Dave

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Another Miss Manners Moment: Bennigan's...

I suppose it isn't important exactly how we ended up at Bennigan's on a Saturday night for a hunk of steak, some broccoli and mashed potatoes, but what happened while we waited to eat is. And had Miss Manners been consulted ahead of time, I'm sure that either A) the incident would not have occurred, or B) I would have had my camera at the ready.

So let us back up just a few moments. My wife and I attended the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo and the afternoon performance of Alan Jackson Saturday. I'll fill you in on that later, but because we decided not to eat at the rodeo, we ended up calling ahead to the Texas Road House so we could grab some much needed dinner.

Two things clued me in to the fact that we would not be dining at TRH. First, I had to actually park next door in the Bennigan's lot, and B), the fact that a crowd of people huddled outside the front of TRH actually giggled at us when we confidently walked inside thinking that calling ahead a full 10 minutes on a Saturday evening means seating withing the next 40 minutes.

So we walked into Bennigan's and were immediately seated. But this is not crucial or even relevant to the story.

As we sat waiting for Justin to bring us a glass of water - a single one to share between us since obtaining a cold beer or a frozen Margarita seemed a bit more than the bar staff was capable of producing - I observed several folks preparing one of those extra long connected together tables to accommodate a huge crowd. In fact, as it would turn out, a group of over twenty-five was joining us for a celebratory dinner of some sort. And of course, no celebratory event at Bennigan's is complete unless you bring a dozen kids ranging from newborn to 13, all who must be tucked into booths away from the adults sitting at the main table in the center of the dining room. Okay, the newborn was permitted to sit with the adults.

Before I tell you what happened, I'd like to offer some keen insight I learned not only from reading Miss Manners, but also from spending years in the military, working in offices that routinely closed down for several hours to attend going away luncheons for people retiring or moving on to another assignment. If you have more than say, eight to ten people in your group, why bother? Really.

First off, the guy at one end of the table can't possibly hear the conversation at the other end, so you end up having four or five different conversations going on at the same time. For that, why not have everyone sit at individual tables and avoid the automatic fee for groups of 6 or more? The other thing is, everything takes longer with large groups. By the time the waiter goes around getting everybodies drink order, then goes back to make a dozen iced teas and bring them back, you know that 15 minutes have gone by.

Now, think about the food. Everything takes longer and in some cases, you'll find that people at one end of the table get their order and have nearly finished eating by the time the people at the other end are just getting their food. It all makes no sense.

Just for you, I suggest two things: First, always go to a place where you can get a private dining room. This allows you to tell everyone to shut up so when it is time for someone to stand up and make a speech, you won't have to listen to impolite diners at other tables continue to loudly speak over your speech. Also, may I highly suggest you work out a menu in advance of the luncheon. This way, all guests are committed to one of two entree selections and iced tea, and everybody will have the same cost, tip included when it comes time to pay. When you show up, there is already an iced tea at every seat and the waiter goes down the line saying Chicken or Beef and your order is on the way. No charge for that little advice.

Okay, so back to Bennigan's. There was no slacking on the staff to accommodate the large crowd. In fact, the guy running the floor had waiters and bussers running around to get tables pushed together and the lady who seemed to be in charge of the large group was standing there working with this guy to figure out where to place everyone. When it was all set, the lady motioned for the crowd to proceed forth, and people of all shapes and sizes began filing in.

They had packed in six or seven soccer aged kids in the booth behind us and a bunch more kids further down the room. When the floor manager walked by us, I stopped him and offered to give up our booth (since we had not been served yet anyway). He seemed to think about it for a second, but then thanked us and said it would all be okay. Famous last words.

As the waiter (who seemed very good at this) was explaining to the people at the adult table how he would handle the logistics of taking drink, appetizer, then finally entree orders, a steady stream of little people (kids, not midgets) kept leaving their assigned booths and finding their assigned parents to complain that some kid was pinching another kid, or another kid was doing something, etc, etc. This alone is another reason to bring a whip with you to a restaurant. Had I been properly prepared, I could have gotten those kids in line ASAP/PDQ, and I don't mean maybe. Anyway, all of this commotion made the walk way between the tables and chairs in the middle of the room and the booths very tight.

I have always admired those people in foreign lands who can balance those big twenty gallon buckets of semi-potable water on their heads and walk 6 miles from one village to another. It takes a lot of practice and coordination to avoid obstacles that might cause you to zig when you should have zagged, or lose balance and spill the bucket down the back of the shirt of the tribal chief.

You might see where this is going. And had my camera not been tucked away in a case behind the seat of the truck parked in front of Bennigan's, I would have had a full photographic frame by frame documentation of the spectacle as it unfolded right before my eyes. Alas, I didn't even have enough wits about me to whip out my cell phone and start filming the incident during the immediate aftermath. Instead, I simply said to my wife two or three times, "Yep, I could see that coming..."

So, as the waiter was going around the table taking drink orders, and multiple ankle-biters were scouting out their mothers, one kid, seemed to be about 13 or so, was standing behind the chair of a mother or aunt. He wasn't wiggling around or anything, but basically standing there calmly. Meanwhile, a waitress serving another table was making her way through the treacherous path between booths, tables and kids with a tray full of iced teas and drinks - there had to be at least 6 or 7 on the tray - hoisted above her shoulder like you see waiters do from time to time. Just at the precise moment that she was passing the 13 year old kid, he momentarily stepped back causing his shoulder to only so slightly bump the tray.

