pick-your-restaurant agony

Every group of people that has one hour between parts of a conference, meetings or rehearsals (or especially one hour before a concert) for filling their stomachs includes, by law of nature, an experienced Restaurant Rejecter. This person’s hidden anguish expresses itself through one of the following behaviour patterns:

1) The first kind of Restaurant Rejecter jogs a few steps ahead of the rest of the group. He or she (most of the time he) approaches each restaurant from the window side, makes a long neck, tries to see what’s going on within and then simply jogs on. The rest of the group is linked to the Restaurant Rejecter by ways of invisible bonds, just as people and deamons relate to one another in the Golden Compass trilogy. Inseparable. There is no way to get away from the Restaurant Rejecter for finding your own spot, or you will face consequences nobody knows the nature of – it has never happened. Eventually your group will end up in an establishment that cannot really serve you the preparation of your choice in time, and you will return to your after-lunch chores out of breath, with a burned mouth, fist-size bits of hastily swallowed chicken fillet in your stomach and salad between your teeth. But the restaurant was good (“wasn’t it?”). So much better than the fifteen other ones on the route.

2) The second kind of Restaurant Rejecter keeps close to the core of the group. During the preliminary walk, he (or she, most often she) uses general conversation as a means of forming bonds that will later add leverage to the act of rejection. This Restaurant Rejecter approaches each restaurant with careful steps, scrutinizes the menu and calculates the overall costs, discusses items of special outrage with subdued tones (and at length) with the Chosen Buddy, finally makes a discontent face and says: “do we really want to enter here?” Again, a horrible unknown future waits for those who dare to say: “well, yes in fact we do.”

3) The third kind of Restaurant Rejecter has clear-cut preferences. Nah, I just had pizza last month. “Spanish” uh, what can that be? Chinese, ha ha, not today. Indoneeesian, yeah, sure. What’s that over there – oh another one of those places. Etc.

Once I was accompanied by a single Restaurant Rejecter of the third kind on a restaurant hunt through the very center of Stockholm at lunchtime on a weekday. There was an abundance of pizzerias, steak restaurants, even some Chinese restaurants, and about two cafes at every street corner. After an hour of searching we ended up in a box-like lunch restaurant with echoing walls, tube lights and four or five long rows of small ancient wooden tables with white tablecloths. These were occupied by dozens of solitary, dour, middle aged, nearsighted, short-clipped office people who were munching the menu of the day, meatballs with potato puree and lingonberry jam. Even in single combat, and although I was really hungry, there had been no chance to stop my private Restaurant Rejecter.

This experience helped me, a month ago, to summon the courage to join a gang that was breaking away from a larger group that was directed by a Restaurant Rejecter of the second kind. The search on that Sunday was extra difficult because half of the restaurants were still closed. After half a mile or so, we ended up in the little harbor of the town, where a few medium-upscale Fish-or-Steak-or-something-else-and-the-wine-please restaurants are located. Some people were even sitting in the sun, in spite of the cold breeze. While our Rejecter and the selected buddies huddled together at the menu and calculated themselves towards rejection, three of us, including me, stepped out of the magic circle and went our own way. We ended up in a tiny Turkish corner shop, eating special Turkish pancake rolls which were cheap, good and filling. Afterwards, reunited at work, there were no horrible consequences at all. Rejecting the Restaurant Rejecter is safe. Do it.

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