Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Chef's Modest Proposal

The existing system of table manners has remained largely unchanged ever since the beginning of the Early Modern Era when Caterina de Medici brought the fork over to Paris in 1533. 

Having studied the subject of fine dining for almost three decades, this seemed to me to be a rather dreary thought.

So I spent the past twelve years over-analyzing the views of other authorities on the subject and carefully weighing in on the pros and cons of an alternate modus operandi. The result of all that hard work has been spectacular, as you will soon come to see.
It is with a great deal of humility that I propose a new set of conventions for dining etiquette particularly in white-table-clothed restaurants.  I consider myself to be a highly authoritative voice on this subject, and hence the following rules may be taken sans a grain of salt.

Without further adieu, I present to you, ‘The Modern Rules of Dining Etiquette for the 21st Century’.

“Any restaurant dining experience begins with a plan to dine at a restaurant. Given the fact that it is the restaurant’s privilege to accommodate the customer, the latter should not have to make efforts in securing a place at the venue--meaning to say, reservations are grossly overrated. If on occasion the customer does choose to book a table ahead of time, there is no need to notify the restaurant in case of a last minute change of plans. It is the customer’s prerogative to dine where he pleases when he pleases rather than give other prospective customers a second chance at that priced table.

Dress codes are not to be enforced anymore, especially for men.  If women may wear skirts and spaghetti tops, then shorts and sleeveless t-shirts should not be out of bounds for their male counterparts. Refusing a person entry into the restaurant based on the quality of his clothing is clearly an act of discrimination that should be punishable by law, no matter how shabbily he is dressed.

If holding a reservation, the customer may assume that it is timeless. He can show up as early or late as he desires and demand the table that is rightfully his.

Gender equality is the new chivalry. It is passé for the men in the group to offer the lady a seat before they seat themselves. The new custom shall be that whoever gets to the best seat first can keep it, a.k.a first come first serve. Since the agility and presence of mind of all parties involved is crucial here, it is clear that men are more likely to succeed.

It shall henceforth be deemed unnecessary to order multiple courses. Every dish on the menu must be a meal in itself if ordered alone. If the customer's hunger remains unsatiated, he should notify the manager or register a complaint immediately.

Customers are also advised to refrain from ordering out-of-the-ordinary sounding dishes that are touted as the Chef's signature creations as these have more likelihood of being innovative and unique in taste. They should instead order the safer bets on the menu (the penne arrabiata at an Italian restaurant, shepherd's pie at the English one, the chicken fricassé at the French bistro and so on) thereby shunning any sort of creativity in the chef.

Use of a cell phone to talk, text, tweet, email or update Facebook status is permissible and often recommended. One need not leave the table to do so. Other customers on the same table or adjacent tables need not be taken into consideration.  The same principle holds true for clicking flash photography repeatedly as well. 

Every customer is entitled to perfection and anything short of that should not be tolerated. He should make it a point to highlight every little flaw in the food and service. In fact, if time permits, he should call out the accused (whether it is the chef or the manager) to the table and humiliate him publicly in a way that is audible to other guests. This will ensure that such a blasphemy will not be repeated. 

On the contrary, compliments to the chef for a job well done are not required as this is what is least expected in any case. All the time, hard work and sacrifice put in by the chef, cooks and other staff for creating the perfect meal for the customer is irrelevant. After all, the latter is the one paying money for this meal.

The customer may stay as long as he wants and stretch out his meal no matter how busy the restaurant may seem to be. It is his right to do so. Basic human courtesies are no longer pertinent within the confines of the restaurant according to this new system of rules.

The customer should challenge the value of the meal to the price that is charged and compare it to other restaurants he has been to. If dissatisfied, he can arbitrarily demand for a sizeable discount that will reduce his bill total considerably.

The customer need not leave a tip even if the service has been extraordinary. The cost of a good meal and great service are assumed to be built into the menu price. If the guest is disappointed with the service on one or more counts, he should blatantly refuse to pay the service charge as well in case one is levied.

The last and single most important rule is that which has remained unchanged over the past several centuries. The customer is still always right. If there are any other service or food related issues apart from the ones already mentioned, the outcome shall always be in favor of the customer no matter how absurd his claim or how mistaken he is in his judgment.”

With the above rules in place, dining out has the potential to once again become the perfect example of lopsided socio-economic stratification that it was always meant to represent.

I have written these rules in honor of the customer for the livelihood that customers provide me as a chef and in gratitude of their grace and support of the people of my profession. I believe that apart from a few initial hurdles faced from disgruntled restaurant staff, these rules of modern etiquette will spread far and wide to all corners of the globe changing dining as a concept altogether.

The above piece draws inspiration from Jonathan Swift's remarkable essay, 'A Modest Proposal' written in 1729. 


  1. lol. Love it! Great piece of satire.

  2. Thanks Emily. I'm glad at least someone 'got it'! How did you come across this blog post?

    1. I ran across your "day in the life of a professional cook" posts by accident when I was searching for something else. I liked it, so I subscribed. :)

    2. Wow. I'm glad google is endorsing my blog. Thanks for following!

  3. I liked your comment that "Since the agility and presence of mind of all parties involved is crucial here, it is clear that men are more likely to succeed." Please let me know your favorite flowers to be sent to your funeral that I expect will be in very short order. That also makes you a short order cook

  4. Did sarcasm die along with chivalry? This is a satirical piece, Mr. Sankar. I hope the women who read this figure that out--for my sake.

  5. Excellent !! Would love to read more in this blog!

  6. "The cost of a good meal and great service are assumed to be built into the menu price" - Why don't you do that so that customers know how much they need to pay in total BEFORE they order the food? Why keep the service charge hidden?

    Rest of the post is a good read :)

  7. Service charge is a portion of the bill that the customer pays which is passed on o the staff as part of their salary package. Keeping this amount as separate from the menu price brings about transparency in an otherwise very touchy system of rules. But good thought.