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Restaurant Special Event Hoopla

Recently, my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. It was a late afternoon weekday and we decided to go to a moderately expensive SW-themed restaurant of which there seem to be so many these days. Expense-wise, this is something we very rarely do, though we do meet for lunch every other Friday or so (at a far less expensive diner on the other side of town), because of our differing work schedules. The following story is really more of an observation than a plea for advice, though I’m curious what others might make of it.

This is the kind of restaurant that makes a huge scene (complete with singing and/or props) if they learn of a birthday or other special event occurring during their visit, which is what I fully expected (and figured other patrons do also) before we went there. When we sat down and bantered with our very bouncy waitress, we were pretty much alone on our side of the facility. It wasn’t long, though, before some well-dressed middle-aged ladies were seated across the aisle from us. You can probably see where this is going.

We made the most of our visit and ordered the kinds of things we haven’t eaten for quite a number of years, and afterwards… yes, the festivities began. Complete with clapping and chanting, even the chef came out to help with the spectacle, though in a most amusing blase and lackluster way (as I’m sure they have done this umpteen times over the years), leaning dejectedly on a booth partition and looking around elsewhere, despite the strenuous efforts of our exuberant server. We were both so bloated, there was no way both of us would have gotten on the props they drug out for the occasion, so we laughed and looked about, a little embarrassed at the attention.

What was interesting was the reaction of the ladies across the aisle. While beforehand they weren’t in any kind of animated or even quiet conversation, during the performance they looked over occasionally, clearly angry at the uproar we had caused, since, of course, we had to have informed personnel of the special occasion. Obviously neither of us expected everyone at all the booths nearby to start clapping and singing, but I certainly didn’t expect disgusted glares, and almost apologized afterwards for disrupting their supper.

Because we do this so seldom, I wondered if what happened there is part and parcel of the more affluent side of town that this SW restaurant occupies, or if it was just the people involved. Were it us across the aisle, I would have probably grinned over during the 2 or 3 minutes it took the production to complete and taken the opportunity to wish that couple well. I imagine that a scene of this nature is intended to break down the imaginary walls that separate us from total strangers, and make us over, temporarily, into loud and personable Texans, maybe, who would be overjoyed to congratulate these people who are having a special day. And I guess that is really the primary question for this kind of story: Wouldn’t most people take advantage of an opportunity like that?

I want to state that this in no way marred our otherwise very enjoyable evening; we giggled as much about that as we did the eye-rolling chef. We burped, sighed and groaned the remainder of our day. 1025-15

{ 166 comments }

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  • Jessiebes October 26, 2015, 1:57 pm

    Personally this post confuses me. I don’t think any of the parties did anything wrong. If you like to be sung to for your birthday or other celebratory occasions by staff at a restaurant and they are happy to do so, go for it.

    The ladies weren’t rude either. We don’t know why they were there or if they knew that this particular restaurant does thing for their patrons. A bit if eyerolling means nothing.

  • EllenS October 26, 2015, 2:03 pm

    Monitoring the facial expressions of strangers is like eavesdropping — you will never learn anything you like. You are allowed to celebrate however the restaurant offers, and they are allowed to feel however they feel.

    The moral of this story is, “Everybody mind their own business.”

  • AnnaJ October 26, 2015, 2:03 pm

    It’s a pretty big assumption to think that everyone knows what sort of ‘celebration’ every chain restaurant does.

    A few years ago a friend and I had lunch at Joe’s Crab Shack, a place neither of us had tried but it was conveniently located for us to meet. Her mother had just been diagnosed with leukemia, so not a cheerful lunch, more of a supportive thing. When we went in there were no more than half a dozen tables of people – it was a late lunch – and the background music was no louder than most places.

    Halfway through the meal the music suddenly went up to deafeningly loud and the waitstaff began to dance to YMCA. It startled both of us, and my friend almost burst into tears because it tipped her stress level to max. I’m not blaming the restaurant – they can do whatever entertaining thing they like – but we had no idea they did this and our reaction wasn’t “Gee, how fun!”

    • Ella October 26, 2015, 5:05 pm

      It depends on the person I guess. Recently my favorite sushi house put out a warning for epiletics. I think they finally had someone have an attack. Their birthday son is blaring loud music that repeats Happy Birthday over and over with flashing lights and colors. Stressful.

    • Charlie November 3, 2015, 12:46 am

      I somewhat disagree with your first sentence. If this was something like a Molly Murphy’s, you basically have to live under a rock not to know that there’s probably going to be some sort of celebration while you’re there.

