(This essay originally appeared in The Beach Reporter, a newspaper for the beach community just south of Los Angeles.)
Just when you thought psychologists had unearthed every modern phobia known to man and woman, I’ve stumbled upon another one. This may not rank up there with fear of one’s own toes, or fear of dating bald men with hair on their backs, but if you live in L. A. it can be a debilitating one.
I’m referring to the fear of eating out at a posh restaurant when you know you’re not cool enough to be there. I’m not talking about the great beach restaurants, which are four-star in their own right because of their rapport with the locals.
It’s when you venture into Beverly Hills or Malibu that you are taking your chances on not being treated as a local, but as a local yokel. The first thought that comes to mind is that if you are afraid you aren’t cool enough to be at a certain restaurant, then you probably aren’t. But just try to get past that. The Restaurant Police aren’t going to come after you for trying to make a reservation.
The problem is, that you promised to take your wife to Chez Chi Chi this Saturday night, but with one thing and another, you forgot to make the reservation. So here you are at the mercy of Pierre, who listens to your request for a reservation, barely able to cover up his snickering. “THIS Saturday, monsieur! Oh, but surely! Well, I could squeeze you in at 4:30 if you promise to be out by 5:15, or I could seat you at 10:30 in the bar area.”
If you want quicker action, you could try name-dropping. This is a city where “who you are” matters. So next time don’t just say “Jones, party of four.” Say “Quincy Jones, party of four.” Or try Spielberg, or S. Connery, and leave them dangling. They won’t ask for any more information – that would be too tacky. And when you show up instead of Steven or Sean, and they glare at you, just smile. Even when you get seated by the bus station at a cocktail table that barely holds the salt and pepper shakers. It’s your own fault. You could have gone to McDonald’s, where no one cares if you walk out of the restroom with toilet paper stuck to your heel.
Let’s just say, for fun’s sake, that you do get a reservation at Chez Chi Chi. You had to wait six months, but the big night is finally here. You and your wife have gone all out and gotten really spruced up for the big occasion. But when you queue up in front of the restaurant for the valet, you realize that the Toyota wasn’t the car to drive. The valets are haggling over who has to be the one to drive it.
Oh well, who cares about a car, anyway. You aren’t going to let it ruin your evening. You check in with the Maitre d’, and wonder if you are supposed to tip him, and decide not to after he seats you behind a large potted palm in the back room. The front room is where all the movers and shakers are.
You glance around and discover that the spiffy outfit suitable for your cousin’s wedding is not appropriate here. Everyone here is in Beverly Hills casual – designer jeans, cashmere sweaters, and $10,000 cowboy boots.
The waiter doesn’t even pretend to be interested in you, because he has a table of hotties he is transfixed by. Your dinner is minute in its proportions, and astronomical in its price. You order a bottle of wine that is $80 on the wine list that you paid $14.99 for last week.
Recently I went to one of these posh places for lunch, and when I asked for butter instead of olive oil for my bread, the waitress looked aghast. “Butter! You want butter! I’ll have to check and see if we have that.”
Just remember when dining out at any restaurant that has nouvelle printed anywhere on its menu: Pasta is just another word for spaghetti, and in any other country blackened means burnt.