Do you remember when dining out with friends was nothing more than an enjoyable way to spend an evening? When choosing a restaurant depended only on the type of food you preferred to eat that night, and where your table was located may have been a preference, but not necessarily a deal-breaker? When noise level was not a major consideration, and every few sentences of conversation was not interrupted by someone on the other side of the table saying “What?” When the waiter did not have to repeat the specials three times, and then move around the table, and recite them three times again? When your biggest problem was finding a baby sitter?
Those were the good old days before dinner with friends became a negotiation.
The process still begins with a phone call to make the date. Your friend suggests trying the new Italian restaurant, “Cosi Fan Tutti.” “Hold on,” you say. You check with your husband. He wants to know if it is going to be one of those loud places. You ask your friend. She doesn’t know; she hasn’t yet been there. You tell him she doesn’t know. Next question: are the waiters real Italians? Your friend asks what difference does that make? He says, if it’s noisy, and they have accents, forget about it!
Okay. She relents, and suggests we go back to the place where we ate last time. What’s it called….”The Quilted Alligator?” “Honey, how about the ‘Quilted Alligator’ again? The waiters are mostly American, except the one from Kazakhstan, and we can try to avoid him.” He says that’s fine, but he’ll only go there if we can get the round table on the right that’s up two steps in the other room.
And you remind your friend that before she makes the reservation, she should ask if they changed the light bulb in the chandelier like they promised so you don’t have to bring your flashlight to read the menu.
“What time would you like to go,” your friend asks, starting to sound a bit exhausted. You ask if six-thirty is okay. Make it seven, she says. She doesn’t like to sit with the early birds. She checks with her husband. No later, he says, or else he gets heartburn.
They offer to drive and will pick you up at 6:45. Your friend says not to worry, that her husband has finally gotten some new eye glasses that do wonders for his night vision. You recall the last time he drove after sundown and you felt lucky to get home alive. You take some comfort in the fact that it’s daylight savings time. And if it’s really dark on the way home, the wife always drives.
You think that the plans are finally set when the phone rings again. It’s your friend asking if it’s okay if the Browns join us for the evening. You call out to your husband to ask if he minds if the Browns meet us at the restaurant. He says that’s fine but only if she sits on his right side. You want to know why this is important. He reminds you that that’s his good ear, and she has a soft voice. You explain this to your friend, who promptly tells you that she didn’t mind choosing the restaurant, making the reservation, requesting the table, providing the transportation, even asking about the light bulb. But she simply refuses to take responsibility for the seating arrangements. You don’t blame her, and decide it’s probably not a good idea to remind her that you get a stiff neck if seated too close to an air-conditioning vent.
When all is said and done, you wonder if making dinner plans is worth it. Restaurants today have changed; they just don’t seem to meet the criteria for a comfortable night out any more. You want someplace quiet and well-lit, and the room temperature is just right. Someplace where the wait staff doesn’t speak English as a second language, and the daily specials are printed in big letters right on the menu. Someplace nearby that you can reach on foot so you don’t have to drive when it’s dark. Perhaps it’s best to stay at home and order in. At least until they start serving dinner at the Senior Center.