Restaurant's instructions in code

This Just In...

casually dressed diner suffers

June 14, 2000|By DAN RODRICKS

A SITUATION: You're running an Italian restaurant in Little Italy, and you have ambitions of having one mighty fine restaurant, too. Not your mediocre casa di spaghetti with marinara sauce piped to the kitchen from a giant vat in the basement. You want your place to be first class, with white linen table clothes, a formally attired maitre d' who looks like Andy Garcia, a leather-bound wine list and a gourmet menu with high-end prices. The prevailing attitude is, if a customer has to ask the price of a daily special, he shouldn't come to your place to begin with.

So, we're not talking the Olive Garden here.

So, what do you do when Bruce Fulmer shows up for dinner?

Let me tell you about Bruce Fulmer.

He's a 42-year-old Philadelphian, single, gainfully employed. He likes a good time. He likes travel. He likes eats. He likes to travel and eat. Been to New York several times. Been to Baltimore a few.

Here's the thing about Bruce: He's a big man, 60 to 70 pounds overweight, by his own estimates. When he travels, he likes to dress casually. He's not comfortable in a sport coat. He's a man who prefers relaxed fit.

He came "caj" to Baltimore Saturday afternoon - red sweat pants, a gray T-shirt with a pocket and a pair of brown loafers. He went to the Inner Harbor and walked around. For dinner he planned on your fancy restaurant. He'd been there for dinner two or three years ago, and he'd read about it recently on the Internet. He called to see if he needed a reservation for a single seating at 5:30.

"No, come in. We take care of you," one of your employees told him.

Was caj OK? Did Fulmer need to wear a jacket to dinner?

Again, the answer was no.

In fact, there are few restaurants that require men to wear suit coats or sport jackets anymore. This is the Age of Caj, friends, when some men don't bother with a jacket and tie for a funeral at 11, never mind dinner at 8. Besides, a guy can spend as much on a fashionable sweater as he might on a double-breasted blazer, as much on jeans as on a pair of gabardine slacks, as much on sweats as on pinstripes.

In Little Italy, just a short stroll from the Inner Harbor, the restaurants are accustomed to seeing caj customers. The place crawls with tourists and with families coming from or heading to Camden Yards. Shorts, polo shirts and sneakers all over.

I'm told most restaurants accommodate men dressed every which way but in tank tops.(I'd like to pause here to say I'm glad to hear that. Seeing guys with hairy shoulders in tank tops while I'm digging through a plate of penne a la pesto would diminish my dining pleasure. It would remind me so much of dinner at home with the family, I'd wonder why I was paying for the experience.)

So, remember now: You have this fancy restaurant. You cater to the tourists but you want your place to stand out from the other spaghetti houses in Little Italy.

What do you do when Bruce Fulmer shows up in sweats at your door for dinner?

A. Seat him in the main dining room among the Saturday evening regulars.

B. Tell him that his attire is inappropriate and that he should go to a more casual restaurant.

C. Seat him by himself in an upstairs room, away from other customers.

Fulmer got the C Treatment Saturday night in Little Italy, and he called me because he was upset about it. He thinks he was seated alone in an upstairs room because of his appearance.

Fulmer says he'd never been treated like that in a restaurant before, and that he always takes the precaution of inquiring about dress codes to avoid such situations.

Despite feeling bad about his treatment, Fulmer stayed, ate and paid $30 for his meal. He left a $5 tip, too.(Yesterday, the son of the owner of the restaurant where this took place, Rocco Capriccio, acknowledged that Fulmer's appearance influenced the decision to seat him upstairs, but so did waiter rotation, the availability of seating for a single diner on the first floor and the anticipated arrival of a large party for dinner.)

Me, I'm like this:

If you don't like the way a man looks when he shows up for dinner, then say so at the door. It's your business; you can have a dress code, if you wish.

But don't turn up your nose at a prospective customer because of his wardrobe, demean him by isolating him in your restaurant, then take his money. That's having it both ways.

When and why Italian restaurants got so snooty, I don't know. Taking up the slack from the French, I guess.

Bring back the fun

Reader reaction to Friday's column about an Oriole Park usher quashing the enthusiasm of a cheering fan was a jumble. Some of you find fans who stand up and cheer at The Yard annoying. But most who called or wrote TJI felt that such outbursts were common and accepted - but not since the Orioles moved to Camden Yards.

"I've held season tickets at Memorial Stadium and briefly at Camden Yards," one reader wrote. "I've tried hanging K's from railings and been told to take them down. I've tried taking my cow bell to ring, but was told it was too loud and annoying. I've tried taking a broom to the playoffs one year when we were about to sweep Seattle and was not allowed to take it in. I never had any of these problems at Memorial Stadium, and I never see people having these problems in other stadiums. Sheesh, look at how Yankee fans go nuts every time a pitcher gets two strikes. Bring back the bleacher seats from Memorial Stadium and the fun we had there!"

Contact Dan Rodricks by e-mail at TJIDAN@aol.com, by telephone at 410-332-6166, or by post at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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