DEAR MISS MANNERS: I've a question that's bothered me for years -- perhaps more philosophical than etiquette -- but I'll let you decide.
I'm house pianist at an elegant dinner house, and the other night a customer gave me a request and was enjoying himself as I played, but his date seemed unhappy that he was not engaged in CONVERSATION.
Is the sole purpose of dining out just to engage in conversation, or cannot people enjoy the ambiance?
I realize, Miss Manners, that this may not be an either/or question, but I've noticed many people cannot enjoy the ambiance that an elegant dining house offers, but choose nonstop conversation.
I love good conversation, but maybe I'm just being too idealistic when it comes to a dining experience. Where is it written that LISTENING cannot be as enjoyable as TALKING?
If people cannot enjoy themselves when they dine out, something is terribly wrong. Was the gentleman who made the request to me that out of line? Again, I've noticed MANY situations like that through the years, and I would like to hear what you think.
GENTLE READER: You belong on the concert stage. This does not refer to your musical talent and skill, which Miss Manners has not had the pleasure of observing. But it is on the concert stage that you would have the silent attention you want.
In a restaurant, what you are playing, no matter how good you are, is background music. Some people may choose to listen raptly. Others may prefer to converse. Some may choose to listen raptly while their dates would prefer to converse. This is an etiquette problem, but it is one between them.
Miss Manners is not sure there is a philosophical angle to this, but neither is conversing during so-called background music something that can be classified as rude. It is just in the nature of restaurants that many people go there to talk.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When my husband and I went to a steak house for dinner, my husband informed me that it would be rude to ask for steak sauce (which I always use when I eat steak). I have never heard of this before and, in order to not embarrass him, I ate the whole dinner without my A1 sauce. Can you please tell me if he is right or wrong?
GENTLE READER: Your husband has visions of an enraged chef storming out of the kitchen wanting to know who was insulting his exquisite taste by dousing a foreign substance on the dish he had so carefully prepared. Somehow, Miss Manners doubts it.
It is rude to ask for something to alter the food seriously when you are dining at someone's house, and it may be unwise to do this in the sort of restaurant where it is not unusual to congratulate the chef. Or where the chef can see you from one of those glassed-in kitchens. But not in an ordinary steak house.