I was presented with a problem. I was trying to eat a pasta dish I had ordered and enjoyed many times before, but this time, it was drowning in sauce. There was far too much pesto on my plate for the amount of noodles that were there. A big green mess. But the problem wasn't just the drowning pasta. It was the dilemma that it presented to me. Do I or do I not complain to the waitress? One might think that the answer should have been an automatic, "Yes! Do complain!" But I've given it great thought and can draw from experience, and the best answer to this dilemma is to lie to the waitress. Let me explain.
For one, I've considered the fact that we are a society that asks courtesy questions with no meaning behind them. Take it out of the restaurant setting and think of Walmart. As we go through the checkout, we are almost always asked, "Did you find everything ok?" Even if I say, "No I did not find everything ok. I looked at your pasta selection and it was pathetic. I can't buy milk here because it tastes like plastic. I couldn't find that weird brand of soda my dad likes," what are they really going to do? "STOP! This woman cannot find her dad's favorite brand of soda!" And even if they did, I don't want to stand there while they try to find what I couldn't find. I want to leave. If they don't do a frantic search, do they just give you an awkward, "Sorry," while looking down awkwardly when you say you did not, in fact, find everything ok? I've thought ahead and it doesn't look good.
I've also thought ahead when it comes to these sort of courtesy questions at restaurants. "How is everything tasting?" "Is everything delicious?" Often what the waitress really wants is a quick question and a quick answer to fulfill the duties of her job. It's asked in a quick brisk by the table. It's also what I want most of the time. Leave me alone, and let me eat. So what is a disgruntled diner to do?
Now I'm not talking about a hair, or something incredibly undercooked. You have to say something then. Aside from potentially dangerous, unsanitary situations, all other food problems at restaurants are a matter of taste and can be broken down into two categories: the solvable food problem versus the unsolvable food problem. Be bold with your solvable food problems. Your salad could use a little more dressing, ask for it. You want a little more bread, tell them. You think those dry potatoes would be nicer with a side of sour cream, go for it.
But it's the difficult to unsolvable food problems that make me nervous. They are the ones that make me a liar. If it was well cooked, but you realize that it's not something you personally like, it's your fault for choosing that dish, not the restaurant's. If it's not cooked well, but it's not egregiously bad, you look picky, and they make a fuss, and you might have to sit and wait while they make more food for you. Even if the food is bad. What will they do? One time I had biscuits that tasted like weird cake. I look ahead. What's the waiter going to do? Tell the kitchen to bring me some biscuits that don't taste like weird cake? I suppose they could have brought me different food, or given me a refund. It was more appealing to suffer in silence than to suffer through the awkwardness of the apologies, of trying to explain what I didn't like, and the fuss that they would make.
And believe me. It can be terrible when they make a fuss. I must refer to what my family calls The Great White Bean Debacle of 2009. First of all, be careful who you tell about your dissatisfaction with, or confusion about your food, because your fellow diner may not believe that you don't care, and will want to defend you. This is what happened with me and my dad in The Great White Bean Debacle when my parents and I went out to eat one evening.
My parents ordered gumbo. I ordered white bean chili. My white bean chili looked and even somewhat tasted suspiciously like their gumbo. I searched my bowl for white beans. I wondered if the restaurant had made a mistake. I didn't feel too uncomfortable asking the waitress about my food at first, but her answers weren't satisfying somehow. I was still confused and told my parents as such, but I was going to let it go. The terrible thing was that my dad, who wanted his daughter to be entirely happy with her food, did not let it go, and brought it up for me to the waitress. I was then put in the awkward spot of having to defend and explain this confusion about beans that even I didn't understand. Now that I look back, I think the confusion had to do with the fact that the beans were puréed and the flavors were just similar to those in my parents gumbo. The details to all of this are fuzzy, but I don't think I will ever forget how it all ended. After profuse apologies, a small bowl of plain cooked white beans was brought to the table. I was very embarrassed. Even worse, none of it was worth it. I liked my food.
And so now we are faced with the original dilemma: pasta with too much pesto. Drowned noodles. Too little sauce seems simple and unembarrassing enough to bring up, like having an extra side of dressing for your salad. But this? Bring me a little bowl of bare penne to dump on my plate? Too close to the bean memory for comfort.
If you are asked how your food is, and you don't want to deal with it, you have three options.
1. Lie: Say, "It's good."
2. Pick a tactful truth-like answer: Answer, "Fine," "Pretty good," or even "Good," for not terrible food (hey, you didn't say it was great or delicious).
3. My favorite: Say nothing and let the answer come from your eating companion who's actually enjoying her food. "Good," she says, smiling. It's on the waitress for assuming that you are also happy. You didn't say it was good, and so you didn't lie. In this case, one must ignore the concept of the lie of omission.
Or you (and I...) could be brave enough to tell the truth. But don't blame me if they bring you a little dish of cooked white beans to your table.