I was traveling up California’s beautiful coastline and wanted to have a nice dinner with a beautiful view. I didn’t make a reservation because so far it’s been easy to slide in at the bar for dinner—it’s low maintenance, there are usually interesting people to chat with, and locals know the best things on the menu and have the inside scoop on the town.
I stopped at the first spot recommended— stunning. Oceanside. A gorgeous drive up. Really pretty. They had valet service which seemed a little over the top since the place is so small. I just self parked and took the flights and flights of stairs up to the entrance.
I passed a couple about my parents’ age on the way up who were positively glowing. They commented on the beautiful night, the amazing view, and their delicious meal. They were carrying two paper bags which I assumed were full of pastries for breakfast. He had on pants and a golf shirt and she had on capri pants with walking shoes.
After the long hike up, I made my way to the maitre d’s stand. As I approached I watched her eyes start at my feet, work their way up my body, and back down again.
The outfit I was wearing could be described as bohemian chic— on a good day. I was casual and had just come from a spa. Skinny olive colored pants, black top, hooded sweater, open toe sandals, hair in a bun. I suppose, to the untrained eye, my outfit could be interpreted as thrown together, haphazard, slightly wrinkled. It’s fair to say that I’d not spent a ton of time primping for dinner. But, the judgemental body scan I got from this maitre d woman, whose own ensemble was not far from thrown together, I did not deserve.
“Do you have room for one for dinner?” I asked, noticing my voice sounded less confident than I wished.
Maitre d glanced to someone to my left. She paused. I got the feeling she was summoning security.
“Let me show you the menu, first.” She pulled the bi-fold paper out, splayed it in front of me, and pressed out the crease. “The
dishes on the left are appetizers and they’re all $50. On the right are our entrees and they’re $75.”
I tilted my head to the left, looked her in the eye, and waited to see what she would say next. I think she was waiting for me to say something. I was speechless. I’ve never been shown a menu or given the prices of the items before I was seated at my table.
Turns out, I’ve never known what it feels to be unwelcome.
Truth be told, I didn’t want to spend $125, or more, on dinner. But, if I did I could. Was I dressed to the nines? No. Did I look horrendously out of place? No.
“Perhaps I can show you to our bar?”
“No, thank you. I think I’ll try another place.” Again, with the soft sounding voice. Surprising mostly myself that I didn’t have much more to say to this woman.
“But, you’ve come all this way and you don’t even want to see it?”
“No, thank you. I’ve seen enough.”
Here’s the thing…
1. People are treated like this all of the time. It’s not at all fair, it’s an awful business model, and it’s life. There was a time
when I would have stayed to prove some mythical point. But, had I done so I would’ve only been supporting a place that is undoubtedly unfair to people. Plus, bitter tastes terrible.
2. If I’d stayed I wouldn’t have found Big Sur Bakery where I ordered the world’s best crab cake and roasted vegetable salad at a fraction of the cost. Plus a perfect glass of Sauvignon Blanc AND a butterscotch ice cram pie. You read that right— butterscotch ICE CREAM pie.
3. If I’d stayed I wouldn’t have met an academy award-winning actor, whom I admire, and his lady friend. He too was rocking a bohemian chic look. So was she. I wondered if they were also discouraged from the same restaurant.
4. If I’d stayed I never would have met Steve and Machelle who invited me to join them at their table. Steve’s a cowboy and businessman. He asked if I could saddle a horse. I said yes. So, he invited me to his ranch in Kansas where he’ll introduce me to a bevy of cowboys. To that I say, “Giddy up.”
LOVE reading about your adventures!!!
Nicely done. Your experience reminds me of the SNL sketch where everyone was told ” Wait at the bar.”
Ah, treatment by restaurants. You’ll love Ruth Reichl’s book about being the NY Times restaurant critic. She wore disguises and the range of treatment was appalling BUT she could write the reviews from that aspect and she got them back. It’s an audio-tape book too so you might enjoy her revenge as you drive. Way to go!
Name of book! Garlic and Sapphires
Hi, I’m Faith, a friend of your Mom and Dad. Love reading about your adventures. You definitely did the right thing at that restaurant. You go girl!
So proud of you for leaving. You summed it up perfectly. Discrimination is everywhere still!!! Love all your writing!
Love you, Susan and Warren