Destinations Magazine

FAQ: When to Walk Out.

By Johntalbott

Earlier this week I was lunching with a new lunch partner and she mentioned a place she’d eaten at recently where the wait-staff told her various things were no longer available on the menu but she couldn’t request substitutes – so she walked out.  Which I would never do – well, not entirely. 

A few weeks ago, in an almost-empty restaurant, I waited 10 minutes (on my feet) to be seated, then 10 minutes until I flagged down one of the incredibly large number of waiters for only a few tables to get a menu, and 10 minutes for the wine list, only 10 minutes later to be told they were out of it (in the day of print your own in 10 minutes).  I figured this was not my or their day and certainly not “ours” and I exited. 

Now I understand that and maybe that of a couple who entered a well-known but very small place near my barber in the 4th where one must reserve since there are only about 20 covers.  The couple gave their name, were seated directly and given menus which they couldn’t have perused more than 5 minute when they stood up and left.  I looked at the front-room lady whom I know from eating there rather well and she and I gave the universal but still Gallic shrug – “Go figure.” 

Too expensive? 

Too few choices (nah)? 

Too little they really hankered after?  Who knows?

Now the reverse of this occurred at the Maison de Charly when back in the days when we occasionally went out to dinner, I asked Colette to accompany me.  She wasn’t hungry and on scoping the menu said “I’ll just have some wine and watch you.”  “Sure?”  “Yes.”  So I ordered for myself and the wine and the guy looked at her and said “For you?”  “Nothing, I’ll have a little wine and watch him.”  “That’s impossible, you must order or we cannot serve him.”  (NB the restaurant was nigh-empty and there was no crowd on the street clamoring to get in.  So up we got and chastened ourselves off to a far more friendly place I had as a backup, as I always do in case of power-failures, chef walk-outs or ovens blowing up, all of which have happened to me.

I suppose there are a host of legit reasons for walking out, including an impossibly surly staff, water dripping on you from the A/C condenser, with no other tables free, inedible food, everything on the menu crossed off since it’s the day before the August holidays, etc., but I can count the number of times I have walked out on one hand. 

I tend to be able to rationalize a bad course; “Oh well, the next one cannot be this bad,” “Everyone else seems happy, I’ll just poach a bit of theirs,” “There’s always dessert, how can they screw up ice cream,” “We’ve already ordered and my back-up is a schlep,” or “How bad, expensive, small, etc., can it really be?”  “There are four of us, do I really want to move the circus?”  So I invariably throw good money after bad.

If the prices are mind-blowing, well; The venerable and largely loveable New York Times once wrote up a place in St Germain en Laye and Colette and I drove there for a Sunday lunch (on our way to Normandy) since the Times said the “lunch menu” was available weekends as well as week days.  Well, fact-checkers are long gone and we were staring at staggering prices.  Solution; order one dish and glass of wine each and repair to a café for coffee (standing.)

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