Here are two stories about well-known New Yorkers, on the subject -- one of apparently deep emotional content to an element of the population there -- of getting a table at a restaurant.
Donald Trump, developer of Trump Tower and Trump Plaza, recently was quoted in The Washington Post as saying:
"I know one man who is one of the most successful men in New York, and he couldn't get a table at a restaurant. He's worth maybe four or five hundred million dollars, and he's standing at Le Cirque or one of them and he couldn't get a table.
"So I see him standing there and he's a little embarrassed and he says, 'Don, could you help me get a table?' So I got him a table. So he calls the next day and I said, 'No one knows you, you're very successful.' And he says, 'No, no, no, I like to keep a low profile.'
"That's great. But in the meantime he can't get a table in a restaurant.
"The man calls me back a week later. He wants to know the name of my public relations firm. And I said to him, 'Either you have it or you don't.' "
Roy Cohn, the lawyer who came to national attention as chief counsel to the investigating subcommittee of the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy, was quoted in Parade magazine as saying:
"Recently, I had dinner with some friends at an arguably highly rated and unarguably high-priced Italian restaurant in New York. On the way out, I noticed a line waiting to be seated, and about halfway back on line was Barbara Walters. I must say she was remarkably patient.
"The effectiveness of our explanation to those in charge of the restaurant as to who Barbara was (I'm not sure they understood our English) may be judged in light of the fact that, after our intercession, they seated every person waiting on line and at the bar before this internationally known TV celebrity. . . . Is money, the art of greasing the correct palm, the answer? Yes, indeed, in many instances."
Now, Miss Manners has lived her life, and plans to go on living it, under the following assumptions:
1. That a restaurant is a commercial establishment that sells cooked food to orderly patrons who pay for the service.
2. That customers are welcomed by business establishments on a first-come, first-served basis, and that while many restaurants take reservations for the convenience of both clients and themselves, these, too, are secured in the order they are requested.
3. That the United States is a democracy, and that being rich or famous does not mean that one is in a different class of citizenship, entitled to preferential treatment.
If there are restaurants that do not subscribe to these ideas, Miss Manners wants neither to hear about them nor to dine in them. Miss Walters' behavior seems to her to be simple decency, and that of those who think either publicity or bribery the proper route to special treatment, pathetic.
That is not to say that she does not sympathize with people who grow impatient with the service they receive as ordinary citizens, which tends, even in public accommodations without these pseudo-aristocratic notions, to be routinely rough and rude.
It may interest the sufferers to know, however, that the so-called VIP treatment is, if anything, even worse.
In restaurants and hotels, special treatment requires that the object of it devote a good deal of his time to socializing with the higher-ranking help.
The restaurant owner or manager not only introduces himself, but pauses periodically at the table to chat. In the modern restaurant tradition, also taught to waiters for use on less-favored customers, the staff enjoys full right to interrupt the conversation of the patrons, and exercises this merely by talking over their talk, in a pre-emptory fashion that renders their attempts futile.
In hotels, the person designated as being special is greeted by the manager on duty, who wants to shake hands and chat, politely ignoring the fact that his guest may be checking in for some private purpose, such as going to sleep. As the lesser staff is understandably interested more in their boss' approval than in the client's, "Do not disturb" signs and other defenses available to the average citizen are ignored in the interests of delivering unsolicited room-service "gifts."
And on airplanes, first-class travel frequently consists of awakening the travelers in order to force-feed them all the food and drink to which they are entitled.
Miss Manners therefore thinks that the above advisers are making a mistake to elbow their way into special treatment. What she would like to see established is a new sort of business class, in which the client is neither flattered nor insulted, but merely allotted, in his or her turn, the service for which he has paid.
Q: I would like to know if it is appropriate and in good taste to send girlfriends or wives flowers at their place of business.
My aunts maintain that flowers sent to loved ones for romantic purposes should not be sent to the recipient's place of business, but instead to the home. To do otherwise, in their opinion, is in poor taste.
