Friday, March 25, 2016

Etiquette and No Chicken Salad, Please

Unless, of course, the Cesar Salad is better!

When I saw the advertisement above for the first time, featuring a newly published, two-volume book of etiquette from the early 1900s, I smiled. I often use a story that involves my grandmother and chicken salad when talking about restaurant etiquette with my students. I share the story with kids, young adults and adults alike. I use it to illustrate a point about good manners when invited out to eat, and how to look for cues and clues of what to do in different situations when one is a guest.

Years ago my mother called to say that my grandmother, her mother, wanted to take all of the ladies in the family to lunch in celebration of the upcoming Mother's Day. When I was growing up, we frequently had seasonal "Ladies' Lunches" at one of my aunts' homes, or in our home. I even hosted a few after getting married and starting my new family. This was the first time a restaurant was suggested, and my mother said that grandma was insisting on paying for everyone's lunch.

My grandmother was on a fixed income after my grandfather passed away. It was very small, so I immediately questioned the generous offer.  My mother told me that she and her sisters had both pointed that fact out to their mother, but grandma was insistent. She also chose the restaurant she wanted to take us to, and it was not known for its low prices.

When we arrived at the restaurant and were seated at our table, we were handed our menus. Within a nano-second, one of our party (either oblivious to grandma's financial situation or just sharing her enthusiasm for her favorite dish) said, "Ooooh.... they have the best prime rib here!" while opening her menu. 

Before I could nudge her under the table and give her a look usually reserved for my children and students, my grandmother quickly closed her menu, the faux leather menu holder practically snapping everyone to attention. "I think we should all have the Chicken Salad," she said. The guest itching for the prime rib seemed to deflate right before my eyes and closed her menu along with everyone else at the table. Everyone at the table except for me.
Third from right, standing next to my grandmother, in a 1980 snap after one of our seasonal lunches.
I was never a fan of Chicken Salad, but I certainly knew a cue from a hostess when I heard one.  I just happened to have the menu open to the page with the featured luncheon salads. I quickly looked down at the price of the Chicken Salad. Way back then it was $6.95, so I needed to work within that "price point." I spotted a Cesar Salad for $5.95, and said, "You know... I think I'd like the Cesar Salad instead. As I recall it is fairly good here." 

Grandma's eyes got big and looking a bit ruffled, she quickly reopened her menu. She spotted the salad's lower price, and said very enthusiastically, "That is a good choice!" Everyone else was reopening their menus, and perusing the salads, while I quietly closed mine.

The luncheon turned out to be a fun affair, with all of us enjoying our salads and chatting away about how we needed to get together more often. I am not sure how many in our party wound up with the suggested Chicken Salad, but the bill was rather low and we convinced grandma to at least allow us to each chip in a small amount for the tip. There was also a surprise dessert that arrived at the table for each of us. No one confessed to ordering it, but I have always had my suspicions.

We haven't had a "Ladies Luncheon" in several years now, what with grandma gone since 1999, all of us spread out in several states, and some of us younger ladies even becoming grandmas ourselves. I will always have sweet memories of the luncheons though, and even have a great instructional tale for my etiquette students and future generations to learn from, about reading and following a host's or hostess' cues.





5 comments:

  1. A charming tale of how to handle a tricky etiquette situation and everyone walks away happy.

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  2. It's a good thing you recognized your hostess' cue. Nowadays, I'm not sure young people would recognize a cue like that, due to their mobile phones!

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