As I sit in my local Harvester, waiting for the waiter to arrive to take our drinks order, I begin to marvel at the way restaurants have become. It seems that they are no longer the place reserved for the special occasions and celebrations, but for the day to day dining of those who can’t be bothered to or simply can’t cook. As well as this, it becomes evident that the standard of service has slipped, to the point where it is just more enjoyable to eat at home.
After waiting too long to be shown to a table that has evidently not been washed in several months, we were left alone for nearly a quarter of an hour with no drinks. After several murderous stares and threats (not directly to our waiter of course. But out of earshot certainly), we were offered a service, that even then was below average and at points neglectful. Perhaps it’s just England – after all in America the waiting service is polite and diligent – but we seem to be lacking the simple use of manners in public dining. I understand that when the place is buzzing it can be hard to attend to everyone at once – but when the restaurant is as empty as a pub in Dublin on Easter Sunday, it’s not much to expect to be remembered. And as for the food – well cook a suspicious looking meat (possibly dog, but who knows? Maybe even human) in an enormous bucket of fat, and you begin to understand what we ate. The only thing to rid the taste of overwhelming grease was to down either the soft drinks – which are realistically more ice than anything worth paying for – or the astronomically priced alcoholic beverages. Except for me, where ice was the only option.
Naturally, the delights of the restaurant world do not start and end with the service and food - there are the other people dining in the restaurant. The overly loud people, who announce their order to the world and his wife, and then proceed to tell everyone in the restaurant about Auntie Doreen and Ben from the office; then there’s the people who sit behind with their chairs banging into yours, and the elbows bruising your arms every time they go for a new mouthful; and finally there’s the families with screaming children: wailing bundles of joy, who grace the place with songs, tears and temper tantrums – a lucky partnering table may even receive a dummy in the back of the head. And these fatalities don’t end with the members of other tables – there are many issues within your own fort. There are those people who bring along phones and DSs and PSPs, and sit playing with it all meal long; anti-social and depressing to see, they are unaware that when the Cyborg Rebellion initiates, they will be the first to succumb to the suppression (it’s coming, and soon). Then you have some people, who despite the assurances that we are not celebrating a birthday or Christmas, insist on bringing a camera to take pictures of both the food and the people eating it: although I am quite sure the flash on the camera won’t induce an epileptic fit in my pizza, I want to eat my food, rather than wait for it to go cold whilst you have your fifty pictures of artistic licence; as for photos whilst I’m eating, I don’t like pictures of me normally, let alone when I am doing an impression of a hamster. And of course, you have the heinous fiends who think it would be amusing to take some food from your plate: I’m sorry, but if you wanted my food, you should have ordered it yourself. Hands. Off.
Indeed, it is not only chain restaurants - like The Harvester – which, despite expectations to rise in performance and popularity, have failed in both. Fast food restaurants have spread across the country like vermin, spouting tales of healthy eating yet serving dubious meats, most likely to have been found in an alleyway, deep fried and smothered in barbecue sauce (except for Subway, which seems to live up to its promises. Mmm, Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki…). Only family-run restaurants seem to stem the flow of atrocities on haute cuisine, but increasing prices and the pressure to become chains are sure to silence true dining once and for all.
I hope only that in the near future that restaurant dining returns once more to true gourmet cooking, before we become too dependent on the artery lining, grease buckets that they cool food. However, it seems unlikely and even foolish to hope for this, let alone the return of real dining etiquette; we must wait some time more for silent dining.