Poor Malcolm Turnbull gets such a bad press that it is good to have an opportunity to congratulate him on one of his more statesman-like pronouncements. This is especially pleasing, as the latest attack on him comes from the twisted Left and it is always a pleasure to show that their criticisms of him are entirely baseless. Mr Turnbull’s contribution to the public debate has been to observe what one would have thought was obvious to anyone with an open and unbiased mind, namely that people in Melbourne are too scared to go out to restaurants at night because of marauding gangs who are terrorising decent and honest citizens. I agree with him. In fact, many people like me have simply given up the pleasure of going out for dinner and have resorted to staying at home and foraging in the kitchen. It is safer that way and you are not intimidated or terrorised by marauding gangs of restaurateurs with their supercilious waiters, incomprehensible menus, high prices, and an air of hauteur that repels many potential customers who would rather starve in the street than subject themselves to this tyranny. No wonder we will not go out to restaurants.
The horror starts with finding a restaurant that will actually let you in. Many establishments refuse to take bookings and dress up this snobbery with the ludicrous assertion that it is better that people feel comfortable enough to come to the restaurant any night without a booking. What this nonsense means is standing for an hour in a queue and being told that you may only come in for the early sitting and if you have not finished by 8.30 you will have to leave. The other subterfuge they resort to is to allow you to sit in the bar and pay extortionate prices for cocktails until they deign to allow you into the dining room. No wonder we are too afraid to go out, when this hostility awaits us.
Assuming you can get past the front door, the next mountain to climb is getting the attention of a waiter or, as they are called today to protect their tender sensitivities, wait persons. Most of them are on a never-ending voyage of discovery like the crew of the Marie Celeste, cruising the floor in a zombie-like state and never coming to anchor long enough to take an order. If, by some accident, a waiter actually stops at your table, the next step in this cringe-making ritual is to ask his name, which you must do with the same deference you would adopt if addressing a member of the royal family. His name will almost certainly be Sebastian and, after imparting this priceless piece of information, he will announce that he is not really a wait person but a student of Refugee and Asylum Law at that renowned seat of learning, the Melbourne Polytechnic in Prahran. Like so much of the restaurant ritual, the purpose of this exchange is not to get you fed, but to put you in your place and keep you there, especially for the build-up to the tip.
If the idea got abroad that you were being waited on by a waiter, he might act like one and you could assert your rightful role, paying for a service; but knowing he will be a renowned jurist, you will treat him with the servile deference he deserves and not dare to leave the establishment without giving him a tip commensurate with his exalted status. Not only is Jack as good as his master in a restaurant, but these glorified shop assistants act as if they own the place and talk down to you like the local squire addressing his tenant farmers’ children. Little wonder we prefer to stay home.
The next obstacle confronting you that scares me and keeps me at home is the spectacle of the exotic tattoos which are now compulsory for all wait staff. Most waiters have more tattoos than a Maori wedding. If you can get past the revulsion at seeing so many of them at once, additional time is then taken by deciphering the increasingly wordy specimens you see these days which meander around the neck and disappear before you can read the last word.
At last, you are allowed to decipher the menu which is clearly designed to demonstrate your ignorance. It is couched in such bizarre language that it is incomprehensible to any normal person, being scattered with the names of strange foreign dishes and ingredients, all designed to intimidate you and, again, to soften you up for the tip to come. You should be free to ask the waiter what is a Moroccan marrakizza , what are ‘velvet-textured slices of beetroot-cured gurnard’ and what is ‘a mad tangle of celeriac noodles with salmon verde’, but you are intimidated from asking for fear that it will only produce a curled lip and faint smile from the waiter, meaning that no one could possibly be so ignorant.
Finally, you get to the pièce de résistance, the tip, an obvious rip-off and, these days, demanded by thrusting a credit card machine in your face before you can escape. It is therefore compulsory and, with the waiter watching your every move and the tip already calculated, you are clearly being intimidated into making it a sizeable one. You will of course comply with this demand because, by now, you know your place.
Melbourne used to be such a harmonious place. But that has all come to an end with this invasion of arrogant restaurateurs and their foreign practices without giving us a vote on whether we want them here or not. We should be able to decide for ourselves who is allowed to set up a restaurant here and the circumstances under which they are allowed to do so. But, of course, our masters know we are not mature enough to make that sort of weighty decision for ourselves.
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