A: Aunts are generally correct, in Miss Manners' experience. Flowers sent for romantic purposes should be sent to the person's home.
However, flowers sent for publicity purposes, that is, ones intended to show the lady's colleagues that you are a serious suitor or a romantic husband and perhaps thus enlist peer approval in the sender's favor, are sent to the office.
Q: I am divorced from my only child's father. She lives with her father, but spends a great deal of time with me, also. He is remarried and so am I.
After the divorce, he remained very friendly with my family, exchanging Christmas presents, etc. When he remarried, about a year ago, he ceased all contact.
Today, my sister showed me a letter from his wife addressed to my mom and sister in which his wife apologizes for failure to write sooner, tells them her husband loves them very dearly (then why didn't he write the letter?) and wants to stay in contact but "for obvious reasons, has been reluctant" (the reasons are not obvious to me).
She goes on to say that she hopes she isn't intruding, but feels mom and sis are still part of hubby and daughter's family, and she would love to meet them and they are welcome in their home any time for any reason.
Then she writes that mom is the only grandparent my daughter has left, and how daughter adores my sis and talks about them often.
Miss Manners, I see to it that my daughter is kept in close contact with all of my family. These sentences smack of my daughter's losing contact with her only grandparent, if ties to her and ex-hubby aren't bound! Does this give one permission to comment?
New wife's closing lines say that she hopes she hasn't offended. Well, she has!
How can we (sis and I -- mom did not see the letter because she is hospitalized with a serious illness) let her know:
1. She has offended.
2. She has intruded.
3. She is very tacky to have written.
We don't want to be tacky ourselves.
A: Miss Manners trusts that you and your sister are having a wonderful time sneering at this timid attempt at civility. Now will you please cut it out?
Perhaps you can think of an unpleasant motive for this offer, but Miss Manners can only imagine two courses of events that led to the writing of the letter:
1. Your ex-husband, afraid that your family would not care to meet his second wife, has stifled his fondness for them, but has now been convinced by her that they would understand that she was anxious to secure their friendship for the sake of the child.
2. The wife tried at first to cut off her husband's relationship with his ex-in-laws, but has been convinced that it is not in his or the child's best interests, and is humbling herself to re-establish it.
Miss Manners is not requiring your family to take him back into their good graces, although she does not see why his remarriage should bother them if the divorce did not. But she strongly recommends that your sister write a civil letter thanking her for the overture. Your sister may then add, if she wishes, that "the circumstances" (do not, repeat not, explain what they are) make them unable to accept her kindness.
If it will make you feel any better, your sister could slip in the sentence, "Fortunately, we do see a great deal of Gretchen through her mother."
Q: I enjoy my job -- at a large corporation -- and do whatever is required of me, and maybe a little more.
However, many of the employes (usually women) feel they have to put on birthday parties for their bosses (usually men), exchange gifts at Christmas and bring chocolate eggs or whatever at Easter. One of the secretaries is even helping her boss' grown daughter with a 25th anniversary party for her parents, by inviting 1,000 of their closest friends from work. The daughter had to enlist the help of the secretary because she did not know who those friends were.
I like my boss and enjoy a friendly business relationship with him. But I am not his mother, wife or close friend. I feel that personal celebrations should be left up to the individual and intimates to celebrate or ignore, as they may wish. I have enough trouble trying to remember the birthdays of my husband, children, parents and friends, and their anniversaries.
Am I wrong in feeling that a business setting is inappropriate for personal special occasions?
A: Miss Manners agrees with you totally, and could go on and on and on about the dangers of confusing one's business life with one's private life. As a matter of fact, she will probably do so at exhaustive length in a book one of these days, in the hope of convincing all these people, bosses and secretaries, that this is not in their best interests.
Meanwhile, the best you can do, if you are asked to contribute to these activities, is to repeat in a good-natured tone that you have enough trouble remembering your family and friends' birthdays.