THREE: TYPES OF WAITERS
There are many restaurants in New York and Philadelphia. In New York you can eat very well at Brunswick’s, who is French, less well at Delmonico’s, who is Swiss, and fairly well at Hoffmann’s who is German. There are also Morelli, an Italian, and Frascati, a Spaniard, where you can dine prix fixe for a dollar a head. I have seen many other restaurants where it seemed to me people were eating enormously, but I couldn’t tell you if they were also eating well. The advantage of Brunswick over Delmonico is that the former has an immense dining room such as does not exist in Paris.
In Philadelphia, the most fashionable restaurants are those of the Frenchman Petry and the Italian house of Finelli. I won’t speak of Verdier, who was there only provisionally and whose establishment is two hours away from the city, that is, on the grounds of the Exposition.
From what precedes, you have already grasped the idea that there are no American restaurants, properly speaking. That’s a rather curious thing to point out. The Americans keep the hotels, but good cuisine seems to be the exclusive privilege of the foreigners. Nothing is easier than to dine à la française, à l'italienne, à l'espagnole or à l'allemande, and nothing is more difficult for a foreigner than to eat an American meal in America.
I almost forgot to mention the most interesting of all the restaurants, the one where you eat for nothing. The idea of establishing a free table would certainly never occur to any of our French hotelkeepers. In spite of Calino’s axiom claiming that you can get rich by losing a little bit on everything because you make up for your losses by the quantity consumed, neither Bignon nor Brébant nor the Café Riche have made similar attempts. One must go to the country of progress to find it. In New York, several well-known restaurants furnish food for nothing—on the simple condition that one buys some kind of a drink, even if the drink itself should cost no more than ten cents. On Sundays when, according to police regulations, restaurants cannot serve anything to drink, it is so much the better for the patron. Lunch is served just the same. I am sure of this because I have seen it done at Brunswick’s. And they say that the cost of living is high in America!
You mustn’t think that the free lunch is made up of cheap dishes. Here is the menu as I copied it on the spot.
An enormous piece of Roast Beef
Bacon and Beans
Olives, Pickles, etc.
Sensible and abundant food as is easily seen. On this menu the plat de résistance is the roast beef; the patrons have the right to cut for themselves whatever slices they want. Right beside the counter where the food of the free lunch is laid out there is a big pile of plates and a heap of knives and forks, but generally the gentlemen prefer to take this succulent food with their fingers. Some of them even take the salad by handfuls! I am still shivering over that. When I expressed my astonishment and horror, the headwaiter thought he ought to soothe me. “It shocks us less than it does you. Time is money, and these gentlemen are in such a hurry!”
At both hotels and restaurants the waiters who serve you are often peculiar types. As I have remarked elsewhere, when you arrive in the dining room, you sit down at the table the maître d’hôtel has designated for you, and a waiter brings you a large glass of ice water. You might stay there for hours at a time in a tête-à-tête with your ice water without anyone serving you. You must call another waiter. He presents the menu, but you are dying of thirst and you want to drink something besides water. The waiter who has charge of the menu goes away slowly to get a third waiter who finally brings you the drink you have asked for. You think you’re saved. An error. The one who brings the bottle does not have the right to pull out the cork, and it is a fourth waiter—at least it was this way at the Hotel Brunswick—who monopolizes the corkscrew. When this little annoying scene had been played several times, I declared one fine day that I wouldn’t set foot in the establishment again unless such a ridiculous state of things was modified. The next day when I arrived for lunch, I found all the twenty or thirty waiters of the restaurant lined up in the passage, each one gravely carrying a corkscrew in his hand. Since that time you don’t have to wait at Brunswick’s.
The first evening after my arrival, I dined with some friends in my apartment at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. The soup had just been served when suddenly I heard a kind of whistling. In astonishment, I looked around me, asking myself who might be taking the liberty of whistling as he dined. Of course, it was none of my guests; it was the waiter.
