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 V.16 No.30 | July 26 - August 1, 2007 

Dining Out

Please Don’t Smell the Cork

How to behave in establishments that require shoes

Rex Barron

Your mothers have failed you. In fact, if you weren’t aware of it before, watching you chew your food with your mouth open causes waves of nausea to wash over other patrons, effectively ruining their meal. Is it too much to expect for you to be on your best behavior when in public?

To properly address this issue the Alibi has enlisted the help of Grace De Rigueur of Prim and Proper University. She has politely agreed to answer your most pressing questions regarding dining decorum.

Dear Grace,

Last night at dinner I ordered a bottle of wine. When the sommelier brought the bottle to our table he placed the cork in front of me. Of course I expertly raised the cork to my nose and gave it a quick sniff. The sommelier rolled his eyes at me! Now, I’ve seen many people sniff the cork in movies without receiving this type of response. The thing, is I’m not even sure why I’m supposed to sniff the cork. Please help!

—Weary Wino

Dear Wino,

A wine presentation can certainly be intimidating. In the situation you described I was able to identify two faux pas. First, let me apologize for the manner in which you were treated by the sommelier. He would do well to remember that he is in the business of serving, not passing judgment. Second, please do not smell the cork. Ever. You will not learn anything about wine by smelling the cork. You may take a look at the cork to see if the name on the cork matches the name on the label. It is also acceptable to check if the cork is intact. Rely on the wine itself to reveal if it is corked, or oxidized. Once the wine has been poured in your glass take a few quick sniffs. If the wine has a moldy or chemical smell, send it back. Next, take a sip. If no unpleasant odors or flavors are detected the sommelier will continue to pour. Salut!

Dear Grace,

I am our planet’s best friend. I recycle everything from paper to my own bodily waste—you should totally try my home-grown tomatoes. I conserve energy by walking and never waste water. Going out to eat can be so heartbreaking for me. I mean, what’s with all the extra silverware, glasses and plates? Don’t restaurant owners know how damaging bleach and detergent is to the environment? If they would just cut back on some of those extra dishes (I’m not even sure when to use them) we could save our precious rivers and the beautiful fishies that call them home. Are you with me, sister?

—Direly Dreadlocked

Dear Dreadlocked,

I must respectfully decline your tomato offer, but your place-setting quandary is certainly within my body of expertise. As concerned as you are with the environment, you can certainly understand that atmosphere matters, and an appropriate place setting contributes to the dining atmosphere. Once understood, each piece of cutlery and each dish lends ease and elegance to a meal while allowing for smooth transitions from course to course. Silverware should be used from the outside in. The smaller-tined fork set furthest to the left is for salad. Continue moving inward toward your plate; the next fork is for the entrée, and so on. Stemware allows you to enjoy wines and cocktails without warming them with your hand while iced drinks are served in tumblers. The shape of the glass can impact how your beverage tastes. Having separate plates for each course avoids the unpleasant result of gravy coming into contact with your salad. If this is too much for you, perhaps you should consider dining in the privacy of your mud hut. I can’t imagine your hemp tunic and Birkenstocks being appropriate for fine dining, and I shudder to think how your water conservation practices have impacted your hygiene.

Dear Grace,

I just don’t understand tipping. Waiters are paid by the restaurant, aren’t they? Besides, dropping lasagna off isn’t exactly rocket science. Nothing steams me more than getting a $30 tab for a tiny steak and a Bud Light only to realize that I have to be Mr. Nice Guy and shell out 10 percent more for the privilege of not getting up. What’s a blue-collar hero like me to do?

—Hellaciously Hicked-Off

Dear Hicked-Off,

Are you aware of fast food? No tip is expected beneath the Golden Arches. Please pardon my curtness, but your lack of empathy for the service industry is appalling. After all, they have to put up with you. Tipping is a practice that has become ingrained in our culture. Please remember that it is never required, but is greatly appreciated. A server usually makes less than minimum wage due to the reasonable expectation of a tip. The implied promise of a tip motivates your server to orchestrate a flawless dining experience. If your server simply “drops off your lasagna,” you should not feel obligated to tip. A server who goes out of their way to anticipate and meet your every need should be rewarded with at least 15 percent of the total bill—before coupons or discounts. If you are demanding (“I’d like a loaded baked potato with the sour cream, bacon, cheese, butter and chives in separate ramekins.”) then tip toward the 20 percent mark. This also applies to large parties. Tip the sommelier 15 percent of the wine bill; bartenders 10-15 percent depending on the difficulty of the drink ordered. Remember, your server has no effect on the taste of your food. Do not hold them responsible for things out of their control. It is advisable to always be kind to those who handle your food.

Dear Grace,

All through dinner my husband yaks on his cell phone. I think this is rude. Seriously. Shouldn’t he pay more attention to me than some jerk-face on the other end of the line?

—Largely Ignored

Dear Ignored,

Gabbing away on a cell phone in a restaurant is not only inconsiderate to your party but to other patrons as well. If you must take a call, excuse yourself. Trust me; nobody cares to be privy to the details of your personal affairs. Your mid-meal ringing is incredibly disruptive. There is no better way to make your date feel insignificant than to brusquely take a call over your linguine. (While on the subject of unnecessary dinner companions, your phone, keys, iPod, purse, day planner and makeup bag should be stored anywhere but on the table. These items can be intrusive to the server as they tend to clutter the eating space.) If you must do something to feel important, order an expensive bottle of wine.

 

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