Last night three friends and I went to dinner at a restaurant where the owner’s rules and idiosyncrasies kept the adrenaline flowing. We had to keep on our toes to survive. What we experienced wasn’t a complete surprise. One member of our group had eaten there several times, but even without her warnings, the name of the restaurant — The Grouchy Chef — was enough to create expectations for the evening ahead. This restaurant has been reviewed widely, not only for the food, but the fact that the owner does everything — cooks, bakes, waits on tables, washes the dishes, takes your money and lays down the law.
The second warning, after the restaurant’s name, appeared on a sign on the front door, which said something like, “Reservations required. If you don’t have one, don’t bother to come in.” Midway through our meal, a woman who ignored the name of the restaurant and the sign walked in and sat down at the bench provided for new arrivals, who were advised by another sign not to stand in front of the door. There were tables available and she wanted one of them. I’m not sure what the chef told her, but she left in a huff a few minutes later.
We were aware of other rules before we came: Pay when you order. Let the chef know when you order your entrée if you’ll be wanting coffee or tea after dinner. Don’t wait to tell him. It will be too late.
Once we sat down more rules followed. A sheet of paper taped to the cover of the menu advised us not to tap our water glasses together in a toast because they were fine crystal. There was also a note on the vase of plastic flowers: “Please do not touch.”
When the grouchy chef arrived to take our order he told us the cloth napkins were to sit quietly on our laps to catch crumbs and other spills, not to wipe our mouths and definitely not to collect lipstick stains. The paper napkins on the tables assumed those responsibilities. Fearful of breaking this rule, we put the cloth napkins on our laps and laid the paper ones over them. If we had to blow our noses, we were to go to the restroom, which had another warning: “Men. Please do not use the Women’s restroom.”
Another rule which he didn’t bring up, but which I read on-line and everyone in the restaurant seemed to know, was to speak in soft voices. No loud laughter either.
We got through the night without making a single faux pas. Well, not quite. One friend used the cloth napkin on her lips. Thankfully she was not wearing lipstick. The four-course meal was inexpensive and delicious. We didn’t have to shout to be heard. And we didn’t find any men in the ladies’ room. In fact, it was a great evening for the food, the company, the peaceful atmosphere and a restaurateur who did things a little differently.
On the way home, the rules far behind us, we realized that our voices had gotten louder and our laughter more frequent.