Dining and Drinking with Style : Manskills to learn : Social Graces

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Drinking & Dining with Style

Break up a Bar Fight

It’s the truly selfless man who doesn’t want to see two strangers maim each other in the middle of a bar. Kudos to you if you’re going to be the calmer head that prevails, but use that cool to determine if you should be getting involved at all.

Judge how serious the potential fighters are and abide by the cardinal rule: Don’t get yourself mangled in the process. A quick assessment is key. Two dudes in polo shirts who’ve had one too many grasshoppers and are prepping for an ugly slap fight—by all means, jump in. Two giant bikers flying gang colors and snarling at each other in a drug-induced rage, not so much.

If you don’t feel you can overpower at least one of the fighters, best to try words alone. In any case, words are the place to start. You can try, “C’mon, let’s chill out before someone gets hurt,” or a similar pearl of wisdom. Or you can go with the more effective, “Cool it, the cops are right outside.”

If you actually take the plunge to break up two guys in contact, don’t go it alone. Find an ally in the crowd and enlist him with “Let’s stop these two fools before they hurt someone else.” Never get in the middle of two combatants. The idea is to separate them out of the range of attack without putting yourself in harm’s way. The best way to do that is to hook your arms under the fighter’s arms. Pull him back out of fighting range with a calm, simple sentiment like, “Let it go, he’s not worth it.”

If all that doesn’t do the trick, get yourself another beer, put ten down on the big guy with the goatee, and settle in to watch the battle.

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Order Wine Like You Know What You’re Doing

You don’t have to be a wine snob to find your way around a wine list. You just need to know the very basics that will keep you from looking stupid. It starts with the three fundamental types of wine: red, white and rosé.

You can count out rosé. There are good rosé wines, but you’re not likely to come across them. So before you’re even out of the gate, you’ve narrowed the options down to red or white.

Assuming you really are wine illiterate, narrow the choice further with classic food matching. Meat for the main course equals red. Fish and pork equals white. Pasta in a red sauce? Red. Pasta in a white sauce? White.

With the color decided you have one more decision to make—the grape. Don’t be tempted to order “red” or “white,” or what you get will probably be undrinkable and your dinner companion will have pegged you as a hick long before dessert comes. What you need is an easy, all-purpose type of wine in each color. Lucky for you, they exist. Almost every wine list will carry a Cabernet (red) and a Chardonnay (white). They are the most widespread grapes in the world. So you’ll always sound knowledgeable picking one or the other. But don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. You still have to go through the serving ritual.

A quality wine is always tasted and approved before it can be poured. The server will open the wine, lay the cork in front of your, and pour a splash into your glass. Smell the cork (you’re checking that the wine hasn’t turned to vinegar), and pick the wine glass up by the stem. Swirl the sample to release the aroma, smell it and take a sip. Nod your head, and let the server pour the wine.

Tip Servers Properly

Rewarding wait help and bartenders is a mark of the experienced man about town. Just how well you reward them is a matter of sophistication, discretion, and tradition. Once upon a time, 15 percent was the benchmark. That’s still good enough in a diner, but when you’re out at a three- star restaurant, expect to add between 18 and 20 percent to a dinner check or bar tab.

The only reason to give less is for indisputably bad service. And even then, 10 percent should be as low as you go—it will send a strong wake-up call to the server without making you look like Scrooge.

Much as you might want to, never stiff a bartender or waiter. Not only is it considered classless (if it’s about bad service, then you’re stooping to their level), it’s also punishing the people behind your server. Whatever tip you give likely trickles down to a busboy, a kitchen “runner,” the host that sat you, and bar backs, among others. In a restaurant that “pools” tips, you’ll be punishing wait help and bartenders who had nothing to do with your experience. If the service you received was aggressively abysmal, you should talk with the manager, rather than punish with a nonexistent tip.

How you tip is almost as strong a sign of refinement as how much you give. Be subtle. You don’t need to make a production out of what you leave a bartender; simply walk away, leaving the money on the bar behind you. When you pay the check at your table, do it quickly and quietly, and make sure no one else at the table sees the bill. As with so many other things in the classic man’s universe, discretion is the better part of valor.

