THE RESTAURANT — One of the joys of this booming economy is being able to go out to eat more often. Eh? You say the economy is still in the pits? Then what are all these people doing in this eatery? The place is so packed that I’m making dinner reservations for Easter. Before eating, let’s all say grace and give thanks for fracking.
Texans love to eat out, especially in our larger cities. Indeed, a Zagat Survey restaurant guide, which is the bible for us gourmets (pronounced gore-METS), says Houstonians eat out more than residents of any other American city: 4 times a week, Dallas is close behind with 3.6 per week, Los Angeles comes in at 3.4 times per week and New York City at 3.0.
It used not to be this way. Growing up in Texas, the best cooking was at home because there weren’t many restaurants in the Lone Starve State and even fewer good ones. All that changed when BYOB was replaced with liquor-by-the-drink. In quick order restaurants put in bars, their profits went up, more places opened and eventually we have what we have today: A lot of really good places to eat. Here, for example, is Le Choke & Puke, a fine restaurant with good food, fine service and, uh, would you please speak louder? I can’t hear a word you’re saying.
This leads to my first suggestion to restaurateurs: Keep it quite, not library or funeral home quite, but silent enough so guests can communicate without having to shout or pass notes written on napkins. One Saturday night I made the mistake of going to dinner with some friends at a close and splendid restaurant. I finally had to go outside — no kidding — to rest my ears. When you have to point to items on the menu because the waiter can’t hear you, that’s loud. Remember Rule Number One around here is don’t complain about a problem unless you have a solution. No, wait. That’s Rule Number Two. Rule Number One is what’s in it for us? Back to Number Two. So here’s my solution. Just as there are state and local health standards for eateries, each one should be required to have a decibel register available on-line. Before making dinner plans, go on-line and check the location, prices, roach ratio and the current or average decibel level. That would save you a lot of shouting.
In addition, the establishment should have on its web site the current or average temperature. Have you ever reached for a glass of water and it sticks to your hand? That’s cold. As we have discussed before, the cooks in the kitchen and the racing, overworked waiters and the busboys who use the same wet rag to wipe off every table in the room, it is they who set the thermostat at 35 degrees. They’re hot and sweaty while the customers are getting frostbit. Solution: see above about the web site. Check the temperature.
It is very European to bring pet dogs into restaurants. This ain’t Paris. You can tell because our waiters aren’t surly. Some restaurants are now allowing dogs into their establishments. Solution: Some restaurants don’t get my business. Of course, seeing-eye dogs have long been allowed almost everywhere, but I have a question: These businesses have a sign by the front door: “No dogs allowed except seeing-eye dogs.” Exactly who is that sign for?
Few restaurants in Texas allow smoking inside, so that is a moot point. The change was gradual. In olden days virtually every eatery allowed smoking. Go back far enough and they had spittoons. But slowly the health police moved in to prohibit smoking in the dining room while allowing it in the adjacent bar. Then someone pointed out that having smoking and non-smoking sections was like having a swimming pool with peeing and non-peeing sections. Today most dining establishments won’t even allow guests to smoke within 20 feet of the front door. That’s the solution.
At this point you are asking why we should care about our eating establishments. Well, as noted earlier, Texans eat out a lot. According to the Texas Restaurant Association (TRA), in 2011 there were 39,296 eating and drinking places in Texas. This year the TRA projects they will have $40.8 billion in sales and account for 828,500 direct jobs, add wholesalers, bouncers, etc., it comes to 1,074,200 jobs — 10 percent of the state’s workforce.
One final suggestion. Wait. Three kids are having a food fight at the next table. Now they are running through the restaurant shouting, “I found a rusty nail in my escargot! Get my lawyer!” A nice segue. Eli Gau and Lillian Maliti were at an Applebee’s in Katy dining with their sons ages 3 and 1. The manager warned Gau, and finally called the Harris County Sheriff’s Office because, he said, the children were “overly active,” which probably means they were loud brats. Gau admitted to a local TV reporter that the two children were high-energy, probably no more than your average Visigoth. It gets better. Gau then called the police to say he felt threatened. A deputy arrived and only gave the family a citizen’s information card, whatever that is. I would arrest the parents.
None of this would have happened if, instead, the family had gone to La Fisheria in Houston because they couldn’t get in. Kids under nine are banned after 7 p.m. The move landed on ABC News. At McDaina’s in Monroeville, Penn., kids under six are not allowed. A new sushi restaurant in Del Ray, Va., rules “no patrons under 18,” and the manager says business is booming. Luigi in Hicksville, New York, has been banning kids under 14 since it opened almost 20 years ago. You see the solution to this problem.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Waiter, what’s shark’s bladder salad? Huh? Sorry, I can’t hear you.
Ashby dishes it out at firstname.lastname@example.org