I’ve started to realize that you can tell a lot about a person from the way they dine out. What I mean by this is that an interesting aspect of one’s personality emerges as they sit around, being posh at restaurants.
While we dined with some friends at a fancy place, I sat back and noticed the dinner table dynamics. When you go out, there are some typical personality types that manifest. One of my favourites is the guy who claims to be a regular at the place: once, we went out with a guy who kept referring to the waiter by his first name (forget the fact that it was embroidered onto his shirt) with such a tone of familiarity; like he had developed a close bond with him over the times that he had served him Bourdeaux and Bouillabaisse. He kept telling him, “Make me my regular!” when asked about what beverage he would like. The poor waiter looked genuinely puzzled, really unsure of who the man was, and more so of what his regular would be!
Then there are the serial-shouters. These often occur in couples, and they find a constant reason to be annoyed with the waiter. They believe him to be their servant-of-the-moment and are enraged when he humanly errs by dropping a spoon onto the table, as if the clattering of the cutlery had shaken up their soul. I imagine they may be a little nicer to their servants at home, since they have to retain them, thus, they come to restaurants to unleash all their frustrations on this poor soul.
Then there’s the crass, nouveau-riche guy who thinks his obnoxiousness is humorous, who screams for the waiter standing across the restaurant, calling out, “Eh Laal Shirt, idhar aa!” (Hey Red Shirt, come here!) and then looks at his friends, expecting them to collapse into laughter. FYI, I have never hung out with this guy but have seen people like this on neighboring tables.
All these characters need their ego to be fed by the waiter much more than their tummies. They carry their egos as their plus ones (which occupy more than just one seat) and embarrass everyone else, who are secure enough to feel good about themselves without pulling someone else down.
Then come the money dynamics. These play out very interestingly on a table. There are the people who will order very generous individual portions for themselves, while insisting that the rest of the group has ordered too much and should reduce their order. Or the ones who will drink the best single malt (when they otherwise only have a taste for Teachers) just because the bill will be divided between everyone.
I shouldn’t forget to mention the people who will sulk about having to pay for your glass of wine after ordering a John Dory for themselves (a fish with such a fancy, formal name is destined to be pricey) which costs Rs. 3000 at that particular restaurant, while you chew on your steamed asparagus. And (credit to a friend who shared this story with me) the ones who will make their kids chug down glasses of chocolate milkshake (“Magar mujhe aur nahin peena hai, mummy! Ulti ho jayegi!” “But I don’t want to have more, Mom. I will throw up!”) just because people are splitting the bill.
Talking about the bill: when it comes, that’s the time everyone starts squirming. Some people have an urgent call by nature to answer at the precise moment when the waiter heads towards their table with the leather folder in hand.
Then there’s the enthusiastic friend who takes out his credit card and gives it to the waiter first (and all the newbies’ heave sighs of relief thinking he’s sponsoring dinner) only to then calculate the bill and tell you an amount including a generous tip that you later find out he never paid to the waiter.
There are those friends who will split everything down to the last morsel, wanting to even calculate how many pieces of paneer you ate in the Paneer Makhani as opposed to them, but you have got to love the guys who don’t even want to carry their own weight in life (forget yours): those people who haven’t carried money, so they promise they will pay you later (and you could fill a bag with their IOU notes starting from 1992).
There’s a lot of fun to be had when you go out with friends for dinner, and there’s a lot of madness to be experienced as well. That’s why Nandy and I hang out with like-minded people where the dinner table dynamics don’t get so uncomfortable, and no one’s counting how many Pinot Noirs we have downed as opposed to their Kingfishers (or vice versa). But every once in a while, you have to meet some crazy bunch for dinner, and then the fun begins. And the best thing to do at that point, is to sit back and just watch the comedy unfold.