Sunday, July 26, 2015

Salad fork, dinner fork, pitchfork

I know my patience level registers time differently than clocks usually do. Waiting for things to begin (like breakfast) and for things to end (like a baby crying) can seem to take forever.

I'm just having trouble imagining how the Internet village turned a negative dining experience for one little foodie, and her family's subsequent review of it at a Portland, Maine diner, into "high-fives" for the cook. But it did, and my Facebook stream was swimming in discontent.

"Good riddance, annoying children who pester me in the hipster eateries I like to frequent because of their boozy brunches." (Not yours, though. Your children are perfect just like mine. They understand the importance of humanely raised veal and locally sourced organic kale.)

Too snarky? Okay. You're right.

Parenting is hard. Business owning is hard. Personally, I'd rather not frequent a diner that takes 40 minutes to serve breakfast, and then freaks out when you order three pancakes instead of two. But by all means, high-five a cook who responds to a tantrum with a tantrum. It's your prerogative as a patron.

But don't think this story is really about rude parents or about crazy cooks.

This story is about the village. A village with pitchforks. This story is a story because people are supporting a cook, who is unapologetic for screaming at a crying child. She declares it was the right thing to do because it worked.

That's it? A serene dining experience is all that matters?

So many people in my little social web seem to think so. And right this very minute some of them are planning trips to Maine so they can “high-five” this new celebrity chef, who has struck a blow for all customers tall enough to ride the bumper cars.

Bully for them.

Parents have been mostly silent, oddly enough. Cowed, perhaps, by the villagers with their pitchforks.

You may be arguing about your own restaurant experiences: how cooks are volatile, how parents of young children are rude, you know … how much you have suffered. But if you go to Maine just to patronize this business, you go in appreciation of an adult losing her cool at a toddler.

It's also not beyond possibility that the owner just succumbed to the pressure cooker that is a commercial kitchen. Everyone is entitled to a bad day.

But celebrating rudeness with a special order of intolerance seems just as distasteful.

But there is one other angle I think we've all forgotten in this debate.

Restaurant owners who treat people of all ages with kindness, and who actually enjoy feeding people, make much better experiences for everyone, too.

Having been a mother of an occasional unhappy traveler, I have always been grateful for the kindness of strangers. I owe them thanks.

So to cooks who make substitutions ...

And to servers who give smiles with an extra bread basket ...  Or who fix a mistake I made as a parent (kid is crying because I ordered wrong, I know it's not your fault).

Even the folks at countless next tables, who not only talk to but also listen to my kids as they prattle on with exuberance for life ...

You are the unsung heroes. You are the proverbial village. And I wish to thank you for making our dining experience a joy.

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