Today I was feeling particularly hungry for lunch. I had just been to the gym and the Wolf was definitely banging at the door. I rolled over to Royal Plus restaurant to send this Wolf packing. I packed off the wolf with a fishy feast of Missouni (will post recipe soon) and Fried Fish. However, as I ingested my fish, it was clear to me that going to restaurants here is something I have had to get used to. I use the example of my humble friend Mr. X, who has stuck by me all this time.
In England, X would enter a restaurant and has to be granted permission to sit down. It is customary to wait in line to be seated, or if there is no line, to walk in and gesture and mouth a number as if X were deaf no matter how proximal the waiter, in anticipation of a knowing nod and counter gesture from the waiter who will show X to his table. X waits to be served and will often feel sympathy for the waiter if he looks really busy. X will pointlessly pose his order as a question, not as a demand as if there is a chance the waiter may deem him unsuitable for the dish: “Can I have the cheesecake?” “No, you’re too short” is just not a conversation X will ever hear. In England, being a guest at a restaurant generally follows the “seen but not heard “ rule of thumb, as clearly shown by the way people get their bill, by again pretending to be deaf and scribbling on your hand while you mouth “bill”.
Here, unless you swagger into a restaurant and sit down wherever you want, you feel fundamentally emasculated. It was so clear that this was the case when I first arrived that there was no way I could consider even playfully committing this faux-pas, lest I lose the respect of the deferent waiters. Also, if you see someone you know, you don’t have to ask to be invited over, you can just waltz over and join the table.
What this liberal seating arrangement means is that order taking can become quite challenging for the waiter. Being a waiter here is a hard job: you get barked at to take orders and you have to be quick at everything you do. In addition, you have to decide who is paying for what as, seeing as someone might have joined half-way through someone else’s meal you might have to make a snap decision on what gets included on the table’s bill.
But the waiters seem so keen to be swift in the execution of the job that often they will hover at a distance from your table, eagle-eyed and ready to swoop. No a second may pass from the last grain of rice passing into your mouth before your plates are whisked away. I’ve always found this ironic, since people often stay in restaurants here for up to half an hour after they have paid the bill just chatting. You don’t just chat to your own table mind you, shouting across the restaurant is perfectly acceptable, since you have known everyone in it your whole life.
The most delicate piece of restauranteership, in my opinion, is knowing the exact moment when the waiters choose to deploy the nuts. The nuts signal the end of the meal but many expect them alongside coffee or their food, so that no time at all can be wasted between sustenance and mastication. While this demonstrates mastery of the waiting role, nuts are also an indicator of a patron’s understanding of proceedings. My grip on restaurant etiquette on Addu is clearly not as strong as it could be, judging by my own nut behaviour: I haven’t mastered my nut-taking quite yet as I still hear titters when I choose to munch on a nut while sipping my coffee… Mr X just wouldn’t cope.