OBSERVATIONS

A sucking sound…, …thin spaghetti noodles disappear as fast as they reach the thin lips and the overhanging greasy mustache…

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She is gnawing on a lamb chop’s bone long after all the meat is gone. I notice how she is watching everybody to see if anyone is watching her.

OBSERVATIONS
One hand towel is not enough. It takes two napkins before I can pick up the piping hot dinner. I rush, but do not run, as I serve the still hissing plate with the steaming delicate edibles to the single customer near the window. A remarkable display. Hot Port-wine scent tickles my nose. A pool of dark-red, syrupy wine-sauce provides the backdrop for a ten-ounce fillet of beef, displayed on a bed of sautéed wild mushrooms.
Sprinkles of white Enoki mushrooms, julienne of celery and carrots, and a smidgen of fine chopped parsley flakes, create a border for the entree’s artistic presentation. Four lengthwise cut, leaf-like looking, potato slices, outside crunchy, inside flowery softly baked, the starch for the meal, are arranged at ninety, one hundred-and-eighty, two-seventy and three-hundred-and-sixty degrees.
I place the plate in front of the hungry diner. “Looks nice! Waiter! Can I get a Merlot, a glass of it?” The guest asks. And he does not acknowledge my, “Certainly Sir, Clos de Bois or Stag’s Leap?” as he stares with delight at his plate. His nostrils are pleased with the flavors from the hot plate. His sampling eyes are happily glued on the artistic display. He grabs his fork, stabs the meat. The knife appears. He slices the steak open. There it is, the satisfied, happy look of a falcon inspecting its supper. This fellow appears ready to defend his rare find against any predator. I recognize it by the way he holds his cutting tool. The knife’s handle sits firm on the table, held by a closed fist, the blade points straight up, into the air. Not even a fool would be daring enough, to try to remove the dinner-plate from this man. I know the attempt could easily result in the loss of a limb, a hand, a finger or so it looks. He mumbles something.
I think he said Stag’s Leap. I walk over to the bar to get the guest’s glass of wine. My eyes are busy. I am scanning my station. I take notice of several content faces. I hear people eat, people chat. I see people sipping on their beverages. I smell the different food aromas from the various tables. Layers over layers of aromatic food essences hang in the air.
Back where I had dropped the fillet off, this customer had had enough time to examine his tender meat. I bring him his Merlot and watch him nodding, confirming that he likes the pink color of the medium ordered meat-cut. He cuts through it effortless using the dull heavy-silver-plated dinner-knife. The theory of our steak’s tenderness proofs once again to be true. The chef always says “If they can’t cut it with a fork it shouldn’t have been served in the first place.” I see the guest switching the eating utensils. The knife in his left hand, with the fork in his right he stabs a juicy bite of meat, drags it through the sauce and stuffs his face with it. His eyes are full of joy. It hits the spot. He wolfs half of the steak down, before changing to a slower speed.
Now he savors every bite as he chews. He swallows, rinses with a sip of water, tries the Merlot and stabs another piece of meat with the fork. I know that he is a thrilled diner coasting on cloud nine. I am on my way to the next table. Here I have a rhinestone collecting lady, showing all she has. On her side is a broad shouldered fellow. She is gnawing on a lamb chop’s bone long after all the meat is gone. I notice how she is watching everybody to see if anyone is watching her. She must have been a most beautiful woman in her days, now the years show. She is not the youngest anymore. But maybe she does not want to know. The large man next to her is not looking up. He is engulfed in the man-size task emptying a huge order of capelini. He gobbles down vast amounts. Fork loads after fork loads of angel hair pasta are shoved into his mouth. The fork returns to his plate and stabs into the pile of noodles. With a swirling motion in the pasta spoon he packages the strings of pasta into bundles. He lifts the fork wrapped tight with pasta, methodically rolled like fishing line onto a reel. His mouth opens wide. The fork stops at his teeth. A sucking sound unloads the fork. The thin spaghetti noodles disappear as fast as they reach the thin lips and the overhanging greasy mustache. A few pasta-strings hang from the closed mouth like pale worms. A tongue is lashing out, a slurping sound and these leftovers are history too. Pasta, spooled onto the fork and carried to the mouth, travels fast past the hungry diner’s gold teeth. The spaghetti’s out of sight destination being somewhere in the dark depths of the fellows large body. He has a long tongue. I see it swiping over his mustache, his lower lips, past his chin while he is reloading his fork with more pasta.
The woman at his side says something. He doesn’t listen. She is now at the second bone of her lamb chops. Her blouse is all glitter, the light is breaking in the glass of her earrings and the cut crystal beets on her necklace. There is a sparkle from her rings. Her eyes are cold as her looks x-rays me before she goes on to someone more important.
The way a person eats tells me a lot about the guest, his dislikes and likes. It clearly shows the customer’s attitude toward food and life. It does reflect the level of discipline and upbringing. It shows if the diner has ever learned manners and where he learned these manners. A Japanese aristocrat will use knife and fork different from a European aristocrat. Still their behavior toward the food will be similar, both will treat a well prepared and garnished plate with respect.
A new rich visitor from Russia and a Korean farmer would each be very surprised by the wide variety of food offered in an American restaurant. Still both will order and eat in a clearly different way.
I have observed people who sample every other guest’s plate without sharing one single bite of their own food. I have watched others who gave a bite to everybody at their table asking the recipients to try the delicate dinner until being left with nothing for themselves.

