Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Late Night Dilemma

I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t like to eat out at restaurants unless it is for a specific occasion or because my taste buds yearn for something whose preparatory process exceeds my culinary skills. I really hate the notion of “having” to eat out because there is not enough time to prepare a meal at home. Most food in restaurants these days seems to be primarily variations on a fried theme; little variety exists from one place to the next except in details like whether their fried pickles are chips or spears.

The other thing I loathe about eating out is the dreaded, “So where do you want to eat?” Does it really matter? Everything tastes the same anyway. Sometimes the answer to this question is based on whether the restaurant serves Pepsi or Coke. Often the choice is made depending on where we have coupons. Other times where we eat is simply determined by opting to take the path of least resistance – what is closest? In cases of eating out due to necessity rather than desire, rarely is the restaurant chosen based on wanting something specific to eat.

The other night after the Resounding Harmony concert we were starved and it was late, at least it was late by U.S. weeknight dinnertime standards; it was about 10:30. By this time at night, the already slim food selections become even slimmer because many eating establishments have already closed for the day. We began the dreaded conversation about where to eat. Much to my surprise, when I asked Weber what he wanted he did not respond with the typical, “I don’t care;” he said that he wanted chicken tenders. From this point a conversation about where one could get chicken tenders at 10:30 on a Wednesday night ensued.

Most fast food drive-thru windows were still open, but McNuggets don’t really count as chicken tenders. They barely count as chicken. We entertained the idea of Dairy Queen, but I really didn’t want an entirely fried meal. After running through the gamut of possibilities, we finally settled on IHOP. They are open 24 hours. They were on the way home. They have chicken tenders. You can have something that resembles real vegetables with your chicken tenders. And, they have Diet Coke and bottomless pots of coffee. We were set.

In case you are wondering, IHOP has really good chicken tenders. They are served with mashed potatoes (made from real potatoes not some tasteless white flakes from a box) and steamed broccoli. We ended up eating a rather tasty meal served on a breakable plate and eaten with real utensils instead of what we thought we would be eating - fried something wrapped in paper and eaten with our hands.

When Weber picked up our check he got this funny look on his face though he didn’t say anything. I knew how much our meals were so it shouldn’t have been “sticker shock.” Our server didn’t look like the type who would sign the check with a personal message claiming “for a good time call . . .” Finally I inquired as to what the cause for Weber’s strange facial expression. He said that the total bill was way less than it should have been. We looked at it carefully. At the bottom it said BOGO SD. BOGO, buy one get one, we understood. But SD? We looked around and finally saw a large sign in the window advertising the buy one get one senior discount – SD. In small print it said that this discount was “for our guests 55 and older.” Neither of us is 55. One of us is closer then the other. Nonetheless, we were not deserving of the discount.

Here began our dilemma.

Weber’s first instinct was that we should tell the server that we were not eligible for this discount and ask him to re-calculate our bill and charge us for both meals. My reaction was that we can’t do that because it would embarrass the young server. As we contemplated what the right thing to do was, I realized that part of our difference in opinion over how to handle this situation was due to conflicting views on the whole concept of aging.

My thinking that correcting the server would embarrass him is rooted in the idea that in our culture aging is viewed as a negative process. To assume someone to be older than they actually are is considered an insult. I didn’t want the server to think that he had insulted us and therefore we were upset. From that regard, it didn’t bother me at all that he thought one or both of us was over 55.

In other cultures, with age comes wisdom and with that wisdom comes respect. One earns that position of respect in society by reaching a certain age. Another way to look at our late night dilemma is that we have not yet reached that age of wisdom and were therefore not worthy of the respect shown to us in the gift of the senior discount.

Despite our somewhat lengthy conversation on the morally and ethically correct thing to do in this situation, we decided not to embarrass the server and kept quiet as to our actual ages. The money that we saved on this meal went to feed those who otherwise may have gone hungry.