I am all for a trip to the fair, especially with wine increasingly available at such events. But use of the refined techniques witnessed in food stands and gaming booths in a full-service dining establishment is unexpected and irritating. I recently experienced a complete assault of carny activity in one setting.
- Front Man - There was a man on the street in front of the restaurant, quietly hailing passers-by to come inside, where they could "be seated immediately". I attempted to keep walking, but when my wife and I paused to look at the menu, we were gently, enthusiastically herded inside. We saw the presumed maitre d' pass the man cash as we were seated and he returned to the street.
- Purveyor of...Wine - A server approached promptly, inquiring if we would be interested in wine with dinner. An extensive pitch ensued, proclaiming the variety of wines available, the deals that were offered, but most-strenuously the popularity and value of the house wines. I asked what the house wines were. "Red and white", was the answer. I asked the varietal of the red, so he insisted on bringing a taste. He returned with a new bottle, opened it without presenting it to us, and poured us both full glasses. At no time did he offer a list of the great selection of wines. We tasted the wine and accepted the bottle.
- Flower Petal-er - On the heels of the wine man was what can only be described as a sweet little old lady with a bouquet of fresh flowers. "Flower for the beautiful lady?" Ten dollars was the price for the single rose, but Wife of Wine Man was smiling.
- Accordion Player - Throughout the evening, an elderly gentleman made his way from table to table to bar, and back again, playing the same three tunes on his accordion. When he arrived at our table, while asking if we could play a song for us, and pausing thoughtfully before choosing one of his three songs, he never broke eye-contact with my wife. Another ten dollars.
- Photographer - After our meal, while I was already anxious for the check, we were approached by a gentleman who offered to take our picture, saying only, "Picture?" I declined. Apparently not understanding, he continued, repeating again, "Picture?" We accepted the Polaroid, for the small sum of ten dollars.
- Gratuity Included - After an extended wait, our server presented the check, which included a twenty-percent tip, then promptly disappeared. The manager, who thus far had hovered over the dining room the entire evening, was also missing. I waited briefly, then paid the check with cash, down to the penny.
It was as though a team of carnies separated from their circus had taken control of this restaurant. I was a willing participant, and have no excuses. But afterward, all I could think about was the inattention by the server, which was apparently intentional to allow for the interruptions by the regularly-scheduled peddlers. And that I paid forty dollars more than I had planned for this "experience". The only positive was that my wife thought the side show was fun, and hung the photo in her office. Should I encounter another operation of this sort, I will do my part by avoiding it. Hopefully such tactics are relegated to the midways of amusement parks.
Have you experienced a borderline con in a restaurant?