Sunday, July 27, 2014

When did dining out get complicated?


This is my column today, July 27, 2014.
Because I am a regular working drone who must observe regular working hours and cannot watch morning television shows, I must admit that I don’t really know enough about what exactly the presidential sister (who must not be named in this column) is up to every morning in her popular morning show.   But I’ve seen some episodes of her show while waiting in some lounge for an appointment or for a flight and from what I gathered, she visits restaurants and vacation places, tries out the menu or the services, and then either raves about these, which I am told is most of the time, or dismisses these in her characteristic petulant ways.  Her opinion and subsequent endorsement of a particular dish or service is highly coveted as these translate into fantastic sales. Apparently, there are far too many people in this country who are thrilled by the idea of having sampled exactly the same food that the presidential sister ate in a particular restaurant; not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Now I would be the last person to pass judgment when it comes to matters of taste – my personal choices when it comes to food and my idea of a perfect vacation might strike many people as juvenile.  I also don’t see anything wrong with people going on a major pilgrimage just to be able to try a restaurant that a celebrity said served good food; hey, we all need to be nudged towards a certain direction every now and then.  That’s exactly the way I discovered hole-in-the-wall places that do not advertise but nevertheless serve the best stuff.  If the presidential sister is able to bring in paying customers and help boost business, then hurray. 
Unfortunately, the show also encourages people to take pictures of their experience and gives rewards to those who do.  And I am told that, just like other shows, they do seem to encourage certain types of behaviors that are borderline socially acceptable.  It’s not just her show, actually.  There are just too many of these shows that role model behaviors that make life difficult for others.
I do have reservations about people using a lot of gadgets in restaurants, particularly in those quaint places where people go to have intimate conversations or just to have a little quiet time with friends and loved ones. 
For instance, there’s this place that we frequent because they serve really good food and because we like the ambience – it’s relatively quiet and customers respect each other’s need for privacy and quiet enjoyment.  This place had been featured in the show and, presto, suddenly became like a fastfood place - too many people conversing too loudly, and everyone taking pictures of the restaurant, the food, of each other, and yes, of the whole group.  When we were there, we even had to make way and move our chairs so that the big group beside us could have their picture taken as a whole group, complete with wacky poses.
I am not knocking the Presidential sister’s show, please, especially if it brings in money and makes business better for establishments that are having difficulty making a profit. I just wish that the show and similar other shows that feature places and must-try food and drinks to also make a big point out of teaching people how to behave properly in public and communal spaces, and how to show respect for others. 
If people want to take pictures of their food, that should be okay, but perhaps this need not be a public spectacle complete with blinding flashes and would not require calling the waiter to rearrange table settings and the like.  Taking group pictures should be okay, but perhaps this can be done quickly and efficiently – with no need to ask other people in other tables to move, perhaps with only one camera, and perhaps without taxing the restaurant staff unnecessarily specially when there are just too many other customers waiting to be served.  Also, perhaps people can be a little more respectful of others by turning down the volume of their cellphones and not talking too loudly when they must take calls in the middle of a meal.  There’s also the matter of people requesting to be reseated to a table with stronger wi-fi or the phone network connection even when there’s a long wait list of hungry people at the door.
Perhaps people can try to get advance information on the type of clients the restaurant attracts – some are not really designed for big families with pets and children, and some do have suggested dress codes.  A friend picked a restaurant to propose to his girlfriend because of its romantic ambience but the whole experience was destroyed by people from other tables who had children who ran around and screamed and played with their gadgets on full volume. 
I know.  Some might think that this smacks of snobbishness and elitism.  But certain rules about social behavior are there to promote mutual courtesy and respect as well ensure order.  It is just unreasonable for people to behave in public places the way they do in their own dining rooms.

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