A tipping point sometimes has nothing to do with the gratuity

We hadn’t made reservations, but it was a midweek lunch, so it didn’t really seem necessary. And it wasn’t. When we walked in the front door, they told us it would be just a few minutes. This particular restaurant is an interactive experience so part of the charm is that you sit at a table with strangers. I have eaten at restaurants like this many times over the years, in many different countries, and have always had fun. My party of three, and two other parties of two, were led away moments later. As we wove our way through the restaurant like a snake sliding through the water, I turned around and noticed that two of our party had already disappeared. I don’t know where they went, but they weren’t with us anymore. In all my years going to, and working in restaurants, I had never seen anyone disappear on the way to a table — on their way away from a table, yes, but that’s another story.

It was my birthday, and when your birthday falls exactly equidistant between two closely positioned major holidays you learn to make allowances. People are going to be busy, as well as the places you might want to go to. Either that or they’re closed; to expect otherwise is foolish. It has been the same every year. However, one thing is certain, my birthday is not actually on a holiday. So, it was weird that we were given holiday menus when we sat down — extremely expensive holiday menus. Forty-eight dollars was the least expensive item, and that was for lunch! And that didn’t include the suspicious “living wage” charge, the required “health insurance charge,” the sales tax nor the tip, altogether another 35% in added charges on top of that, meaning that we were looking at nearly $65 for the cheapest item. And we were already on the hook for $20 in parking and $9 in bridge toll.

When I had looked up the menus online, I had not seen a holiday menu. And I had looked on one of those aforementioned holidays. On a sidenote, when did restaurants stop putting prices on their online menus? In many cases, you now have to dig through several online pages and/or go to their to-go menu to get an actual price. Not good service if you ask me.

I asked about the other menu.

“What are you looking for?” asked the host.

“Don’t you have another menu?”

“Is there something else you’re interested in?”

It was a strangely evasive answer. But sometimes in the restaurant business, you can feel like someone is more interested in taking advantage of you, rather than taking care of you. We have all experienced this: “I recommend the lobster,” says the server. Of course you do, it’s the most expensive thing on the menu by far.

“I don’t see the (insert item I had craved online),” I said.

“We can do that,” replied the host.

“Are there other items on the other menu?” asked my wife, pointing at the words “full menu available upon request” printed clearly on the holiday menu.

The host didn’t roll her eyes, but it sure felt like she did. The two other people sitting at our table watched the whole interaction, looked at the holiday menus in their hands and then got up and left. Well, so much for interactivity. The three of us sat at a table set up for eight all by ourselves and waited. And waited. And waited.

Finally, I looked at my wife and daughter, who had both been quiet about my choice of restaurant — it was my birthday after all — and said: “Do you guys want to go somewhere else?”

“If you do?” they both answered eagerly.

We gave it another five minutes, making it about 25 minutes since we first sat down, and then got up and left. On our way out, we didn’t encounter our host, any server nor the regular menu. We walked right out the front door, looked across the hall at another similar ethnic restaurant with less interactivity and then we took the six large steps, covering about 15 feet, into the front door of that restaurant.

We were immediately seated (again lunch midweek) and within 15 minutes had drinks and food on our table. The food was delicious and for what we would have paid for one meal at the first place we ended up paying for our entire lunch.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• If you don’t like how you’re being treated at one place, you’re always free to go somewhere else.

• The problem with reliving experiences is that sometimes you can damage the original memory.

• Things that start badly sometimes get better, but usually they get worse. Making the best of a bad situation is only a good idea if there aren’t any other situations available.

• If you’re going to gouge people on their meal, you might not want to give them 20 minutes to think about it first.