Missing Manners

Mark Andresen

Decorum. Grace. Poise. Elegance. Manners. You can pick up the basics watching old movies--Henry Fonda in Fort Apache, Paul Henreid in Casablanca, films in which men dressed for dinner, sat upright, ordered precisely, and never belched.

But that was then; this is now. Image and etiquette consultant (yes, such a thing exists) Ruth Kern of Chicago believes that proper style and manners began to disappear in the 1960s, the result of widespread protest against traditional ways. Social upheaval, however, barely scraped Texas. Still, residents of the Lone Star/Empty Suit State routinely spit, hire large-breasted platinum-blond escorts, and flaunt cell phones. It's not that we lack couth. It's just that we rarely get the opportunity to observe ourselves as we really exist.

With that in mind, we asked current wait staff, former wait staff, and people-watchers a truly burning (and fashionably alliterative) question: What are the rudest things Dallas diners do?


Closed Location

As expectora...expected, unruly kids, obnoxious cell phone conversations, boorish behavior, and hacking up spitwads topped the list. Yes, spittle seems to be a big thing in Texas--much to the disgust of everyone of proper breeding. "A group of guys spit in the ashtray," reports waitress Kathy Johnson, "and as a waitress it's my job to clean it up. That's the grossest thing I've ever encountered." Even smoking during the meal pales in comparison to spitting, picking teeth, and other affairs of the mouth popular in Dallas restaurants. "Chewing with their mouth open and talking while they chew--it's disgusting," says former waitress Lauren Zindel, apparently tired of wiping flecks of pre-chewed food off her clothing. "Of course, if they tip well I can put up with their chewing." Money talks...

Spitting, chewing with your mouth open, poking at the gaps between your teeth with a fingernail--most people outside of West Virginia learned proper table manners as children. Etiquette books and videotapes don't even address such basics, assuming incorrectly that diners have mastered them.

Etiquette experts instead concentrate on more advanced manners: where to place your napkin during the meal, what to do with those ungainly elbows, why the "five-second rule" doesn't apply in public places, and so on. For the uninstructed, the napkin sits on your lap during the meal, elbows should rest naturally at your sides, and anything that hits the floor, well, just leave it alone.

Kids, conversations, and cell phones dominate complaints not directly related to table manners. "People who are obnoxiously loud" bother a meek gentleman who identified himself only as Mark. "People love to hear themselves talk," he adds, "but they have nothing to say." In other words, the more ignorant you are, the louder you proclaim it--an ancient maxim. Children fall into the loud and obnoxious category. Cell phones, too, arouse the ire of more placid diners. "At least they could turn it off while they eat," Bill Wallace complains.

Yet all of these complaints pale when compared with the experience of former waitress Jody Larson. "Someone chugged a mini-pitcher, then hurled it right back up," she recalls. "That made for a fun night."

It's a wonder anyone eats out at all.

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