  • Anon October 26, 2015, 2:15 pm

    I don’t see that anyone did anything wrong in this situation. It is fine to take advantage of the celebratory singing at a place that offers it, and it was fine of the adjacent diners to ignore it or not plaster smiles on their faces.

    I too am someone who does not mind these kinds of things and will usually shoot over a smile. But–who knows what these women were talking about. Maybe one of them had just disclosed a cancer diagnosis? I mean, who really knows? I would never take it personally if an adjacent table did not join in or look on approvingly at something that was, admittedly, loud and somewhat intrusive. But even as an intrusion it was momentary, so no harm no foul either way.

  • Amanda H. October 26, 2015, 2:45 pm

    I’m honestly surprised by the number of people who seem to think OP was expecting everyone around them to join in the loud singing, and are assuming that’s the reason for OP’s reaction to the women. OP even says “Obviously neither of us expected everyone at all the booths nearby to start clapping and singing,” and until the women are sat, OP and her husband are the only people on that side of the restaurant, with OP making no mention of other people sitting around. More likely, the women were still the only people nearby (or close to it), and OP’s comment refers to the fact that they were surprised at the grumpy faces rather than expecting the women to join in.

    Not only that, but I get the impression from the story that OP felt the glares were directed at them because the women were actually *glaring at OP and her husband,* as if blaming them for the ruckus. If they were grumpy about something else (missing fork, stain on chef’s coat, noise in general, etc.), wouldn’t they be directing their glares at the subject of their irritation and not OP and her husband? And if that’s the case, how would OP get the idea that she and her husband were the ones being glared at?

    OP, I think you handled the situation just fine, not letting these ladies get to you. Whether they knew or not what they were getting into when they went to that restaurant that day, you didn’t let it affect your mood, and that’s exactly what you should’ve done.

    • clairedelune October 26, 2015, 3:56 pm

      She did say that, but then later she also says ” I imagine that a scene of this nature is intended to break down the imaginary walls that separate us from total strangers, and make us over, temporarily, into loud and personable Texans, maybe, who would be overjoyed to congratulate these people who are having a special day….Wouldn’t most people take advantage of an opportunity like that?” So I think that’s what people are responding to. It’s kind of unclear what she expected.

    • shhh its me October 26, 2015, 4:15 pm

      I imagine that a scene of this nature is intended to break down the imaginary walls that separate us from total strangers, and make us over, temporarily, into loud and personable Texans,***** maybe, who would be overjoyed to congratulate these people who are having a special day.**** And I guess that is really the primary question for this kind of story:*** Wouldn’t most people take advantage of an opportunity like that?***

      This is the part of the post that people are reading as I wanted them to congratulate me.

  • Becca October 26, 2015, 2:52 pm

    It seems like such a dehumanizing tradition to have wait staff cause a scene as a course of celebration. I just had this moment last night at RR, my brother had never been there and jumped when someone in the back had a celebration go off. Even when you expect it may happen, you rarely think you’ll be placed right next to the table who are whooping it up.

    I would have grimaced too honestly, probably not realizing you’d see it. I’m sorry if that’s rude, I don’t need quiet, I love load restaurants but the excessive singing AND CLAPPING! sets off too many of my sensors unless it’s a sports bar and I’m drunk, clapping is rarely accepted in my mind.

  • GeenaG October 26, 2015, 3:49 pm

    Personally I loathe this sort of thing and avoid restaurants that do this because I dislike the disruption. That being said if I accidentally found myself in a place that does this I certainly wouldn’t frown or glare at the participants! I think the only rude thing here is the people who glared at you for enjoying a service the restaurant provides.

  • A different Tracy October 26, 2015, 3:59 pm

    “Wouldn’t most people take advantage of an opportunity like that?”

    LOL! No, most people would not. Nor should anyone expect them to.

  • Cat October 26, 2015, 4:40 pm

    You either enjoy this sort of thing or you do not. I have always found it embarrassing and would rather confine my celebration to those who know me and who care. It doesn’t bother me at all if others want to do this, so long as the person/couple being celebrated enjoy it.
    Years ago, my sister-in-law was having her birthday with my brother, a friend, and me at a nice old Victorian home that had been turned into a restaurant. I went by earlier, spoke the the owner, and asked if I could order a cake to be made there or to bring a cake and be charged a plating fee. The owner offered to make a special, small cake for the four of us to enjoy.
    She and an employee brought out the lovely, small cake and sang Happy Birthday to my SIL. What bothered me was that another couple saw our cake and asked the waitress for one too. Since it was a special order, she had to tell them it was not on the menu and was a special request made well in advance. I felt rather bad that they had an occasion and no cake with which to celebrate it.

  • BagLady October 26, 2015, 6:47 pm

    Another theory: The Sour Patch Girls knew that this restaurant is known for its loud celebrations but figured they were unlikely to run into one giving the timing (late afternoon on a weekday). So when they were confronted with something they’d hoped to avoid, their annoyance showed on their faces.

    Or they didn’t know and were just unpleasantly surprised. I know (even though I’ve never been to one) that Joe’s Crab Shack is notorious for its birthday hoopla, but since I don’t generally go to chains during peak “party” hours, I wouldn’t be in the know about what other places do this.

    Or they were looking at OP and her husband out of curiosity (What’s the occasion? Are they going to use the props?) and happened to have their “resting female dog” faces on.

    If they were indeed glaring/sighing/eye rolling/muttering/otherwise deliberately trying to convey that “We. Are. Annoyed.” that wasn’t very nice of them. But OP and her DH did nothing wrong — they went to a “hoopla” restaurant for a special occasion and were treated to hoopla — and they shouldn’t let the facial expressions of a couple of strangers detract from the occasion they were there to celebrate.

  • NostalgicGal October 27, 2015, 12:14 am

    If I know this is the kind of place that does hoopla and I don’t want it, I don’t let anyone know about the event, and/or I don’t go to the place.

    The other couple should of and could of put up with a few minutes, unless it was something like one was proposing. If the hostess knew of hoopla#1 maybe if the place wasn’t that full, don’t put anyone else near the future big show.

  • K October 27, 2015, 1:14 am

    This is such a non-issue. My goodness. OP enjoyed being fussed over. The table of women may not have enjoyed the fuss the waitstaff made. Everyone survived! No one was rude! Honestly, how was this even on OP’s radar—let alone disturbing enough for OP to write a post about?!

    • mark October 27, 2015, 9:49 am

      I think you hit it on the head here.

  • Tabitha October 27, 2015, 2:54 am

    It’s interesting that the OP mentions that the ladies are middle-aged. What does that have to do with it? Such a reaction could have easily come from 20 something’s. What’s also interesting is that through the posts, middle-age turned to elderly or old. So we’re they middle-aged or elderly? I think it’s odd to specify age and dress in posts when it’s completely irrelevant. It seems as though posters who do this already has issue with the other. If the ladies were younger would the looks have been interpreted differently? If the ladies were, in fact, elderly would the interpretation be different then? It seems like the OP is hyper-aware of everything around her and probably wonders how it all has to do with her. I think she already had those ladies judging her in her own mind due to their dress and age before anything happened at all.
    Although, as far as I can see, the only thing that happened is that someone went out for a celebratory meal.

    • Hollyhock October 27, 2015, 8:53 am

      I thought the same. The OP was trying to stereotype the fellow diners as stodgy older biddies with no sense of humor or light-hearted fun. I know people in many age ranges who would not enjoy being subjected to loud amateur “singing” and commotion during a meal, especially if they were not aware of the restaurant’s customs.

      It seems to me the ladies did nothing wrong; they didn’t speak to the OP’s group or the restaurant, they didn’t make any demands, etc. — they merely endured and one is not required to do that with a grin on one’s face.

  • delislice October 27, 2015, 7:45 am

    I have, on occasion, been in the middle of a quiet-ish conversation when a nearby table gets the Birthday Hoopla treatment. It’s pretty loud, and it tends to make the area pretty crowded, for the minute or so the whole deal takes.

    It’s a little like waiting for a plane to go over – I just pause, sit back, and wait. I may, on occasion, look across at my husband and give him a faux death glare, and say something like, “Don’t you ever do that to me, you know I don’t like it,” and he might roll his eyes and say, “Me neither.”

    I suppose if you really wanted it to, our exchange might look like disgusted glares at the happy diners being serenaded. It’s really not. Maybe all the women were thinking was, “Ugh, I wouldn’t want that on my special occasion.”

  • livvy17 October 27, 2015, 7:53 am

    Just as an etiquette aside…wouldn’t it be considered bad manners to go to a restaurant such as this for the express purpose of celebrating oneself? Wouldn’t that be along the lines of throwing yourself an anniversary party?
    I’m being a bit facetious here, but for the OP to complain that EVERYONE in the area wasn’t overjoyed to be dragged in to celebrating her anniversary? I can think of a thousand reasons the women would very legitimately unhappy (if indeed they were) with this situation, but not one reason the OP should feel entitled to strangers pretending to be happy for her self-celebrated milestone.

    • Goldie October 27, 2015, 3:34 pm

      Yes, on second read, I was wondering about OP’s question a lot: “And I guess that is really the primary question for this kind of story: Wouldn’t most people take advantage of an opportunity like that?”

