Let's face it. The relationship between food service professionals and American diners walks a delicate tightrope between sadism and masochism.
It was once considered a luxurious treat to sup on exotic foods and well-prepared meals, and to enjoy the guilty pleasure of having no dishes to wash. However, in recent years, eating out has devolved into a nasty interplay—a modern dance, if you will—between restaurant and patron. The battle has been waged on dining room floors and Internet review sites. Now, with winter well behind us, it has spilled out onto the most benign of locations: the outdoor patio.
If some sick, fetishistic glee were not involved, then why else would restaurant servers spend the extra time to set up separate wait stations, only to break them down at the first sight of a thundercloud? Where else would they derive such pleasure other than from wiping bird shit off the tables with a ratty bar towel and some Windex?
This pleasure, of course, extends to the guests as well. What better evidence than the smug satisfaction in their smiles as they step through the front door, only to ask the hostess if it's nice enough to sit outside? The grim delight delivered to the darkest parts of their souls as they watch the hostess struggle to gently remind them that they just entered from outside—the same outside to which she will deliver them? Or, if they prefer, that they can consult the very same device they use to Instagram their eggs Benedict to check any changes in the weather?
Both server and dining guest hold their breaths in sweet anticipation of the climactic moments. When the innocuous gnat wanders into the guest's Bellini or kale salad, will they have the audacity to demand another, sans insect? Will the servers retain the fortitude to keep their opinions to themselves, knowing the chef or bartender will not share said restraint? Oh, such delight! Such bitter, bitter exhilaration!
And we mustn't forget the specialists. For maximum pleasure, some find it best to employ a canine. Yes, dogs. When human interaction alone won't achieve the desired effect, it's time to drop the leash. Literally. Shout with ecstasy as the pup runs free between the tables like a wayward child. Shriek in pleasure as the mutt relieves himself near another unsuspecting table. Or simply fester in silent delectation as the waiter is forced to kindly fetch a bowl of water or, better yet, a dish of food for poor little Muffins.
Alas, there is a hole in the heart of those who prefer to dine outside, just as there is for the people who prefer to work there. For the diner, that hole can be filled with seemingly innocuous complaints and demands, well beyond the scope of most mortals. For the server, it comes when he or she counts those dollar-dollar-bills, well after closing—because patio patrons, by definition, will keep you late.
However, to pretend that all of this isn't a complicit, consensual understanding—a compact, of sorts—between these two spiritually impecunious samples of our species only furthers the charade. Would that we, who are but innocent bystanders to this strange, desperate ritual, could ask them to kindly do us all a favor: please, find yourselves a hotel room with room service.