When I was 10, my parents took us out to dinner in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, they didn’t make reservations. After being turned away from several spots, we entered a restaurant with a dress code. The maitre d’ whipped out jackets for the four males, and the seven of us sat down. My father picked up the menu, glanced at the prices and ushered us out. The dour-faced maitre d’ collected the jackets, one by one, as we filed by. I was mortified.
My father did the same thing at Henny’s in Stone Harbor. This time, I was a teenager, which meant I was doubly mortified. “You. Cannot. Do. This,” I said through my teeth. “I will never see these people again,” he replied, making his unabashed exit. (Obviously, he wasn’t from Delaware.)
Now that I’m older, I’ve become more like my father, and my husband calls the moment of truth, the point at which you decide to stay or leave, the “sit-or-split” moment.
He coined it when we finally went to an Italian restaurant in Wilmington that a friend recommended. The lights were bright, a blaring TV faced the dining room, and a woman chattered on a cellphone. I thought of soldiering through but then my husband and I exchanged glances. “Sit or split?” We bolted when the server’s back was turned.
Looking for a quick bite in Lewes, we sat at a bar to speed up service. Two other couples had the same idea. We all waited—for menus, a napkin or even a friendly hello. “Well,” one man said to his companion, “we could always just get a beer.” And we could always just get out of there. We left without seeing the bartender.
Splitting is easier when there’s a time issue. That was the case at a brunch spot near our Poconos house. It was crowded, and the server led us to a small table in a corner in the back room. All around us were families at large tables. Few had juice—let alone French toast. “It will be a 30-minute wait,” the server said, handing us menus. We handed them right back.
Crowds, however, might not be an issue. We sat quickly at a quaint restaurant with only three other filled tables in Jim Thorpe. “What is the soup?” I asked the server. She left to check. She came back to tell diners nearby that there was no fish. At that point, she could have a.) paused to tell me the soup and b.) taken our beverage order. She just disappeared. After 10 minutes longer, so did we.
Sometimes, you just don’t like the vibe. Take our visit to a chain just over the state line in Pennsylvania. There was a crowd by the hostess stand, and the large number of children squealing in the waiting area made our decision a no-brainer: Split! Split!
I no longer worry much about what people think when I head for the door. Yes diners look up from their meals as they watch us both walk in and walk out. Hopefully they are admiring my outfit as much as my chutzpah.
But if you need a good reason to act on your instincts, consider that in most cases, we’ve been happy with our second choices. After leaving the fussy Atlantic City spot, for instance, my family wound up at a casual seafood restaurant with pastel-painted tables overlooking the marina. We ate crisp crinkled fries and fried fish, and we laughed about the maitre d’. My mortification melted into a memory that I will treasure forever.