25 years ago eating outwas easy for two reasons- there wasn’t much available and I was too grateful to manage a hot bite with a small baby to be fussy. So, ordering food earlier was like –
“Bhaiya , kya hai?”
Nobody trusted the menus least of all the restaurant staff or chefs.
“Alu gobhi aur Ma ki dal aur butter chicken le lo”
Theek hai Bhaiya !
The food would come , hot and nice and the Bhaiya would disappear to come back with a handwritten bill when we were about to finish. Those guys were clairvoyant, they knew when we needed more rotis or onions, without being around. So , we would pay the bill, give a tenner to ‘bhaiya’ and leave.
Eating out now is a bit complicated nowadays.
We reach the restaurant.
The Head Waiter looks at us suspiciously, just 2, he says in a supercilious voice. I am immediately apologetic to a stranger for the romantic lunch planned with my husband of 27 years. We nod, ashamed.
He tries to maneuver us to a corner table near the kitchen door where I am sure I will have to get up regularly to hold it open for waiters bearing trays and water jugs sloshing over. I resist and enroute sit down on a round table for three. He mutters, I stare and an uneasy truce, much like the Indo-Pak relations is declared.
We sit and smile at each other- me and Amar not me and the Head Waiter. After ten minutes a young man comes up and wishes us good day and introduces himself as ‘Raghav’. I have already smiled and blessed him and asked , is he from Alpha Beta School; by the time I realize that he is ‘our’ waiter and not one of my various beloved students who has come to seek my blessings which they rarely do though. But Raghav is a nice boy and ignores my ramblings and hands me the Menu and my husband the bar menu. With my big bindi and saree I am NEVER handed the Bar Menu.
I peer at the decorative font and fish out my reading glasses before I order stuff that walks off the plate (happened in Malaysia ). Raghav looks disappointed when I refuse the sparkling mineral water, opting for the RO water but am a notorious penny pincher who suffers from colitis regularly. Food ordered, we sit back to enjoy our drinks, my Lemon Soda is more Jaipur than Leh so I ask for some ice. The poor child (not Raghav) who is sent for the ice actually does go to Leh to get it because I never see him again or the ice for that matter.
Raghav brings our food- beautifully decorated pasta with a curled carrot and two cabbage leaves who are no longer on speaking terms. The garlic bread marches down a plate nicely and Raghav serves us very properly, in the process dropping one of the cabbage leaves on Amar’s trousers. Waiters are always dropping stuff on Amar, I think it’s his moustache. The other cabbage leaf perks up alone and Raghav does an imitation of a mother hen driving away a fox from her chickens as he apologises. My water glass tilts and is rescued at the last minute by Amar. We hint that we will serve ourselves but this is the AAP generation so we have to speak firmly before Raghav leaves us and sulks in a corner. My colitis picks up or maybe its vibes from Raghav.
We finish our food as both us belong to the ‘we will get our money’s worth generation’ and gesture for the bill. Raghav disappears and appears 30 seconds later with the bill, I am really pleased at the speed when I spy the Head Waiter gesturing towards our table to a family of three. Understanding dawns and with it the mother-in-law thought process which wants me to dilly-dally now.
The bill now has become an insurance policy now, there are various taxes and myriad percentages and statements in small print. Deluged with mails and whatsapp messages which have told me how VAT is only on 50 % of the bill and difference between service charge and service tax, I enter into my CA mode and open the calculator on my phone. Tap-tap-tap+ % + tap tap …. 2 minutes later I realize that we have been billed 263 /- rupees less according to my calculations. I exit the CA mode.
So, there is a service charge so we don’t need to tip, I tell Amar in a whisper. We pay the bill, thank Raghav who is looking more stony faced (if that is possible) gives me ‘may you get 100 wrinkles overnight’ look, presumably he does not know the difference between service tax and service charge. I am basically an apologist so timidly leave a 100/- tip. He smiles and promptly gives me a Tab which has an online feedback form. I look at the 20 Questions with 5 options each and feel like my students faced with MCQ paper.
I give up. I will cook Khichdi at home the next time I don’t feel like cooking…