She’s no Miss Manners, but for writer Lavinia Spalding, etiquette rules.
I was raised with only three dining rules: Try everything once, say “please” and “thank you,” and don’t answer the phone or discuss boys during dinner (my father’s rule, instituted when I hit my teens). Consequently, I’ve spent about half my life with my elbows on the table, and I’m OK with this. Still, there are edicts I’ve come to swear by, thanks to my time in the food service trenches.
I landed my first job in high school at a burger joint called Bun Huggers. Then came greasy spoons, noodle bars and a swank celeb hot spot. Along the way, I’ve seen things that would make Emily Post turn in her grave, from teeth picked with knives to ice cubes tossed in dates’ cleavages. But my biggest lessons in manners that matter came from the family-style Thanksgiving dinner I used to serve at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, UT.
Take, for instance, the Year of the Crantastrophe.The first sign anything was amiss was a hubbub at a far table. Wine glass down! I thought as I went to investigate. But on arrival, I found that a guest had in fact emptied an entire family-size bowl of cranberry sauce onto his plate. Then, with his tablemates looking on in disbelief, he speed-scarfed his haul (plus the underlying mountain of turkey and sides), patted his belly and said, “What’s for dessert?” Lesson learned: Enthusiasm’s great, but c’mon—you gotta share.
Next was the Early Bird Special: the year that half the patrons showed up so early, we were still polishing silver. Smiling thinly through our stress, we launched into hyperdrive. “Hey, no rush,” said the ringleader, making a beeline for our wine collection. And, in that moment, a new tradition was born: pre-dinner cider and bonfire outside! Lesson learned: Just be on time.
Finally, there was the Finger Food Epiphany, involving a lovely, renowned restaurateur who sat in my section and proceeded to eat her whole salad—slowly, deliberately, leaf by vinaigrettes leaf—with her fingers. Good God, no! I thought, panicking that we’d forgotten her fork. We hadn’t: As I’ve since learned, all kinds of chefs eat this way. And besides, she was so absorbed in her enjoyment, the people around her couldn’t help but be, too. Lesson learned: Manners vary with community and context. Don’t leap to judgment.
All of which is to say, good old-fashioned decency is still what matters most. Everything else is gravy.
Ahoy, Food Lovers!
San Francisco Magazine
Food for Life
Retreat & Reinvigorate
Where bubbly sparkles all the time
Salute the Sun
Feed Your Body Well
OZZY IS GIVING ME ATTITUDE—bumping against my pack, nosing ahead, blowing his semisweet-fermented breath in my face. I nudge him on the chest to keep him behind me as I inch down the steep sandstone, but he clearly has personal-space issues. I chose Ozzy . . .
Growing up, I was The One Who Could Not Sing. My older sister and brother, on the other hand, were routinely cast in musicals and chosen for high school Madrigals (the “Glee”-like choir reserved for the cream of the teen vocal crop). At Christmas, my . . .
My best friend and I rarely call each other. Not because we don’t enjoy talking; we just prefer to catch up in person, ideally over frosty drinks in a foreign land. But before our recent trip to Nicaragua, I texted her, “Are we taking backpacks or rolling . . .
“What’s going on?” Dan asked, smiling. He nodded at my feet, which tapped to the beat of zero music. My hands were in constant motion, too—fidgeting with my phone, flipping through the in-flight magazine, rustling in my purse, playing with the barf . . .
The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” –Chinese Proverb