You make a date with friends to go out and eat. Dates with old friends are a laid back affair and easy to plan. More than likely, you already have a favorite spot and know each others’ unique needs. Edith wants a cushioned seat. Tim won’t suffer stools with no back support. So it was with Bob and Hannah after golf on Wednesday nights. She’d order a Corona with a slice of lime, Bob a martini, Tim a glass of wine, and me a glass of tonic water. I’ll speak for Hannah when I say this was the favorite part of our golf outing. Perhaps our men would agree, but I’m reluctant to put words in their mouths. They are such different creatures. Time with old friends whom we share history is as easy as sliding your legs into a favorite pair of sweat pants.
Moving into a retirement community meant opportunities to meet and eat out with new friends. While sweat pants ease with old friends has its charm, meeting and eating out with new people offers expanded horizons and new opportunities to try on different pairs of pants, this time with spandex. But, whether dining with old or new friends, what we seek in a restaurant reflects the arc we’ve traveled, the thirst to be quenched, or the companionship we hunger for.
In our thirties, we’d meet friends at restaurants where cocktails were king, and sleeping through the night was taken for granted. The tight squeeze between the seats, the music throttling, and lights flashing pumped up the fun factor. Menus were one page, sparkling water not an option, and checks were written by hand. Smoking was allowed, and seating implied booths. Jukeboxes meant we controlled the music. OpenTable didn’t exist, and some lavatories had bathroom attendants.
Thirty years plus later, we’ve learned that it’s not just sex and sleep that changes. Most friends my age or older, new or old, don’t have the same relationship with restaurants from years ago. We know what we want in a restaurant and what food agrees with our palate and stomach. Chasing trendy restaurants often ends after the virgin visit, replaced with the true blues that don’t test our intestines or send an acidic reminder in the middle of the night. A broiled fish on a plate is worth ten swimming in the river. If this means patronizing the same bistro, steakhouse, or fish place where we can talk and hear each other, not a problem. In vogue or not, merciless ricocheting of sound, televisions blaring, indifferent servers, or sitting at a communal table with strangers is not our thing. I used to enjoy this?
Leaving Tim sleeping at the hotel, I walked to a popular breakfast restaurant. Before it opened, a line of hungry customers wrapped the building. Unwilling to spend an hour in the queue, I asked if I could sit at a counter. They didn’t have one. “Would you care to sit at the communal table?” I did. Taking my order, the server shifted his weight from leg to leg. “Do you need more time?” he asked. No, I need you to be more patient, I thought to myself. I settled on eggs and bacon, ironic since I don’t eat bacon. I’d run out of “order time” whatever that is. An infusion of coffee lifted my spirit, the eggs tasted fine, and I looked around the table to engage in conversation. After all, it was a communal table. Instead, the forty-so guy sitting across the communal table asked, “Are you going to eat your bacon?” I shook my head and he reached over and picked it off my plate onto his where the bacon’s brothers waited. When he eyed my toast, I snapped, “I’m eating my toast.” Yep, communal tables are a bit like eating breakfast with your six kids before they are off to school.
When I emailed Maureen and Bob, new friends, about going to dinner at Two Dudes, she wrote back and said Bob liked Two Dudes, she didn’t. Another upshot of aging, we are more likely to speak our minds.
We want to eat at places without crying babies, small menu font, and flashing lights leaving us wondering if we are having a stroke. It’s also hard to appreciate dark restaurants where you need a survival pouch with a flashlight to see the menu, magnifying glasses to read it, and a cushion for rock hard chairs. We dislike servers who mumble (the number of mumblers appears to be growing) or talk too fast (what did she say?) Then when you ask for a substitute, like Zoe who ordered the day’s special, Meat and Potatoes, without the meat, the waitress rolls her eyes. What’s that all about. Tim, although he always seems to expect it, gets riled up when they forget to bring the salad before the meal or put the sauce on the side, servers who confuse who gets what, spotty utensils, or trying to remove his plate before he’s finished eating. In all fairness, though, Tim is always the last one to finish. At one point, I thought Maureen and Bob would leave before his plate could be removed.
Of all the factors in choosing where to eat, quiet takes first place. I wish libraries opened restaurants. Loud is out—trendy overrated. Tim is an unapologetic creature of habits, so with me in tow, we go to the same restaurants over and over again. The cast of characters we go out to eat with may change, but what we want in a restaurant doesn’t. Life is hard for everyone. Restaurants shouldn’t be.