In a restaurant, waiting...

HOSPITALITY MATTERS While eating out, what makes a difference is the experience

HOSPITALITY MATTERS While eating out, what makes a difference is the experience  

There's something called eating-place etiquette. But how many follow it?

It's an eatery on the tourist trail road, with pretty architecture. The eatery, not the road. A clean interior and a parking lot. At 8 a.m., you see satisfied travellers coming out licking ice-cream. And it's buffet. Get your 10-bucks-each coupons and fill plates with crisp vadas, soft idlis, large dosas, upma and coloured kesari. Collect fresh coffee at the corner. Balancing the booty, walk back to your seat. But, where is the seat? A family has annexed the table you had marked for your leisurely munch. Now you know how Goldilocks must have felt. Find yourself in a crowded restaurant? A common occurrence in the city. You love the food and décor and don't want to try another. You prefer to wait. Even for 45 minutes. In some eat-outs, booking doesn't make a spoonful of difference. What do you do? You could kill time (and friendships) sending SMS, cast pointed glances at those who are enjoying the meal, chat with the spouse in this "found" time or go comfort shopping to cover the gap. Or try one of these options. Many do.

One method

Call to book, and you get this answer: "The restaurant (even a 6 x 12 space reached up a narrow flight of stairs) is open from noon to 3 p.m., ma'am." When you walk in at 1:30 p.m., the seats are "taken." No matter. Slide nonchalantly down to the table closest to the waiting area. Stand and stare. If there's no place reserved for those standing, move in towards your preferred table. Your immediate need becomes clear to those who are forking in their kadai vegetable. Is there an empty chair at a six-seater table? Edge closer, turn it a little away from the table and ease in. Look around, fix your expression to "innocent" and signal the waiter. Once the order comes, gently push the other dishes on the table aside, grab a serviette and begin to tuck in the meal. No one is likely to complain. They have been shocked into silence.You're a group of four and find two places of a table-for-four occupied? Try the faux-polite tactic. Approach the two unsuspecting diners with a sweet, "Would you mind?" and point to the empty chairs. Nod, smile, ask in a way they can't refuse. Then get the female members of your party to sit down and order. Vanish from the scene, but watch from a distance. Once the food arrives, materialise, grab a quarter plate, spoon in the food and begin to chomp - standing! You bet the couple will leave on the double. Did you hear them swearing never to come back? Just too bad. For them.Works well where there's buffet service. Dad, mom, daughter and grandparents squeeze around the six-seater and send son for refreshments. The teenager brings the first round and is immediately despatched for a second. When he returns, Dad commands, "Don't stand! Pull up a chair from the nearest table." Obedient son does, even though it's clear the occupant has gone to wash his hands.A buffet arrangement has many advantages. You can start nibbling even at the queue. Stretch your throwing arm to snatch the last papad two dishes away. Breathe hungrily down the guy-ahead-of-you's neck and when it's your turn, take time to pick the cashews off the salad. It's a grabbing race with a million ways to make your eat-out evening a "successful" one. "Hungry faces and restless kids waiting for their turn would surely make me avoid that restaurant," said Shyam Sekhar, who's into investment strategies. "To me, the quality of the experience is important. I prefer to eat at drive-in Woodlands where I am assured of service. I had this strange experience at one restaurant. They simply made a fourth guy sit at our table without even asking us." Shyam believes restaurateurs are yet to understand customer needs. For the prices some of them charge, the least they should offer is good service. He misses the famed Udipi hospitality. "They understand service much better than local hoteliers. At some famous old hotels, the food tastes great, plus chances of your having to wait are low." The current eating-out lifestyle should be matched by capacity growth, he feels. There's room for exclusive veggie joints."My husband doesn't mind waiting but he has to contend with me," said Bharati Sekhar, PRO. "I've been an injured party - people peeping through the window, breathing into my plate. If there is a shopping area, I could look at the windows. Otherwise, I'd go home and order pizza." Meantime, does anyone run a course on eating-place etiquette? GEETA PADMANABHAN

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