- Why was the restaurant three-quarters empty when we arrived for the ‘only’ reservation your hostess told us was available?
- Was the jewelry the hostess wore real or fake? And has she heard how much she looks like Ali MacGraw? Does she even know who that is?
- Why did we have to wait 15 minutes to be seated?
- Why were we asked three times, by the hostess, the man who seated us, and our server, whether we had any vouchers or coupons? And, perhaps more to the point, why did this not set off alarm bells in our exhausted brains?
- Why were we asked, also three times (must be a charm!), whether we’d been to Ruth’s Chris before? Was this simply small talk, or a canny stab at assessing our level of gullibility?
- Why was it a nearly two-minute walk through the murmuring plush and glint of dimly lit winding corridors to the heart of the labyrinth, a tiny walled booth (if memory serves, there were drapes), where we were placed in our seats like dingy chocolates in a gilt box, a massive cube-shaped chandelier glaring and winking above our heads? Might it have been that we were rumpled after a long drive, for which one tends to dress casually, and that landed us in the cheap seats? Might it be that there is a certain standard a restaurant is within its rights to uphold, that it cannot afford to have other diners, of which there were, at this particular moment, roughly 12, put off by shabby patrons? Is it maybe because we didn’t look like these guys? Does anyone look like these guys?
- Why did anyone think it was a good idea to produce smoky-voiced-chanteuse, lounge-lizard covers of such favorites as Wish You Were Here, Under My Thumb, Billie Jean, and Smells Like Teen Spirit? And why did your establishment opt to play them?
With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto, an Albino
A mosquito, my libido, yeah
9. Why didn’t we listen to our 19 year old son, who dropped his menu and said ‘let’s just get out of here’? Did it have something to do with feeling flattered and shamed at the exact same moment? Or were we just exhausted?
10. Why does a dinner that costs a fortune come with a stern warning not to touch the plates, which are heated to 500 degrees (to ensure your food stays hot from first bite to last!), lest you badly burn yourself? Why am I paying for that?
10a. Why were my crab cakes cold anyway?
10b. Why was there no glass of ice water to plunge my fingers into after I forgot (do you know how easy a thing that is to forget?) and touched my plate?
11. Why is there some guy in the men’s room chatting up my son, nudging his little saucer of dollar bills across the counter, offering a paper towel in exchange for a tip? Is a man in a bathroom assuming familiarity with a stranger in exchange for cash somehow classy?
12. Why does a tablespoonful of mint jelly cost 4 dollars?
13. How long did the ‘julienned potatoes’ (read: fries) sit under the warming lamp?
14. Why did our server never quite strike the balance between attentive and discreet, instead veering wildly between obsequious and oblivious? Was she having a bad night, maybe? A babysitter flaked on her? Her mother showed up drunk to her kid’s birthday party?
15. Why did I feel sorry for the unseen couple at the adjacent booth (‘my table just proposed,’ our server blurted breathlessly as she bustled past us with two little flutes of champagne), muttering under my breath ‘I give it six months’? Does a marriage whose seeds were planted in this place stand a chance?
16. Why did my food taste like rain-soaked charcoal ashes?
17. Why, at 27 dollars a glass, did my husband order a second glass of wine? I mean, I guess that’s something I should ask him. Or not.
18. Why did I ask for the remainder of my dinner to be packed up when we were staying in a fridgeless hotel room, then scurry out of the restaurant with a plastic bag with handles feeling like maybe, at least, I’d gotten away with *something*? I mean, it would’ve been like leaving 65 dollars in cash (well, I’d eaten half of them, so let’s call it $32.50) on the table.
19. How would Ruth Fertel, your establishment’s founder, described on your website as a feisty single mom who overcame all kinds of obstacles, including a fire that burned her first steakhouse to the ground, have felt about being cynically pampered, deftly insulted, and divested of her money for a *steak* when she had children to send to college? Or was this what drove her? Was this how she justified the business model she strove to create? Did hardship beget hardness? Eat or be eaten? Did it beat the decent right out of her? Hers is a compelling story, an inspirational screenplay. Just look at her, tiny, barely 5 feet tall, butchering steaks with a bandsaw, hiring only single mothers as waitstaff. What’s not to love? But did it occur to her that maybe she had some single mothers as customers?
20. Did our server maybe for one second feel a little bit sorry for us, or does she have problems of her own (see above)?
21. Why am I surprised that Donald Trump is the president? I mean, well, we’re in Canada, but only by about fifty feet. You want to feel rich? It’s gonna cost you. Even with the vouchers, you’re getting gouged. And ‘Wow!’ we think. ‘What a deal! I’m surrounded by velvet!’
22. My son picked up the little frosted glass votive on the table, peered in, and saw a battery-operated lightbulb, showed it to us with a wordless eye roll. Could you maybe have sprung for some actual candles?
23. Why, after we left, did I prefer to imagine I’d just been mugged than out to dinner? Maybe because at least a mugger acts out of necessity, however base? Maybe because a mugger wouldn’t pretend he was doing me a great service by pressing a steak knife to my throat? Maybe he wouldn’t shower me with false flattery first?
24. Why was I relieved to learn that we were not your only victims?
25. Four dollars for a diet Pepsi?
26. Have you ever seen anything more beautiful in your life?
I mean, if you’re going to sit awake all night thinking about your health insurance, your property taxes, the credit card balance and the weird noise coming from underneath your car, you couldn’t ask for a better view. I’d say it puts all of it in perspective. I’d take a moment to be grateful that such beauty is given to us, this miraculous world, regardless of whether we deserve it.
But I’m afraid that’s going to have to wait for another day.
©Melinda Rooney, 2017