Many years ago, when my parents were dating, Dad took Mom out every evening, but never on Saturdays. After a few weekends, she grew suspicious he had another girlfriend he was seeing on those nights instead of her. When she finally decided to ask him why, he replied that he wasn’t going out with anyone else. It’s just that all the places he liked to take her — restaurants, bars, nightclubs, theaters, movies — were too busy on Saturdays.
Even after they were married, he preferred to stay in to avoid crowds — a trait he passed on to me. Fortunately, I fell in love with a woman who didn’t like being surrounded by a lot of other human beings, either. Over the forty years we’ve been together, we’ve gone to places and events on every night of the week, including Saturdays. But we’ve tried to avoid restaurants on the weekend because we hate to wait and then sit amid the cacophony of other diners.
However, this weekend, we went to our favorite pizzeria — East Coast Pizza — on Saturday night. We didn’t place a to-go order, because we prefer to sit at a table and enjoy our meal while it’s still hot. But we’ve been there often enough to know it’s smart to order our pie from the car on the way, and it’s usually ready shortly after we arrive.
But this time, the place was packed, so we knew it would take longer than usual. I got in line to pay the cashier behind two other parties while Martha went off to the ladies’ room. When she got back, she had a quizzical look on her face because my position hadn’t changed. I told her to grab a table and I’d explain later.
Here’s what I told her.
The threesome at the front of the line took seven minutes to complete their order. I wasn’t really impatient, but there’s a clock right behind the register and I happened to notice the time ticking by. The reason for the delay was these people couldn’t figure out which beers they wanted. They kept asking, “Do you have this?” No. “Do you have that?” No, we don’t. After two more tries, the cashier pointed to the display right in front of them with at least three dozen brands the restaurant carries. Finally, they made their choices, paid for their meal, and moved away to find a table.
Now the next party of three moved to the front. After all that time, you’d think they would have figured out every aspect of their order. But no. They stood there debating whether they wanted to share a salad along with their pizza. Then they asked the cashier what the salad dressing choices were. As she had done with the beer roster for the previous people, she now pointed to the list of dressings right next to them. This led to more discussion before they could agree on one. But finally they did, and not long after, it was my turn.
I told the cashier I had called ahead, then gave her my name and credit card. She nodded, rang it up, swiped my card, and the entire transaction was over in less than sixty seconds. She seemed relieved. So was I.
Martha said it reminded her of when she and some colleagues at work used to go to McDonald’s for lunch. She said that, inevitably, there was someone in the restaurant who hadn’t thought about what they wanted to order before reaching the front of the line.
At McDonald’s. Where the menu options aren’t exactly plentiful. Burgers, chicken sandwiches, and the notorious filet o’ fish. Just choose which variety of those you’d like, get a side of fries and a drink, and you’re done. Next!
Yet she witnessed lots of people get to the counter and only then look up at the menu board, usually breathing through their mouths while scanning every possible item before deciding on what they wanted. Which was probably the same thing they got last time they were there, because in the 21st century, no adult in a McDonald’s is there for the first time. There are no surprises, unless it’s McRib season, so it’s not very difficult to make your choices before the minimum wage worker behind the cash register is ready for you.
The same goes for a pizza place. Did you really go there without knowing what the possible toppings are? Were you perhaps expecting some exotic rhubarb-and-parsnips pie drizzled with honey mustard? In that case, stand off to the side, look up at the chalkboard menu hanging in plain sight, figure it all out, and only then join the queue.
You never see this at a gas station, with someone having a hard time deciding among the various octane choices. At the supermarket, no one takes more than one second to answer the Paper Or Plastic bag question. I’ve never seen anyone go into a bank, ask for change for a twenty-dollar bill, and then be stumped when the teller asks, “What denominations would you like?”
It seems like I’ve been writing a lot lately about a central tenet of the way civilization is supposed to work, which I sum up in four words: It’s Not About You. When you’re in a line of people waiting to order any kind of food (e.g. a mocha latte at Starbucks, a health nut salad at Crushed Red, a bowl of squash soup at Panera), don’t stand in the queue delaying your decision while conversing with your friends or doomscrolling TikTok. Don’t even get me started on anyone who goes into a very busy ice cream place on a hot summer day and asks for more than two samples.
Think about the other people you might be inconveniencing — and get out of the way of the rest of us!
By the way, when our pizza was brought to our table about fifteen minutes later, it was worth the wait. And because we’ve been going to ECP for a long time, we’ll certainly go back many times in the future.
But not on a Saturday night.
Previously on Harris Online…