Food and Restaurants, Vol. 1, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer: 
Exactly how do you eat an artichoke? 
Dear Artie: 
The soignée second wife of a high school friend of Etiquetteer’s parents (how’s that for six degrees of separation?) once described the artichoke as the perfect conversation food. Mostly, Etiquetteer suspects, because there’s no way you can rush through it. 
Your basic steamed artichoke, as served by the soignee second wife, is served individually with a small dish of sauce (The New York Times Cookbook recommends hollandaise or mousseline sauce or plain melted butter) and a larger dish for the discarded leaves. Delicately pluck one artichoke leaf at a time, dip it into the sauce, and scrape the meat off the bottom of the leaf with your teeth, closing your lips over your teeth; then discard the leaf daintily into the bowl. When you can look into the heart of the artichoke, you may drink your Margo Channing memorial martini. (By then it should be time for the soup course.) Throughout this joyous ritual, please refrain from showy gestures of the hands. Let your conversation distinguish you! Nobody wants to look at your scraped-up leaves too closely anyway. 
And speaking of wives, Frank Case of the Algonquin Hotel took his fun-loving first wife to a fancy restaurant in Manhattan, where she asked for an artichoke, since she’d never eaten one. They were very expensive then, and it was all he could afford to feed her. “‘I’m glad we had these,’ she said happily, when she had finished scraping away at the bristly delicacy. ‘Now I know one thing I don’t want any of when we get rich.’” Let this be a lesson to you, O Seeker of Artichokes. 
[This charming anecdote from Margaret Case Harriman’s Blessed Are the Debonair, used without permission. Rush off to your local library for a copy at once; it’s a wonderful read.] 
Dear Etiquetteer: 
I was just brunching with a friend at a nice restaurant, and I had to ask: "Can I eat bacon with my fingers"? He said that, yes, it was permitted according to his source and that, in fact, it was also permitted to eat asparagus with ones fingers (and I've also heard that fried chicken is OK). Who knew! 
Dear Handy:
Well, Etiquetteer did, but he credits that to a Southern upbringing. Yankees eat fried chicken with their fingers only at picnics, not at the dinner table. While technically proper to eat asparagus with the fingers, Etiquetteer advises caution. Badly prepared asparagus can appear both limp and stringy, not conducive to being eaten with the fingers. Etiquetteer has been reduced to looking like a complete fool by pulpy asparagus. Proceed at your peril. 
Dear Etiquetteer:
Here's my dilemma. I was recently having dinner at a nice restaurant with three friends. One of my friends had a cell phone and received a call just as we were starting our cocktails. My friend talked on his phone for about a minute and I felt quite annoyed. About half an hour later, while we were enjoying our meals, he received another call and proceeded to talk for almost five minutes. When this call finished I felt extremely annoyed and asked him to switch his phone off so that we could have a peaceful dinner. He did agree to switch the phone off but he seemed annoyed that I had asked him to do this. 
How should I have handled this situation? 
Dear Concerned: 
It doesn’t matter how “nice” the restaurant is, it isn’t the right place for a cell phone. Indeed, Etiquetteer once went to a restaurant where the menu stated “Cell phones will be confiscated and destroyed.” Etiquetteer hopes they had the courage to enforce it when necessary. 
You acted admirably in rebuking your friend in a non-confrontational way, but Etiquetteer would think twice before dining out with him/her again. Clearly he or she prefers to be with other people. 
Dear Etiquetteer: 
I just got back from vacation in Vegas and LA and I have a question about tipping. Who? Obviously waitstaff and cab drivers, but at bigger hotels there are all kinds of other people who do stuff for you and I'm not sure about the policy. I had a bellboy fetch me a FedEx envelope and I tipped him; was it expected? 
How much? I always tip 20% at restaurants, but usually only give a cab driver a dollar or so. Do cabbies get a percentage? I was told that bellhops get a "buck a bag" is this correct? Same for skycaps? 
Your advice on this matter would be most appreciated. 
Dear Tippi: 
Etiquetteer deplores tipping. It ill becomes a free people created equal to rely on this 18th-century system of income. But like another flawed financial system, Social Security, it’s here to stay and there is precious little we can do about it -- especially since so many of these free people created equal can’t wait to get tipped. 
You are correct that bellboys and skycaps are tipped a dollar a bag, but not a dollar per FedEx envelope. A tip of $1.00 is sufficient on those occasions when a hotel staff member has to run an errand to your room. Don’t forget the housemaid who has to clean around your sodden towels and empty beer bottles! She gets $1.00 per day. It’s a nice touch to leave her tip in an envelope, so it isn’t confused with your collection of crumpled singles. And permit Etiquetteer to encourage you to start carrying those Sacajawea golden dollars for speedy tipping -- saves you the hassle of having to fish out your wallet while the man stands there waiting. 
Etiquetteer tips cabbies ten percent, but no less than $1.00. As to restaurants, Etiquetteer tips 15%. Don’t let the waiter tell you 20% to keep up with inflation. The reason a tip is a percentage in the first place is to keep up with inflation. 
Etiquetteer, by the way, is unafraid and unashamed not to tip or to tip below the standard if the service is unacceptable. If the waiter hands you a cold entree and a 20-minute wait for the check, if the cabbie has no clue where you’re going and no control over his temper or his radio, you are within your rights to make your displeasure known through the size of the tip you leave (or don’t). 
Dear Etiquetteer: 
Nashville, Tennessee, has a restaurant with a problem I've never encountered before. This is a popular chain restaurant - rather upscale - where there is a really bad server. On one occasion, this woman subtracted her tip from the change and vanished off the earth. On leaving, the manager cheerily asked if we enjoyed our meal. Not being shy I replied that I was irritated with this action; furthermore, if the woman had been smart, she would have let me put down the tip since I always leave at least 20% and she had taken only 10%. Another time, I was there with a companion for coffee. The tab came to $7. My friend put down a $20 and got $3 change! We had to wait a goodly time for another server to find her. She denied getting the twenty; however, we both stood our ground so when she pulled out her money there was one lone twenty in the stack! When one speaks to management about this, both times the man wanted to call her to the lobby and confront her. We did not desire to make a scene as we felt it was no longer our problem. Now, when asked where to be seated, we say anywhere except Jennifer's table! Another server says that they won't fire her because her husband is the head chef!
This is a very popular neighorhood spot and we are all at a loss as to what to do about the problem. We feel that newcomers to the restaurant should be protected as well but we hate to act so ugly. Any ideas? 
Dear Outraged: 
Goodness! Restaurant nepotism; this could almost be the first Adams Administration . . . 
Etiquetteer enjoins you from blowing a gasket over this unscrupulous waitress. (Etiquetteer doesn’t care for the term “server;” an editor friend of Etiquetteer’s once memorably said “There are two sexes, and you are expected to know the difference.” “Waiter” or “waitress” at least sound less robotic.) 
You are correct to avoid a confrontation, whether it’s overseen by the manager or not. Etiquetteer is unsure of just what you mean by protecting newcomers, short of handing out fliers in front of the restaurant like embittered picketers. This unpleasant issue needn’t consume that much energy. Continue to sit at any table but hers. If you feel the situation is not getting any better, your only option is to protest with your dollars, dine elsewhere, and let the manager know why.