of the son.


Things were starting to make sense.

Billy showed up next. Apparently, he had gotten the address wrong, as well as the time.

The four men waited for the fifth to arrive. All had untouched Manhattans in front of them, all ordered by their father. After each order, he had given me a knowing look, and I had given him one back, but probably not for the same reasons.

When Bret finally did arrive, two of the female servers, as well as the hostess, took immediate note. Bret looked like he had stepped right out of a Christian Dior ad. And if he was also the “smart one,” then it looked like all this family’s eggs might have ended up in one basket.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I forgot my wallet. Then, I locked my keys in the car.”

“Let’s just pay the bill and go in and eat,” said the father.

“Bret, you figure out the tip,” he added, handing him cash.

Bret asked for a pen and napkin, and then scribbled calculation after crossed-out calculation on it.

“Just move the decimal one place to the left and double that amount, and that’s 20%,” Kelly said.

Three more minutes of calculation yielded an amount somewhere between 13% and 14%.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• Sometimes meeting a parent will tell you all you need to know about the child.

• It is said that you can choose your friends but not your family. True enough, but you can choose how to spend your time and where to get your self-worth.

• The skills we learned to survive are not necessarily the skills we need to live.

• Brunch can often bring families together, but sometimes it can push them apart.

• Hope springs eternal. And it’s hope that keeps the restaurant business going.