Sunday, February 3, 2008

Ettiquette Schmettiquette!

Published February 3, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I had the singular opportunity to sit in on a class on the etiquette of fine dining the other day. The enthusiastic teacher hoped to prepare her boorish students for the experience they might have at a fancy schmancy restaurant and came prepared with faux plates, glasses, and cutlery to demonstrate. It was enlightening and frightening at the same time.

I think fancy schmancy etiquette is the upper crust's way of separating themselves from the masses. In days past, the gentry kept the populace at bay with moats and swords and the occasional beheading. Now they use silverware.

I've been to a couple of restaurants here in St. George which I thought were fancy. Then I went to a couple of restaurants in Las Vegas that put them to shame. This is the whole of my personal experience with the fancy and the schmancy. I thought I had a handle on table manners because I knew the obvious rules: Elbows off the table. Napkin in the lap. Don't talk with your mouth full. Don't talk about religion or politics and keep your mouth full if you're tempted to.

Apparently, I didn't know the half of it. When it comes to eating in a fancy schmancy restaurant, I figure I'll just do what makes sense and leave the etiquette for the people who care about it. I can learn convoluted rules until I can recite Miss Manners in my sleep. I'm still bound to make a mistake like dabbing the corners of my mouth with my napkin one time too many (UNCOUTH!). If I'm going to wear the bourgeois shoe no matter what I do, I might as well make it fit.

For instance, it makes no sense whatsoever to have 59 pieces of silverware for one person's meal. Do you know what does make sense? The words, "Save your fork! There's pie!" Upon arriving at my table, I will scoop up everything but the one fork, one spoon, and one knife I actually need to eat, hand the excess to the hostess and tell her to melt them down and send the money to starving kids in...well, wherever they have starving kids these days. (I hear Ethiopia is doing quite well now.)

It doesn't make sense to me that I must learn some form of silverware code in order to communicate with my server. Apparently, I'm supposed to cross my knife and fork to let my server know I'm still eating. I'm supposed to lay them parallel diagonally across my plate at a 10 o'clock/5 o'clock position to signal I'm through. If I'm going to be giving up to 20% of the price of the meal to this person, I'd like him to ask me how I'm doing, how my food tastes, what my hopes and dreams are, and how I feel about the state of America today.

And if that doesn't make sense, it certainly doesn't make sense to me that in a fancy schmancy restaurant, where a meal costs more than my entire monthly milk budget for my family of 6, I'm supposed to a) NOT mop up excess sauce with a piece of bread from the basket full of bread just inches away; b) leave some food on my plate so as not to commit the cardinal sin of cleaning my plate; and c) NOT ask for a "doggie bag" or box to take leftovers home.

According to the etiquette teacher, "If you have to take your leftovers home, you probably shouldn't be in a restaurant that nice in the first place." Ouch. Apparently, wastefulness is next to godliness to the dining elite. Returning to what makes sense, my intention is to flout these rules with impunity. I will mop up sauce and clean my plate. I will ask for a doggie bag. I will place my half eaten filet mignon and new potatoes inside of it along with whatever is left in the bread basket. I will carry my doggie bag out of the restaurant without an ounce of shame and allow the other patrons to think whatever they want.

I'm sure they'll think whatever they want when I take their leftovers too, but that's to be expected.