      No, they would not. It’s not exactly an “opportunity”. While I do not condone angry glares and other likewise PA behavior towards the celebrating party, I am under no obligation to congratulate them on whatever they’re celebrating, join in the singing, etc. I also have no way of knowing if they won’t consider it weird and intrusive on my end if I, a total stranger, join in the festivities of a couple or a family I’ve never seen before in my life. I’d probably err on the side of caution and not bug the celebrating party, if truth be told!

      • Mary October 28, 2015, 7:17 am

        True. I agree with you that glares and sour faces are not necessarily but I don’t see that as an opportunity to participate.

      • crebj November 1, 2015, 5:53 pm

        Right. Your good time may well not be mine.

  • Elisabeth October 27, 2015, 10:19 am

    Unless these ladies were making snotty remarks at you or throwing their soup crackers into your hair a la cranky toddler, I don’t see how this is a big deal. I go back and forth on whether or not I like to be sung to (a function of my social anxiety), but I’m usually not overjoyed and clapping along when someone else has a birthday in a restaurant. I can see both your sides. The ladies might have been having a conversation about something important or serious that they had to put on hold while the waiters did their musical number for you. I understand that you want people to be happy for you, and at least give you a small smile, but you can’t control strangers’ behavior.

  • AS October 27, 2015, 1:41 pm

    You don’t know what is going on in someone’s life. My friends had taken me to a restaurant when I heard the news that my mother passed away. I probably would have looked unhappy if there was a celebration hoopla going on right next to be on that day. It doesn’t mean that I am judging the person celebrating a milestone. It just meant that I was not in the mood to celebrate on that day. (And stereotyping me as a foreign grad student is going to be totally off).

    Maybe the ladies just heard a devastating news (someone’s death / illness / loss of a job / etc.). Or maybe they just wanted a quite place to pass an afternoon. They didn’t tell you anything. So, why are you even bothered by them that you feel the need to submit a story here.

  • kingsrings October 27, 2015, 2:35 pm

    I’m mixed on restaurant special event celebrations. I would NEVER want them for myself, I am very embarrassed by it being done to me. And I don’t care for most restaurant’s celebrations, which I find obnoxious and dumb. I especially don’t like it when they encourage everyone else around them to participate. Um, no, I am not there to celebrate so-and-so’s birthday or whatever, and I don’t appreciate at all your attempt to invade my time at your restaurant. However, I do love the celebrations at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor. Their celebrations are so silly, ridiculous, funny, and entertaining. They’re just a step above other restaurant’s celebrations and I don’t mind them at all.

  • Marozia October 27, 2015, 3:38 pm

    I thought this was supposed to be a theme restaurant. I found they are great fun and, yes, they do tend to make a fuss over special eventers. Why not?

  • penguin tummy October 28, 2015, 12:07 am

    I purposely enjoy going to a Korean barbecue restaurant nearby because they always bring out a fried ice cream with sparklers if it is your birthday and the whole restaurant joins in singing. It’s quite fun and everyone sings and claps for you. It’s the only one in my city that I know does this that isn’t a children’s eatery. Bit rude to roll your eyes, just enjoy the 2 minutes and get on with your meal.

  • amyasleigh October 28, 2015, 9:20 am

    I am essentially in the “stodgy and buttoned-up” camp as regards noisy goings-on in restaurants, involving the staff — though if inescapably on the scene, I hope that I wouldn’t come across as obnoxious about it. One post in this correspondence, though, I find outright alarming. “As for the embarrassment, I’ve been to a place once or twice that has similar hoopla (including one that has an entire loud song for the staff to sing while escorting you to the restroom, should you ask for directions)…”

    I’d already had the sentiment that should I ever visit the USA: for various reasons, I see myself as probably not daring ever to enter there, a restaurant of the kind where you’re waited on. The above revelation has added yet another factor, intensifying my feeling that way.

    • Livvy17 October 28, 2015, 10:35 am

      I do hope you’ll visit one day…there are lots of things to see and do, and very few of them involve being sung to by strangers. There aren’t many restaurants that do this, and the customer almost always has to ask for such activity. I’ve never heard of a place that sings you off to the bathroom!!! Ugh, that would be horrifying!

  • JackieJormpJomp November 1, 2015, 12:11 pm

    The only thing I think is rude here is the belief that strangers should be “overjoyed” to congratulate you on you anniversary. This seems very clueless in its self-importance.
    I also find it amusing that the OP thinks the chef was “putting on an act”. Not an act: he really did hate every minute of that “celebration” he was dragged out of the kitchen to put on.