I have developed a serious dining pet peeve.
Actually, it was Kim's pet peeve, but being the dutiful husband, I have immediately taken up the cause, right after 25 years of not noticing it was going on. It goes like this: We go out for dinner, are greeted by the host(ess), then we're seated, a busser brings us water, and then our server approaches, about three minutes later, welcomes us and asks us, "Can I start you off with something to drink?" or the slightly more annoying, "Can I get you something to drink besides water?"
Setting aside for a moment that my eighth-grade study hall proctor, Mr. Truman, would have answered "Well I'm sure you can ...," the real problem is more insidious, and more steeped in classical chauvinism and Mad Men machismo than almost anything remaining in modern American restaurant culture. The real problem is that at least one of us, more likely neither of us, has chosen a glass of wine, or a beer, or a cocktail.
The conundrum is compounded if we have guests with us, and no, it is not merely that we only had three minutes to choose. It's that there was only one wine list.
This wine or cocktail or beer list usually is placed in the center of the table: neutral ground as it were. Once upon a time (and still occasionally today), it always was handed to the senior-looking male at the table.
This is the 21st century, so the "neutral ground" placement is meant to show that we no longer live in a male dominated society and the lady is perfectly capable of choosing the wine -- which of course, she is. But the point at which women's liberation crossed a time line with the ability to serve wine -- and again, beer and cocktails -- by the glass was the point at which restaurants should have begun handing lists to every of-age person at the table.
Then maybe, just maybe, we might all have made our choices in the 180 seconds we've been allotted.
The one-wine-list convention harkens back to before the 19th-century creation of the modern restaurant concept, and as mentioned has everything to do with patriarchy. At Spanish dinner tables, for example, the head of the table (read: the father) would be given a traditional Spanish carafe of wine called a Porrón, which sported a long, tapered spout that facilitated reach and aim as he poured wine, at his sole discretion, directly into the mouths of his sons.
You'll note I said, "sons," because the mother and any daughters were not at the table -- they were serving the meal.
Later, as haute cuisine took hold in France and then in America, stuffy maître d's in long white aprons would present the head of the table with a menu and a wine list, and the lady would receive a food menu with no prices listed (she presumably should not worry her pretty little head about such things). Times have changed, of course, but sadly in most restaurants this outmoded convention persists. Even if the lady is allowed to know the prices of the food, at least 50 percent of the people at a table are forced to wait to choose a drink. This cannot stand.
I call upon all restaurants everywhere to shell out the extra couple hundred bucks to print more beverage menus. I promise you'll get it back in increased orders, and in server efficiency when he or she does not have to return to the table after learning that not everyone has chosen a drink yet because, well, you know.
And patrons! You must do your part as well. Insist that your host seat you with enough lists for all at your table. Just because you want an Old Fashioned, doesn't mean you need to be old fashioned.
My restaurant already follows this new convention. Let's try to get all the others to do so as well.
This post originally appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen