My favorite early-twentieth century novel by a Princeton graduate, The Great Gatsby, is about the perils and excesses of the Roaring 20s—America’s Jazz Age where anything goes and went and where third, fourth, and fifth courses were mandatory. This was the past.
The present….well, the present is something entirely different. Even in Orange County’s richest city (by a complicated formula derived from median income, home value, and generally smugness), the $100 bottles of wine no longer flow freely and King Crab Legs are rarer than a matriarch in her 50s without Botox. In fact, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend towards pairs of diners splitting their lunch.
What does it mean when you have a two-top sitting on your most valuable table and they end up splitting a $14 plate of Fish Tacos? It means you just got hosed, Kenny. You just got hosed. This is $7 per person on a table that could seat four (or eight with a round “table” on top of the square table). People who split a single entree are also not people who order too many add-ons. Perhaps they’ll each tack on a cup of chicken soup. Oooh. Where does that get you? It gets you an additional hour of waiting on this table. See, people who split plates are at the restaurant not to dine and feast and generally channel the spirit of Bacchus but are rather there to talk. To chat. To engage in lengthy and primarily nonsensical discourse about their mundane lives. They are not—to say in 80s parlance—going to “power lunch.” They might even say they are in a rush but that’s the last thing they’re in, unless they’re in the band Rush and are planning to sit there for as long as it takes that progressive-rock band to get through another 4-hour set. By the way, what the f— is up with progressive rock? If I wanted to listen one band for half a day, I’d go to see part II (or III, or IV) of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle. At least there’s a story there. What’s the point of progressive music? Okay, I get it. You are really, really good at playing your musical instrument. Great. That and a box of rocks will get you a box of rocks. Next, please. This is why I love Ke$ha. (See—she substituted a dollar sign for an S in her name, indicating that society demands the pretense of wealth in order to attain it. Perfection.)
So the table that splits plates will, at most, earn you a $40 total check and an $8 tip. They’ll mention that they have a birthday about six times throughout the course of your interactions with them, which begins at 12:01 pm and ends at 3:47 pm. $8 for nearly four hours of waiting. And you’ll be forced to deliver a free dessert and listen to their desperately-in-need-of-autotune rendition of Happy Birthday. And I need to say this about birthdays, even if all this has been said before. It’s a birthDAY. Not a month. Not a week. This is far worse than Christmas being extended from December 25th to the entirety of all time between Halloween and New Years Day—at least with Christmas, we all get presents. Nobody cares about your birthday but you, not even on the actual day of your birth, and we all care even less when it’s the week or the month of it. And by about the fourth time that you mention it to me, I really, really want to know what exactly you want me to do about it. You’re going to get that free cake you so desperately want but don’t need, not with your ever frequent forays into manatee territory. Beyond that, the only thing I can offer you is a full-body rubdown topped off with the shocker, which is something I don’t do when I’m not on Pacific Coast Highway. So there is that.
You can’t “split” things anywhere else. You can’t go to Heat Ultra Lounge and ask to split the cover charge. You can’t “split” a lap-dance from a dancer with your friend. (You can, however, split your lap between two dancers. That is true. You have me there.) You can’t split an airline ticket, movie ticket, concert ticket, or traffic ticket. This is why restaurants are increasingly adding SPLIT CHARGES to your meal. We’re charging you for the space, the ambiance, the entertaining and engaging service, and the clean-up services we provide. We’re charging for the anguish you put us through when we have to ask the kitchen to split plates for us. We’re charging you because you’re reminding us, yet again, why we so miss the days of Gatsby and Jordan Baker, even if Daisy Buchanan really was quite a heartless and uncaring person.