Drinks in hand at our table, we sat at a moderately fast food restaurant waiting for our order. We had already noted that there were crushed French fries on the floor, lightbulbs burned out in the dining area and ketchup splatter on the window not unlike something you might discover at a crime scene. I complained to my wife.

“My straw leaks; there’s a hole in it and I’m sucking in a lot of air with my drink.”

My wife got up and brought me another straw. This was not a legitimate complaint. The leaky straw didn’t count in our list of deficiencies because it’s not the fault of management unless they are ordering their straws from “Ding, Dent and Seconds Straw Supply.” I am still learning the rules of complaining.

“That’s nothing,” my wife replied, turning our focus back to details that matter: “They gave me a senior discount.”

“But you like discounts.”

“I did not ask for a senior discount. They just gave it to me.”

This was new; a colossal faux pas. You can give a senior discount to almost any man without asking, but not to my wife. This would go into the notebook.

My wife is an amazing cook who takes time with the selection of ingredients, the preparation, cooking and presentation of every meal. She enjoys being a culinary artist and appreciates a compliment when people enjoy her meals. I believe that is why we eat out a lot at restaurants. She is always ready to eat out and I am beginning to suspect it’s to remind me how fabulous I have it at home.

In order to demonstrate that eating at home is better than eating out, she has found that we have to find fault with the latter, even though she enjoys it immensely. It’s complicated. If we find too many faults with the restaurants we visit, it’s possible that we might stop going out altogether, which would make my wife very unhappy. If on the other hand restaurants are so great, we could eat out all the time and dispense with home cooking, which would make my wife very unhappy.



I like good food but, to my wife’s great disappointment, I’ll eat anything — so I am being trained to appreciate food and not to flavor it by the anticipation of the check, as my sense of thrift often interferes with my sense of taste. If I let that happen, we might not go out often enough. It’s a learning process that may take several more decades.

The idea is to enjoy a night out but not so much as to feel that it’s better than dining at home. To achieve this delicate balance, we take notice of a lot of details in the restaurants we visit. Restaurants aren’t perfect (I would add, “like my wife,” but that would be transparently patronizing and smack of an overt effort to rack up complimentary points). Of course we care about the food, but the details of how the restaurant is put together and managed seem to capture most of our attention.

We come in for a pleasant meal but something catches our eye and we go off on a fault-finding tangent. Look: the ceiling tile is stained, the table wobbles, the wait person addressed us as “you guys” and there is no hot water in the bathroom. Most of the empty tables are dirty, some of the clean tables are dirty, the condiments are a mess and the wait staff just brought me my drink carrying the glass with fingers firmly gripping the top rim.

We can’t help ourselves. The list is endless. It has come to a point where we notice way too much detail for our own good. We never go online or public; these are private observations that are becoming an annoying habit. Do other people do this or is it just us?

It’s probably because we got older and our taste matured. Or, there is a slight chance that our experience of owning a restaurant colored our view. Just because the business boiled us alive, severely strained our relationship, skewered our entrepreneurial spirit and nearly killed us shouldn’t affect how we feel about eating out but, still, it’s a possibility that you have to allow.

So if you see us (one senior and one great cook) eating out, just smile and wave. Don’t try to sit with us as we are always at the wobbly table.