Yesterday evening, E. and I and two friends had tickets for a concert at 8 pm. Our friends suggested we have dinner beforehand at a nearby restaurant, one of very few within walking distance of the concert hall. They hadn't been there before, but it seemed promising, with an appealing menu, creative-sounding cocktails, and rave reviews from diners on the Zagat and Urban Spoon websites. If only our experience had lived up to the reviewers' hype.
We arrived at the restaurant shortly after 6 pm, so we wouldn't have to rush to make the performance. Our first impression was great—we liked the colorful artwork and stylish bar. A number of tables were already occupied, a good sign at such an early hour. In retrospect, it might have been better for us had we been the only ones there.
We were seated and given menus. As we chatted, activity swirled around us, but no one approached our table. After about ten minutes, a busboy came over to ask if we'd like some water while we waited for the waiter to take our drink orders. Tap water would be fine, we said. The water arrived, then nothing happened for at least ten more minutes. Wait staff traversed the floor, but no one made eye contact with us. I flagged down a passing waiter and asked him to get our waiter. He said he would. No one came.
We looked around the room. We saw people younger than us and older, more chic than us and stodgier. We could find no obvious explanation for our waiter's inattentiveness. For that matter, the staff may have been studiously ignoring any number of other tables. It was hard to tell. Eventually, we caught the eye of the manager. He apologized for the delay and took our drink orders.
Finally, our waiter sauntered over to our table. He, too, apologized, but he sounded totally indifferent. We explained that we needed to leave by 7:30 in order to walk back to the concert hall in time for the performance. He assured us that would be no problem. No problem for him, that is. We finally received our entrees at 7:20. I quickly shoveled down the food, which was not bad, if I'd only had a little more time to enjoy it.
We wondered what had happened to make such a well-reviewed place perform so badly. We noticed that there seemed to be a surplus of busboys. At one point, we heard one busboy teaching another how to set the table. When a different busboy finally served us our meals, he seemed so nervous that his hands were literally shaking. Had half the staff quit the day before, resulting in too few waiters and a bunch of newly-hired busboys?
I prefer to believe that we entered a bizarro restaurant universe, where the aim was alienation of the customer. By that measure, our dinner was a complete success.