My first thought was to silence him by sending him away. I was already rising when my friends who had noticed the same phenomenon signaled to me to say nothing. We went on dining. As for the musician, timid at first, he grew bolder little by little. Soon he was trying little trills and gradually he attacked the grandest melodies. Once in a while, seized with a sudden sadness, he preferred somber motifs, and then suddenly, without anyone being able to assign a reason, the liveliest and gayest tunes came from his lips.
At the end of the dinner, I called the waiter’s attention to the impoliteness of which he had been guilty in giving us music at table without being asked to do so. “Ah, monsieur, I love music and use it to express my impressions. When a dish displeases me, I whistle sad tunes; when a dish pleases me, I whistle gay tunes; when I adore a dish ...”
“Like the bombe glacée just a little while ago?” I interrupted.
“You noticed that? Then I whistle my gayest tunes.”
“You find that tune from the Grande-Duchesse gay, the one you were whistling a little while ago?”
“That’s a gentleman’s tune, it’s so amusing!”
As I don’t like to hear people whistle my music, I asked the maître d’hôtel not to send me the WHISTLING waiter if I should again happen to want to take my dinner in my apartment.
Second Silhouette of a Waiter
It was at Philadelphia that I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of another eccentric character. I had arrived in the city at half-past nine in the evening; my friends and I were literally dying of hunger. As soon as we landed, we rushed up to a native: “What’s a good restaurant, please?”
“Let’s go to Pétry's.”
No sooner said than done. And here we were, sitting at the table. Without losing a moment, we made up our menu.
“Give us first a good julienne.”
The waiter made a face. “I advise you not to take that. The vegetables are very tough here.”
“All right, we’ll do without soup. You have salmon?”
“Oh, the salmon! Certainly we have it; we’ve had it for a very long time. It is probably not in its pristine freshness.”
“Then a rare beefsteak.”
“The cook does them very badly.”
“I’ll ask it to come up. I am acquainted with it, it’ll come without help; it can walk alone.”
“Listen, waiter, you certainly don’t bring in much for your employer, do you?”
“I try especially not to displease my clients.”
“If I were Pétry, I’d fire you.”
“Mr. Pétry has not waited for your advice. I am working this evening for the last time.” With these words, he made a low bow to us and ... we had an admirable supper.
A Third Variety
A quite exceptional type is the waiter, or rather are the waiters serving at Delmonico’s.
A theatrical director one evening gave us a supper to which he had invited the principal artists of his theatre. The repast was charming. Like all good things, it had to end. The time for cigars and conversation arrived, and we remained in our room smoking and drinking iced drinks. . . . Since we no longer needed the services of the waiters, I noticed with surprise that one of those who had served us kept coming back at frequent intervals and listening to what we were saying. Not being the host, I did not feel called upon to make any observation, and none of the other persons present seemed to notice this strange behavior.
At the end of the evening and before we separated, I invited the director and such of his artists as had been present at the first party to come and have supper with me in the same restaurant.
After supper the same thing happened once more—the waiter came and paid us a visit after the coffee. I observed him more attentively then and saw that he was making the circuit of the table looking fixedly at each person present. When he had completed his inspection, he went out, only to return a few minutes later and start his examination and his promenade over again. He was going to withdraw, when I called to him, “Waiter, you have come in several times without being called. Don’t let it happen again.”
“Sorry, sir,” he answered, “it is on M. Delmonico’s orders that we enter each private dining room every five minutes.”
“Does M. Delmonico belong to the police that he should send you to listen to what his clients are saying?”
“I don’t know about that, sir; but I do know that M. Delmonico would dismiss me if I did not carry out his orders to the letter.”
“Does M. Delmonico think that we are going to carry off his linen and silver, or that we are capable of forgetting for a moment that decent behavior is de rigueur in his famous restaurant? Well, I warn you of one thing, it is half-past one in the morning, we are going to stay here until seven. If you want to carry out the orders of your employer you still have sixty-six visits to pay.”
“I will make them, sir.”
I need not add that after having expressed our indignation in this manner we did not carry out our plans. We left, swearing belatedly—it was then two o’clock—that we wouldn’t be caught again.10
New Yorkers who don’t want the whole city to know the next day how they passed their evening will do well to distrust the waiters who carry out so punctually the orders of M. Delmonico.