by Faith Childs | bio

Inasmuch as we at Women’s Voices for Change are in the mind-changing business — trying to get women and others to think differently about menopause and menopausal women — I offer a report from the trenches of a different aspect of the mind-changing business.

WVFC Board Member Faith Childs

It was for me yet another reminder that old habits and beliefs die really hard.

I had a business dinner one night last week. Someone else chose the location, a restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side.

In my business, one has to be something of a restaurant maven as so many transactions are conducted over meals. As a general matter, I go to many fine restaurants in this city where I am a known quantity — one who has a preference for a particular table and a particular time I like to have lunch or dinner. I am also known as an excellent tipper.

Customer loyalty is rewarded at restaurants. Places where I am known make it easier to do business. Getting in and out, having a meal while transacting business and being on my way are simply eased by virtue of knowing the restaurant’s routines, its staff and rhythms.

For this reason, I go to the same eight or 10 establishments several times a year. If trying a new restaurant, I will call in advance to tell them how many will be in my party, what kind of table I would like, whether I am doing business or celebrating a family milestone. The more information the restaurant has, the better the outcome will be.

I had an address and a name for the meeting place as well as a phonetic spelling of the name of the person who made the reservation. I arrived to discover that there was neither a name nor a number on the door. Sometimes this happens in New York. For some it’s about caché, one of those “you have to know where it is” places. Other times a business is new and everything isn’t quite in place.

I walked the block to make sure that there wasn’t another restaurant and returned to the place with no name. This had to be it. Sidewalk tables were filled on this balmy night. I entered and immediately found myself standing smack dab in the restaurant. There is no lobby, no foyer in which to wait — just a tiny room with perhaps 25 tables, max. Some diners look up, others don’t.

No waiter or manager — not even a busboy — comes to greet me. They just stare as if I had landed in the wrong place, as if eventually I will get the message and leave. I am uncomfortable at best, and beginning to get angry. Yet I also feel at peace; I know what sort of place this is. I know how this will end.

A fellow in a suit saunters over. Taller than me, but not by much, he comes so close that he has violated the boundary of socially appropriate distance for conversation between strangers. Had I stuck out my tongue, I could have licked him. I can smell his breath, but I’ll be damned if I will back up or glance away. If I was supposed to be intimidated because he positioned his body in front of me, perhaps to block my coming any further into the room, it didn’t work.

His exact words I don’t recall: a question about what I wanted. (What does one want when coming into a restaurant?) He steps even closer. I have decided that even if this is the wrong place, I am eating here tonight. I move closer to him because I want him to know this person standing before him, to feel the top of my head brushing against his chin. I want him to know that whatever silly social game this is, I have weathered many of them in this decade as well as decades ago. I will not be moved, discouraged or turned out of the restaurant tonight.

“Is this …” I say the name of the restaurant. It’s a French name, and I admit a facility with the language. He answers with some reluctance. I must have said the name of the person who made the reservation, a difficult one, multiple times, never losing eye contact with him. I tell him how many people are in our party, knowing that they can’t have many reservations for four or five at a place this size. If anything, I am even closer to him, offering a last hint that I will not give up.

Voila! As it turns out, this is the right place. There is a reservation, and I am the first to arrive.  We have conversed in two spoken languages as well as a third, which I will call “animal,” and I am shown to my table.

The meeting was productive, the company gracious and dinner was served without a hitch. I didn’t confide to my companions any of what had transpired before their arrival. It had been a long day, I didn’t know all of them very well, and I had other objectives that evening that wouldn’t have been served by talking about the boorishness of a maître d’.

Whether there was a lesson in the encounter for him, I don’t know. I suspect that this fellow will continue to be boorish. For me, such events — and I wish I could say that they were isolated — are a reminder that struggle, no matter how petty, is redemptive.

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  • Elizabeth Hemmerdinger November 2, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    At the first reference to your meeting place I guessed the restaurant… reading further you confirmed my assumption. We know the place and have been treated as you were. We gave them the benefit of the doubt. A couple of times. Then we decided they can stew in their bad manners.
    That said, your description of the warrior-woman who would not be daunted is inspiring. Maybe there are people who feel they have arrived when treated as you were. I marvel at the hoards who wait endlessly for a table or a haircut — particularly when there’s a place nearby that would be grateful for our business. Irreplaceable things that come immediately to mind worth waiting for. A baby. A friend. A warrior-woman.

  • Laura Sillerman November 1, 2007 at 11:52 am

    We should all print this and post it to our bulletin boards or over our mirrors to remind us that courage is its own reward.
    I feel sorry for the maitre d’ in his limitations and elevated by Faith’s refusal to cave to them.