February 21, 2020

The Miserable Side of Dining Out

Dining out always has cost a lot more money than eating at home, but these days, it could cost a small fortune. I can make myself a dinner at home for about $2 or $3. At a restaurant, it might cost me $30 or more. 

Recently, I was in a vegan restaurant and ordered a buckwheat shake and cage-free melon. When I got the recycled paper check, I wanted to start eating meat again. 

For me to take my family out to dinner at an upscale kosher restaurant, I must either start a Go Fund Me page or call my broker to sell some stock. I’m waiting for the day that they tell me that the meal is over my credit card limit. 

I figured with all the money I’ve spent in kosher restaurants, I could have installed an Olympic-size pool in my backyard. That’s if I had a backyard. But I live in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles, so what I have is a few blades of grass and concrete. I once timed a fly going from one end of my yard to the other. Three seconds and it wasn’t even out of breath. 

Going to restaurants has gotten so complicated. You used to walk in and a server set glasses of water on the table. But in 2015, because of the long-running drought, it became against the law for restaurants to provide diners glasses of water if they didn’t ask for them.

And now, if you ask for a plastic straw, you’re labeled a porpoise killer.

I don’t remember anyone ever dying from drinking tap water in a restaurant, but I’m sure there have been plenty of heart attacks when the bill came.

Today, if you order tap water, they make you feel like you’re drinking water out of a rat-infested sewer filled with muck, slime and bubonic plague. “Tap water? I hope you’re not planning to have more children. May I suggest some bottled water?” And of course, it’s $8 for a bottle of water; $10 if you want sparkling water. It’s cheaper to get a 2-year-old with a plastic straw to blow bubbles into your water. And you can’t take the water bottle home with you if you don’t finish it. “I’ll have a to-go cup for my water.” It sounds so cheap. 

Some of these upscale joints have a different person just for drinks. “Hi, I’m Ed. I’ll be taking your drink order.” 

“I figured with all the money I’ve spent in kosher restaurants, I could have installed an Olympic-size pool in my backyard.”

My wife might order a glass of wine. Most places used to have a “house” wine. Now, if you order the house wine, they treat you like you’re some wino derelict who doesn’t care if you destroy your liver. “Oh, the house wine? I’ll go out back into the alley and grab the bottle from the homeless guy in his tent. I’ll be right back.” 

And whatever you do, don’t ever ask them to recommend a wine. That’s like asking a dog to recommend a nice steak. Once the waiter says to you, “We have a lovely …”, the word “lovely” means expensive.

Why not just be honest with us? “We have a very, very expensive Cabernet Sauvignon, which you can get by the glass.” Which is a lie. You never get a full glass of wine. Restaurants sell it by the thimble. Maybe a third of a glass, if you’re lucky. They pour it like it’s liquid gold. This will ensure you’ll need another three ounces in the next minute and a half. 

I don’t know about your family, but when mine knows I’m paying for dinner, suddenly everyone acts as if they’ve just ended a 12-year hunger strike. They want soup and salads and appetizers. They walk around the restaurant to see what other people are having so they can order that.

Going out with my family is like going out with a family of chimpanzees. They sit with the menu in their hands, jumping up and down, making sounds. Bring on the bananas.

Then when the appetizers come, if I try to take one, they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind. I recently had to beg them for a lettuce wrap.

I get nauseous listening to them order, “I’ll have two of these and three of those” while I sit there adding up the bill in my head. By the time the waiter is ready for my order, I’ve lost my appetite.

Worst of all, when we get outside, they want me to pay for valet parking. I give up.

Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.