I happened upon Kim Ayres’ site a few months ago when I was poking around some links on El Gaupo in DC. I loved Kim’s “About Me” description: “Over the past 2 years I have changed my car, changed my career, moved to a different area, lost nearly 100 pounds in weight and turned 40. I’m wondering how far my mid-life crisis will take me.”
What I discovered was a site rich in texture and many, many layers, with stories at once compelling, sometimes humorous, and always interesting. Ramblings of the Bearded One has since become a site I return to again and again. Kim has kindly agreed to be my first guest blogger. His writing covers a broad spectrum, and when I asked if he had a restaurant tale to tell, he readily complied.
Enjoy his story about “first times” in restaurants. And thank you, Kim.
I was in my late teens the first time I went to a proper restaurant. An art dealer who sold some of my father’s paintings was paying for me and my parents and, terrified by the prices on the menu, I ended up ordering steak & kidney pie because it was the cheapest thing I could find. Frankly, I’d have been happier with a bag of fish & chips (fries) from around the corner and was mortified when my father chose the salmon starter and venison main course.
The excuse given by my parents for this lack of childhood restaurant experience was that there wasn’t a decent eatery in the village we lived in. But I suspect the truth is, they just couldn’t face taking us to one. My brother, sister, and I used to fight like cat and dog whenever we went out anywhere, and I don’t think our table manners were up to much, either. In fact, now that I come to think about it, my parents very often engineered it so that they would have their dinner separately, later in the evening, thus avoiding the need to watch us eat. The idea of paying money to waste good food while simultaneously embarrassing them in public must have seemed a completely pointless exercise.
I was 24 before I went to a restaurant, where I was paying. I was with my future wife, and I took her to an Italian restaurant in Dumfries. I was feeling so far out of my comfort zone, I was desperately hoping the place would catch fire before we reached the door. I had no idea what to do, what the etiquette or rules were, and this was following a nightmare of a time trying to decide what I was supposed to wear.
Do we sit or wait to be seated? Do we order courses as and when we’re ready to eat them, or order everything in advance? Do I go up to the bar to order, or will a waitress come over? I don’t speak Italian, so what if I order the wrong thing?
Wine? You mean there are more than just two types? What do you mean they have grape varieties, too? Will they let us have a jug of water, or will that make us look like cheapskates? What if they charge us for the water? How do I catch the waitress’s attention to let her know we’re ready for the next course? Do I pay up at the bar, or will they take the money from the table?
WHAT THE HELL DO I LEAVE FOR A TIP???
I was pretty much in my 30s by the time I started visiting restaurants with any kind of regularity. My wife and I have never been big drinkers, so on the rare occasions when we could get a babysitter, rather than go to a pub (bar) or club, we would opt for a meal out.
But where I felt I really struck lucky was with a hotel in Central Scotland. Back when I ran my Web design business, I met the new owners of a small country hotel who had inherited a dire Web site when they took over. They knew how important it was to make improvements, but had a very limited budget. At the end of each month they would look at the small amount of money left over after the expenses and have to decide whether they should repaint the front door or fix the shower in Room 4. A complete Web revamp was out of the question.
So I struck a deal. I would sort out their Web site and, in return, they would give me a tab at their restaurant for an equivalent amount. Over the past 3½ years, I have made various updates and changes to their site, and I have treated many clients, suppliers, and business colleagues to lunch.
Some 18 months ago, we moved 120 miles away, but we still have family up in that area. Every time we go and visit, I’ll meet up there with a friend for lunch and we’ll have a family meal there in the evening. The food is always good and the service is excellent.
As a child, being constantly nagged about the importance of saving money and not spending needlessly, restaurants seemed like an unnecessary expense for those with more money than sense. But as an adult, I love the intimacy, I love the sense of occasion, and I love the indulgence.