It is incredibly easy to write about restaurant customers who irritate and aggravate. Although they are actually a tiny minority of the hundreds I see each day, they tend to inspire unending prose!
Mostly, customers come and go in unremarkable waves, neither standing out nor striking fear and loathing. But a few are fantastic, and not always overtly.
Her name is Margaret. She is likely 80 years old or more, and has come in on several occassions with various friends. She is soft spoken, unfailingly polite and proper, and sincerely nice–always. I wish she was my grandmother.
The other day she came in alone for the first time.
She wore a black wool coat and deep purple hat and matching scarf. The combination of the dark and rich colors beautifully accentuated her blue eyes and pale, powder-like skin. She was breathtaking, actually.
“I am here by myself today,” she quietly smiled.
“Great! I have a perfect table for you upstairs, Margaret,” I told her. And up she went to see another of our hosts. I didn’t give her much thought after that, because we were immediately slammed with a tourist and business lunch crowd.
An hour or so later, amidst the throng of people at my podium asking about the wait time, gesturing with pagers, or simply hanging around, Margaret waited. Finally, she made her way to the front of the crowd to talk to me.
“I had the most lovely lunch,” she said. “And you know, I didn’t care at all that I was eating alone. It was so nice to be here.”
I thanked her, complimented her on the color of her hat and scarf, and off she went onto the busy sidewalk outside our front door.
I can’t tell you why her comments about eating alone have lingered with me. Maybe this was a first for her–eating out by herself. Maybe her friends are out of town. Maybe she was feeling a tad lonely that day and wanted to have lunch where she could soak up the energy of our crowded dining rooms.
People eat alone all the time. They bring a book, a newspaper, or they sit at one of the bars and talk to the bartenders. And they are fine. But I have a soft spot for elderly people who eat alone. I worry about them at holidays, fret over them on weekdays, and wonder about their lives beyond a table for one.
On this day, I truly hope Margaret had as nice a time as she said she did.