Friends, they say that people in a car wreck often experience the whole accident in slow motion. Everything suddenly becomes momentarily crystal clear and your mind picks up things that might have otherwise been missed. Like the waitress, I too went into full slow motion mode. I almost thought that the waitress might be able to recover from the bump to the tray. It was as though her body had become a flexible shock absorber trying to work with the jolt, absorb it, then maintain balance. Or maybe that was some bingo fat under her arm. (By the way, I have no idea what bingo fat is, but my daughter uses the term to describe flab under somebodies arms).

Still in slow-mo, I could actually see the plastic glasses on the tray wobble as the waitress tried to keep things steady, but one glass was already going a little further over than the others, and I'm afraid if this was bowling, it was about to be a strike. At one point, I thought she might opt to force the tray toward the booth of kids - after all, they would probably enjoy the attention, but I think ultimately, the waitress tried to just pull out of the impending mess by getting away from the crowd of people.

Completely oblivious to everything happening above her very head, the lady who seemed to be in charge of the group was about to get the Super Bowl moment of her life. I don't think any of the cups landed on her, but the contents of ice and tea and water and whatever else came flowing down on top of her hair, the back of her shirt and, as my wife so calmly pointed out, right down the crack of her pants. A lesson from my wife to you: Crack Kills.

I have never seen so many waitstaff spring into action at one time. It was as if they had people sitting around pretending to be diners waiting for just such a moment. Everybody, including our waiter Justin, seemed to hit the floor with towels, mops, buckets etc. What the adults at the table seemed to miss in all the activity was that the 13 year old kid took the opportunity to use the commotion as cover, and he simply blended into the crowd of frantic waiters and calmly walked back to his booth, unnoticed by everyone but me, and I would find later, the lead waiter.

The lady in charge of the group stood there, obviously upset that she was soaking wet. She didn't get all crazy or anything, but I could see the faces and whispers from several members of the group, all the looks of, "What kind of restaurant spills stuff on people?" Had they posed the question to me, I would have referred them to that failed steak house on 1604 and Westover Hills where the waiter spilled an entire plate of food in my wife's lap. But they didn't ask.
By now, Justin had arrived with our 8oz Angus fire grilled steaks (whatever - I think they are microwaved if you want to know the truth), which were actually pretty okay considering we were famished, what with all the excitement.

As we ate, I noticed an older couple in the group pull aside the lead waiter, possibly inquiring about the possibility of free food for all 25 or 30 people in the crowd, given the horrendous actions of waitress. Honestly, I can't be sure if a free meal is what they were pimping for, but the waiter just told them matter-of-factly that some kid in their group had bumped the waitress and then slithered away. They asked who the kid was but the waiter just played it off saying he couldn't remember which one it was. I think he was just trying to make sure the kid didn't get in trouble.

By the time we finished eating and were leaving, the lady in charge of the group still had not returned from wherever she went to dry off, and aside from drinks, the large group of people still had not been served any kind of food. Another reason to just have everybody meet at Grandma's house, fire up the grill and spill your own drinks on yourselves.

7 comments:

KeithAlanK said...

Seriously, no camera and didn't eat at the Rodeo?

Bingo Fat is a keeper.

I despise large group dining for all the reasons you mention.
At Zio's they actually claimed that their computer system couldn't make separate checks--which is total BS.
Extra gratuity somehow showed up, too.
We used crayons on the tablecloth to figure out our shares...

Anonymous said...

...no camera...whatever were you not thinking...yeah...there should of been a designated order...and those brats should of not being given choices...tea for the adults..or even pitchers of whatever drink...and...i think that 13 year old was there for that specific reason...thats why the old goat wanted a freebie..if i had been in charge..well lets just say..all those ankle-biters would of been...velcroed to their seats..and those grown-ups..should of sat with them..each family responsible...i would of given that poor waitress...kudos for time served...cheez...so...was a tasty treat merited..........

Anonymous said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bingo_wings

Evil Twin's Wife said...

I'm with you on the jumbo crowds at restaurants. It just makes me nuts. My 11 year old knows that he is to remain seated throughout the meal. The three year old is still highchair bound, but she will learn the same lesson.

Deep Forest said...

Dave, I feel your pain but you should have snitched on the 13 yr. old. No free diners for this bunch.

Dave said...

Dave, I feel your pain but you should have snitched on the 13 yr. old. No free diners for this bunch.

Oh, make no mistake; I was fully prepared to announce to the entire restaurant what I had witnessed.

But I guess I wasn't clear - the waiter completely shut down any attempt at milking Bennigan's for the meal by stating to the elderly couple that it was all caused by a member of their big group. Once he had established that, he seemed to just not want to have to finger the little guy who caused it.

alienjeff said...

Dave:

This entry is a classic for Silver Creek 78250. That group's head honchette's" misery combined with uncanny timing and destiny were merely lubrication for your obvious writing and story-telling skills.

An tip of the alien tin foil hat to you, brother. Thanks for the laughs!

Jeff Bauer

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San Antonio, TX, United States
I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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