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Illustration by Sacha Eckes

Oh, Behave!

What time better than a new millennium to leave bad dining habits behind and practice acting like an adult in restaurants?

By Christina Waters

WHY IS IT that many restaurant-goers seem to think that the mere act of paying for their supper entitles them to act like jerks? I mean the ones who make a scene if their table is not ready. The ones who arrive half an hour after their reservation time and then protest loudly when told that they will have to wait for the next table. The ones who bring infants and youngsters and allow them to run wild throughout the dining room.

Those of you who like to impress your date by bullying the waiter, or who complain loudly when some detail is incorrect, or who talk on and on and on so loudly that everybody seated around you is forced to listen--this little primer on how to behave in public places is for you.

Contrary to whatever they teach at the Yuppie Empowerment Academy, just having a Visa card does not grant its owner the right to treat restaurant staff like indentured servants. This may come as a shock to some of you, but a restaurant is a public place. You are not the only person eating dinner there. Others have also made their reservations and are looking forward to having an enjoyable culinary experience. They have Visa cards too. So stop behaving like a preteen Conan the Barbarian.

The narcissism of the '90s is gone. Think of the new millennium as a clean slate, a chance to discontinue those boring ruts of spoiled-brat attitude and upscale rudeness. Think of the year 2000 as a beginning: a chance to add a little polish--dare we suggest maturity?--to your act.

You can start by not letting your children resemble feral creatures who were raised in the wilderness by pigs. You may love to hear little Susie screaming about the Teletubbies, but the people at the next table might not. Doting fathers might find it a sign of budding testosterone that little Jason and Noah wrestle over the antipasti, but others won't. This is not the laissez-faire '70s; letting your child howl at the top of his lungs is no longer de rigueur. Zip his lip when you're dining out--or invest in a babysitter. Rude children should not be inflicted on innocent bystanders.

A special directive to new parents: Think carefully before bringing your young ones to an upscale restaurant. Your fellow adult diners are paying well for the anticipated culinary experience. A crying baby or rambunctious child seriously damages everybody's evening. I sympathize with parents who can't afford to have someone watch their children all the time. That's why God invented fast-food places.

A quick reminder about behaving like a grown-up in the eyes of restaurant management. Reservations are a contract. You make them. The restaurant in turn reserves a table for you at the appointed time. Your job is to keep that reservation. If you can't, have the common decency to call the restaurant so that they can give the table to others. And if you don't have the decency, restaurateurs have a name for you: scum.

Another habit has got to end with the new year: forcing everybody in the restaurant to listen in on the details of your latest breast-implant procedure or the progress of your prostate. It may be difficult to grasp this, all of you who were raised to believe that the sun rose and set on your every activity, but no one other than your mother really cares about your latest diet, divorce or death of a pet. Honest. Gossip's fine for private patio dining, but when you start bellowing about what a son-of-a-&$#%* your ex-husband is in the middle of an intimate bistro, you're just making an obnoxious ass of yourself.

Stow the self-revelation in 2000. At least don't bring it to your favorite trattoria. And that also goes for barking at servers. Nothing displays pettiness like being rude to people who are working to please you. It's not the waiter's fault if the kitchen screws up your order, so don't raise your voice at the staff.

Of course, we all get carried away sometimes--laughing, joking, responding with loud delight to someone's funny story. It happens, and we all understand. Sometimes it's really infectious watching a table full of people having a really good time. And there are some people whose voices are so piercing that even if they whisper, they're annoying. If you are one of those people, you have my condolences. But it's time to face reality. Practice lowering your voice when in public. Consider having a larynxectomy. Try listening for a change.

Finally, a word about the mystique of cell phones. Many people use Nokia as a substitute for actual friendship. By whipping out that tiny electronic surrogate in restaurants and chattering away to your tax attorney or commodities broker, you're making a pathetic cry for attention. Cell phones are for the socially challenged. The more you insist on showing off by displaying your cell phone in public (the similarities to flashing are too obvious for comment), the more you reveal your inability to have a real life. Repeat this mantra instead of renewing your GTE Mobilnet subscription: "In the year 2000 I will get a life. I will practice increased self-esteem and learn to play quietly without benefit of electronic gadgetry. I will find enjoyment in the company of non-virtual friends and will treat all human beings as I would like to be treated."

Feels good, doesn't it? Now go out and take on the millennium!

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From the January 6-12, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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