By Wayne Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
I have been married for nearly 18 years.
You would think that by being an active participant in this blissful union, I would by now have a pretty good understanding of my wife, and even women in general.
Oh, I know a few things. I know that wearing shorts on our weekly date night is a huge no-no. I know that reading a magazine during dinner is genuinely frowned upon. And if you’ve ever wondered, playing a tennis match on our anniversary is absolutely inexcusable.
But what I don’t understand is my wife’s reaction to two different Asian restaurants we’ve recently gone to. Both restaurants have great food. Both have friendly staff. And both have pretty terrible service.
Before I explain, you might be wondering why we would repeatedly return to any restaurant with consistently awful service. My only answer is that it’s all about the food. I don’t mind waiting an hour to have someone carelessly sling a plate of hash on my table so long as the hash was really tasty.
The first establishment is a Chinese restaurant. It is tastefully decorated and definitely serves the best dumplings in town. Every time we visit, we don’t get our menus for 20 minutes or so, and we don’t get water or tea unless we ask three or four times. Lastly, at least two of our orders are either never made or we’re served something that another table must have ordered.
Getting the wrong order can actually be a positive experience, since we’ve been able to try three or four tasty dishes that we wouldn’t have normally ordered.
The key to getting the wrong order is to make a split-second decision about whether you’d actually want whatever surprise dish is actually placed in front of you instead of what you actually ordered.
If it looks good, you need to immediately start shoveling as much of the food down your throat before the wait staff realizes that they made a mistake and take the dish away from you. This is called opportunistic horking.
While I’m usually pretty happy with playing dim sum roulette, my wife, Maya, can hardly contain herself. As we wait interminably for the wrong dishes to be presented to us, she begins to complain, wondering aloud why we keep coming back to a restaurant with such terrible service. She drums her fingers on the table. She waves her hands in the air desperately to signal one of the waitresses so she can complain about the long wait or the mistaken dish or the dish we never received. Our waitress always apologizes profusely and after another 20 minutes, she usually serves us another dish that we didn’t order.
While my wife admits that the actual food we receive is terrific, upon leaving the restaurant, she proclaims that she will never come back. She’s done that about seven times now.
The second restaurant is a Korean restaurant. It is a small family-run business. They have one elderly woman serving the entire restaurant. She tends to treat all the guests like they are family. That might sound like it’s a good thing, but it really isn’t. She treats us like family, which means that if we want anything, we pretty much have to do it ourselves.
When we ask for something, she usually says something like, “So sorry … if you want water, please help self.” Which is, of course, what Maya begins to do.
She goes up to the counter to fill our tea. She goes into the kitchen to get appetizers. She (and I’m not kidding on this one) begins waiting on other tables, giving them menus, suggesting what they should order, and serving them free samples of appetizers.
At the end of the meal, I’m not sure who I should tip.
Maybe Maya feels more at home doing this in an informal restaurant as opposed to a more formal restaurant. Maybe it’s as simple as that.
I think I’ll test my theory the next time I’m at Denny’s. ♦
Wayne Chan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.