I am a food magnet.
I've been spilled upon at least once for every year I've been alive in some of the finest restaurants in the world, so I'm qualified to ask the rhetorical question: if there's no use crying over spilled milk, is there use crying over spilled fish, chips, beer, and tartar sauce?
I eat out a lot, and having food spilled on me happens so frequently that I've become a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to spilled restaurant food and what restaurants offer in exchange for stained clothes and dignity, whether they were stained before you entered the establishment or not.
It's also a great party game: you name the restaurant, I'll tell you what they spilled on me.
The first time you get spilled on, you automatically react like Margaret Dumont in any Marx Brothers' film: "Why, I've never been so insulted in all my life!" After that, it gets kind of familiar, so you can react with the detached coolness befitting of an international man of mystery.
- "Cheque, please;"
- "Barkeep! I'll have a cordial;"
- "The Larsen buffet is open for business;"
- "Hooray, now the meal is free!"
It's hard to blame the servers for these mishaps. Most spillings are without intent, pretty minor, and, as anyone at NASA will tell you, caused by a simple combination of gravity and human error.
The most common infraction is probably cold water on the pant leg. Some servers don't even notice the water dribbling down the pitcher, over the edge of the table, and onto your leg. Since it's only water: who cares? But let it be said: it can be shocking - or thrilling - when you're wearing shorts.
It's even more satisfying later on, when you get to teach a class with a big water stain in the middle of your pants. No one, but no one, believes it's water, so you might as well just stand behind a desk for the rest of the day.
The next level of infraction is "the drop." This is probably the worst food disaster that's ever happened to me: in Calgary, at an establishment affectionately known among its patrons as "the loser bar," a server dropped an entire fish and chips platter down the front of my shirt. The grand finale was the tartar sauce, which is every bit of charming as it sounds as it seeps into your shirt and makes contact with your skin.
"Take that, loser bar - who's the loser now!?"
The infraction with the most potential collateral damage is "the missile:" a server trips, and the food becomes a projectile. It might hit one person ("you") and it might hit the floor, sending shrapnel everywhere.
This happened to me once when I was dining at the Tivoli, the old restaurant at the Charter House Hotel: a tray went flying and food went everywhere. I thought I escaped unscathed, until I got home, took off my winter boots, and was surprised to find that they were full of French fries and ketchup. And they didn't taste half bad.
The reparations for crimes against humanity
When a server loses control of the food and it hits you, the first thing that he or she says is either "Oh, my God" or "I'm sorry!" I usually follow it up with a good-humored, "This always happens to me!"
Good humor helps, because after the food is reordered and the mess mopped up, it becomes a bit like the Price is Right: you get to find out what you're about to win, and you don't even have to play a lame pricing game.
I've declined all offers to pay for dry cleaning, since most stuff can go in the washing machine, and dry cleaning is cheap for men, just like haircuts. Hooray for sexism! But I will take up the restaurant on a free drink, a bottle of wine, dessert, meal, or anything else that they have on hand. Really, it's what makes being spilled upon such a pleasure.
In Winnipeg, the service is friendly most everywhere, so the witty banter and a free dessert usually settles it. I've spent enough time in Calgary that I can make the assertion that the service there is rude across the board. So, it's not surprising that even though I used my hilarious, "Hooray, now the meal is free!" line at the loser bar, when the bill came, I didn't so much get a free bread stick or even an apology.
Like all questions worth asking, there's a discussion on this topic at answerbag.com, and reading the reminiscences of others being spilled upon, I'm starting to feel not so special. My favorite:
"I ordered like a BLT or something, and when the waitress brought it to the table, the top bun of the sandwich had come off the plate and was lying right on her boob. She pulled the bun off her boob and put it back ON my sandwich without even batting an eye! We didn't complain, because it was the only place open for MILES and we'd been travelling all day and were starving. I just took the bun off and set it aside."And I thought the "B" stood for "bacon."
Here, Oliver reminds us that it's having the food that counts, not how it's delivered:
Update - May 14, 2011: On my recent visit to Chicago, I got a ketchup hurled at my lap at Carson's. The damage was minimal and - again - I got to tell my story to another server. Sweet.