Dining out, let’s say, with another couple can be a most pleasurable experience: a time for catching up and enjoying each other’s company. There may be, however, a few rough patches to negotiate along the way, awkward moments that require a measure of tact and flexibility. It could occur at the outset when a table awaits us. What do you do when both of them, however, decide they’re unhappy with the location? “It’s too close to the kitchen,” he says; to which she adds, “It’s too noisy there.” The two of us have no complaints, but you can’t force it on them. So we’re left, still in our coats, standing around impatiently, waiting in a tight entranceway for the next table to become available.
Now the main course arrives, except not his because he’s ordered an entrée requiring special and lengthier preparation. We can’t wait to dig in except that it would, given the situation, be considered impolite to do so. Somewhere it was drilled into us – you can’t start until everyone’s been served. Meanwhile, the two of them are talking so he doesn’t notice the awkward situation. Finally, his wife somehow signals him. “Please get started; don’t wait for me.” We were about to anyway; still, getting his permission was welcome.
Then, there’s sharing. Some people, “do-gooders” no doubt, are big on sharing food, enjoy sampling different dishes when dining. I’m not one of them. I put a lot of thought into selecting the main dish and look forward to eating all of it. Besides, it’s not always the case that the distribution involves equal portions. But what credible arguments can one offer against sharing? The concept is as unassailable as the Golden Rule. I could insist that I don’t care for the other dish, but that would sound parochial and peevish. So plates are exchanged and food passes from one to another. It’s at that point that I start thinking about how to avoid splitting a desert!
We all know the type. As the waiter approaches with the bill he has already undertaken evasive action (heading to the bathroom, looking off in another direction, groping for a wallet that never emerges) in an effort to avoid paying the tab. And in the awkward moments that follow he sometimes succeeds (though he may be called upon to leave the gratuity. If he is, he will more than likely maneuver to return unaccompanied to the table after the others have departed to leave a none too generous tip). A related scenario features two or more individuals locked in earnest combat, each ostensibly intent on paying for the others in the face of outwardly determined resistance. This stylized ritual usually features attempts to snatch the bill, demands that the waiter only accept his credit card, hurried efforts to pay before others do, and often prolonged and occasionally heated exchanges as each insists he be allowed to “take care of it.” The drama usually ends with the reluctant “surrender” of one of the players but not before his “right” to pay the next time is acknowledged. However well-worn these plots are, the actors can be expected to offer spirited and convincing performances.
No outward rumblings characterize this scene, though resentments are kindled, often unintentionally in the following manner. The call for splitting the bill, e.g., between two couples, usually appears innocent enough though sinister motives cannot be ruled out when there is a clear disparity in consumption levels. When one couple’s drinks, appetizers, entrees and desserts clearly outweigh the other’s main dishes and coffees, the call to split the bill may register more like a call to arms. Is it innocent oversight or a calculated coup? Such speculations have no bearing on the outcome. The offer once made, must be accepted. A few kicks under the table, a hurried exchange of glances, but otherwise no outward reaction. Later on, however, a vow – never again.