Dining is a sensual pleasure. The moment a customer reads the menu he starts to picture what it might look like. Then once he gets a glimpse at the actual food his eyes zoom-in on the plate, comparing factual presentation with his preconceived rational image. In fine dining all food is cooked and served to tempt, to arouse the guests’ appetite. The more delightful and tempting a plate looks, the bigger the craving to try, to taste, to suck, lick and nibble gets. Long before the nose gets to sample the unexpected exotic smells and the for each spice typical aroma, the eye takes an inventory. The senses of sight create the anticipation which climaxes in a high of pleasures once the guest’s expectations are met. During this process there is, more likely knowingly than subconsciously, a noticeable buildup of colossal enjoyment in the guest’s mind. If the sense of smell confirms what the eyes see, then the sense of taste impatiently waits its turn. As a bite of delighting food passes the lips and past the teeth, the senses are checking the details for moisture, flavor, texture, temperature and spice. If sight, smell and taste agree, tickled by the food; then the guest will feel overjoyed and ready to self-indulge on his blessings. All senses are then ready to party, to have a ball. The guest’s pleasure peaks every time when the expecting mouth and the expected food are united. The process of dining, describes the moment when the customer’s hopes are met or bypassed. That’s when the diner gets transported to paradise and back. There is however also a critical point where food art and anticipated pleasure match or miss. True, often enough, a guest might understand a plausible reason why the food tastes different from what he expected. Plausible excuses are seasoning, age, aging process, a new supplier and the change of origin.
Seeing a guest’s eyes light up and to hear words like “Oh is this good!” “I like this a lot!” “Unbelievable good!” “Great food!” and clean plates do confirm that the guest has reached the point of satisfaction. Why would a customer spend a hundred dollars, for a dinner for two, if he couldn’t get at least some sensuous pleasure from it? Just to eat, he could as well have visited a two-dollar fast food place down the road. Restaurant customers come back for the comfort provided and the pleasures of the senses due to titillating, sense-bud teasing, unusual and hard to match food preparations.
I serve a bread pudding to the single customer, who earlier had the steak. I listen to his comments “Outa sight! This was absolutely the best fillet I ever had!” and “Tell the chef this sauce of his, it was outstanding! Si, hot ziggety incredible outstanding dinner!”
I know eating-out does set standards for all of the guest’s future restaurant visits.

by helmut schonwalder