Restaurants and restaurateurs have good days and bad days, but I’m not referring in this case to the takings. Even on a day when, perhaps because of the weather, or a rubbish alignment of the stars, more than the usual amount of people stay home, the team at the restaurant can still enjoy the day. The first requirement for this is that they’ve all slept well. Nothing makes a group of people less compassionate to their workmates than tiredness. If, for instance, you say, “You’re just tired” to someone who’s just tired, you might easily witness a catastrophic sense-of-humour failure. It’s unlikely a customer will ever see it (Smile! It’s showtime!), of course – though they could possibly hear it coming from the kitchen.
Good customers unwittingly create good days. When the crowd is burbling happily, plates come back cleaned, and everyone has time for some amiable banter, all is well. Every customer contributes to the ambiance. If you were to ask me for my advice on how to be a good customer, this, based on my observations over the past four months, is what I’d have to say:
1) Try not to book a table on a Friday night in order to bring up your husband’s extramarital affair. It’s better to discuss such things in private. You also won’t waste your money on a really delicious grilled seabass which has to be returned to the kitchen untouched because you have both decided right there and then to separate and meet again only in the divorce lawyer’s office. You will still have to pay for the seabass.
2) Unless you speak the local language pretty well, try not to engage the owner in deep conversation after you’ve paid your bill and you are the very last customer left at 1.30am.
3) Don’t let small children run wild. This is particularly true if you are prone to taking offense when asked politely if you wouldn’t mind not letting them climb on the serving table. Very particularly, don’t then try to get a rise out of the owners by leaving the restaurant and sitting on the bench next door, encouraging your kids to play noisily in the public tree planters.
4) Try to decide if you want to sit outdoors or indoors before you arrive. For example, if you book a table for ten outside, don’t decide halfway through dinner that you’d rather be inside. This doesn’t apply if it rains, of course, but if the weather is just fine, and there’s no apparent reason for changing your mind, it might seem like capriciousness.
5) Bring your dog by all means, but only if it doesn’t growl menacingly, fart, bark and continually lunge on its lead.
6) If you do accidentally have too much to drink, try to remember that you’re not the only customer in the restaurant. Other customers would like the owners’ attention once in while too, especially if it’s a very busy evening. And very especially if you are only talking about the time you visited London 40 years ago.
7) Don’t set off fireworks.
8) Even if the owner is very adorable and charming, don’t bite his neck affectionately, especially if you are 80 years old and have dentures.
9) Bring nice things for the owners. They love it when people make something nice for the team, such as home-smoked marinated herring that they can bring home for, for example, their wives and ginger cats.
10) Be a landlord with an apartment to rent. If it has amazing views from both of the balconies, all the better. It will really make their wives and ginger cats very, very, very happy indeed.