Restaurant manners and playing with food

2 min read

Restaurant manners and playing with food

This is from PJ O’Rourke’s “Modern Manners”, which is thoroughly recommended by the team at simpleERB.


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The table manners you have in a restaurant are very different from those you have in the home of a friend because, in a restaurant, you’re allowed to play with food. If you eat enough expensive meals and drink enough expensive liquor in a restaurant, you’re allowed to do anything. But in the home of a friend, no matter how much you eat and drink, it won’t excuse you for “restoring” a Renoir with potatoes au gratin.



Playing with food is the main reason that dining in restaurants has become so popular. Playing with food is a psychologically powerful way of attracting attention to yourself. And restaurants are better places to attract attention than friends’ homes are, anyway. You usually know who’s going to be at a friend’s home. But practically anybody could be at a restaurant. If you attract enough attention in a restaurant, maybe a rich, beautiful person will give you money and sex.
Playing with food is easy. There are so many wonderful props right at hand. Breathes there a man with soul so dead that he’s immune to the theatrical possibilities of a plate full of fried calamari? Even bank presidents and Presbyterian ministers have been known to put the tentacle parts up their noses and pretend the garlic bread is Captain Nemo’s submarine, Nautilus. But playing with food must be done exactly right or it will lead to social disaster.
The secret to successful sport with foodstuffs is correct attitude. Playing with food has to be fast, loud, and enthusiastic. You must make your high spirits contagious before anyone has time for second thoughts. Second thoughts always consist of calling the police.
But if your attitude and timing are right, you can put a lettuce-leaf lion’s mane around the neck of your date, hold her at bay with your chair, command her to leap upon the table and rear up on her hind legs, and everyone will think it’s great fun.
Here are some other things you can do:

  • Use steamed mussels as castanets, slip sugar bowls over the toes of your shoes, and do a flamenco dance on your chair.
  • If everyone is having beef dishes, run around the table and try to put the cow back together.
  • Use any roast whole bird as a hand puppet. You can achieve remarkably realistic effects by jamming your thumb and forefinger into the wing sockets. Point out that the bird has lost it’s head, so it has no sense at all, which is why it’s flying around the table squeezing people’s noses.
  • Illustrate Persian Gulf battle strategy on the napkin in someone’s lap. Asparagus spears are capital ships; chunks of bouef bourguignon are air-to-surface missiles, et cetera.
  • Hang a grilled brook trout on the wall like a trophy, or, better, stand on the table and re-enact landing it with an umbrella and shoelace.
  • Gather up veal scallops and have an impromptu game of cards- sauce Milanese is trump.
  • Use a raw oyster to show someone what a French kiss would be like if she’d married a reptile.

The list is endless. Let imagination, rather than taste, be your guide.*