I read an article in the Wall Street Journal recently that talked about how people come to have favorite restaurants, often ones that are unpretentious and cozy places where you feel wonderfully comfortable and welcomed. You, and the people at the restaurant, develop a relationship over time, a kind of kinship; the place “where everybody knows your name.”
Susan and I have long had a tradition of going out to eat on Friday nights. It began when we were working, our Friday night meal being a signal that the weekend had arrived, and we had time to ourselves. We tended to select the kinds of cozy places the author of the Wall Street Journal article described and have had a series of them over more than 30 years, the places varying based on where we lived, the type of restaurants in the area, the kind and quality of food and beverage, and whether it had the aura that we preferred. We’ve enjoyed some memorable places and generated more than a few memories.
The first place we went to was in a town in Massachusetts that Susan’s father’s family lived in for generations. As things turned out, the restaurant we chose for our Friday night outings happened to be one that was in a building that had previously housed one of the town’s funeral parlors. There was nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, but it happened to be the one that Susan’s family used. The first few times we went there, Susan couldn’t help but try to remember how the former parlor was laid out, not exactly the best conservation to have at dinner. The food was very good, but we soon decided that maybe it wasn’t the best place for us.
We had a place after that that had wonderful food and that gave complementary chocolates that contained flavored ice cream for dessert. The atmosphere was romantic and the staff friendly. We loved it there. They also had a tiny bar with a piano player on weekends. I remember one of his standard songs had the refrain “What’s a matta you? It’s a not so bad” (I don’t remember the title) and we’d all sing along with him and have a great time. Occasionally, he’d pass out maracas and we’d shake them to the music on cue. It was great fun.
Alas, we ended our tenure there when we moved too far away to make the drive each Friday. Still living in Massachusetts, but at a new location, we set another search in motion. There was a seafood restaurant I remember that served fabulous baked stuffed lobster. That one was our next Friday place, and we enjoyed it until one night we pulled up and it was closed, never to open again. Rumor had it that there were some tax problems that caught up with the place.
We found another place nearby that we settled into for several years. It served good food and had the kind of staff that took care of regular and frequent customers. After a couple of years going there, the hostess made sure we never waited in line on Friday night, quietly whisking us past the line and taking us to the seats they saved for us. I don’t think anyone ever noticed, but we sure did. We appreciated it, and that was manifested in courteous treatment of the staff and generous tips.
Recently, I was in a restaurant in Virginia when I noticed that a gentleman arrived and was seated after us. The staff all appeared to know him. Our waitress took our order and placed it, then came back and took his, quietly serving his appetizer and meal before ours ever came out. I smiled in acknowledgment of the staff taking good care of a regular customer. They didn’t shortchange us, either. Our meal came out quickly and was excellent, as was the service throughout. That restaurant clearly knows what it’s doing and how to keep its customers, all of them, appropriately satisfied.
I have a couple more observations about the restaurant with the friendly hostess. Susan and I usually have only a few favorite dishes we order. One of Susan’s regulars at this place was baked stuffed shrimp. She got it almost every week and one week, she tasted it and said, “they’ve changed the recipe.” When the waitress came by next, Susan asked about it and was told it was the same meal. The waitress checked with the hostess and the hostess agreed, it was the same recipe. When Susan would not relent, they checked with the kitchen and learned that, in fact, this week’s dish had been changed.
Another time we were there I was enjoying a cheeseburger and French fries, with a side of mayo, and Susan had her shrimp and baked potato with sour cream when our primary care physician, who lived in the area and happened to be there that night, walked by, said hello, looked at our plates and silently but obviously raised an eyebrow. That’s a downside of a neighborhood place.
We’ve had our current Friday night place for over a decade now and are so familiar with the staff and they with us that once a year our regular wait person picks out our meals. We’ve acknowledged the staff’s birthdays and congratulated them as they’ve started families. It truly is a place where everybody knows our name. And in the summer, when the crowds of vacationers are here, there’s always a table for us on Friday night.