Send Food Back

There’s a not-so-fine line between being an overbearing pompous fool, and being someone who wants reasonable service and food in exchange for the hard-earned lettuce you’ll be dropping on a nice meal at a good restaurant. Even the most gentlemanly among us has to occasionally put his foot down and demand to be treated right. And when your steak comes out ice cold and tough as a shoe, that time has come.

Keep in mind that a problem with the food is not (usually) a problem with the server, so don’t take it out on him or her. Being courteous is the secret to getting what you want and making anybody else at the table feel comfortable.

When the kitchen sends out something besides what you ordered, think about whether you might just like what you got. If it’s something you can eat, hush up and eat it.

But in the case of unpalatable food or something totally different than what you ordered, get the server’s attention, tell her the problem, and ask her to take it back. It’s always better to request a replacement (overdone meat should have been rare) than it is to request a fix (no mushrooms in the sauce) because chefs and cooks in restaurant kitchens are notoriously petulant about food being sent back. If your dish is just being repaired, you risk having something you hadn’t planned on being added to the food.

Don’t expect to get a reduction on the bill or any other make-good like a free dessert, because that’s not how it works. If you wind up with the dish you originally ordered, prepared reasonably close to the way you ordered it, quid pro quo has been fulfilled.

Stop a Friend from Driving Drunk

A good man is a good friend. A good friend stops a drunk friend from getting behind the wheel. Period. The ironic part about dealing with a drunk is, the drunker he is, the less open he’ll be to anything resembling reason. Given that reality, getting a drunk’s keys often entails a little trick psychology or even outright flim-flammery. Whatever you have to do, don’t feel bad about it; it’s all for a good cause.

The easiest way is to pilfer his keys early on. If you sense where the night is going, tell your friend you left something in his car and borrow his keys. Never return them and, when he asks for them as the night winds down, play dumb, apologize, and call him a cab or give him a ride. Subterfuge is a wonderful tool in dealing with someone whose faculties are diminished.

Unfortunately, drunks can get belligerent. Chances are that once a friend is good and truly lit, he’s not surrendering his keys or even entertaining rational conversation on the subject. In that situation, go at the problem from the car side. Let the air out of all four tires (a drunk can easily drive with a single flat tire, without even realizing it). An even more definitive solution—if you can get the hood up—is to disconnect the spark plug wires. If you’re desperate, break off a key or piece of metal in his door lock. If he can’t get in the car, he can’t drive.

It all may seem like a great big hassle in the moment, but you could be saving your buddy an arrest or worse. And just think of the revenge you’ll enjoy the next morning, when you wake him up at 6 a.m. with an air horn.

Ease a Hangover

Put down that revolver, son. It may seem like a reasonable way of dealing with the effects of last night’s party fest, but there are better ways to tame a hangover. Of course, the best way is prevention. Eat a ton of food before you go out, alternate every drink with a glass of water, chug a big jar of sports drink when you get home, and sleep late.

But then again, it’s not about thinking ahead, is it?

So when you roll over and feel like you need to shave your tongue, start with the basics. Hydrate. Hydrate. And hydrate. Water will be your savior. Diuretics (like alcohol) are your enemies. Which is why you should stay away from coffee and caffeinated sodas when you get up (and the hair of the dog). Even though you crave something with a kick, your body needs water and electrolytes. Lots of them.

Then take two ibuprofen for the pain. Don’t be tempted into just gulping them down; along with everything else, you’ve trashed your stomach lining and you need to go easy on it. Lay down a foundation of salted crackers or toast. Now pound some supplements. Vitamin C (500-1000 mg), a daily B-complex tablet for men (100+ mg), and magnesium (250-500 mg) will all help. If you’re up to a trip to the health food store, latch onto the amino acid cysteine (200-500 mg).

Now get some food in your system. Start slow, with a simple banana smoothie containing a little protein powder if you have it, a bit of honey, and some low-fat or skim milk. Once you’re certain your stomach can handle it, transition to a vegetable drink such as V-8. If you’re up to solid foods, go heavy on veggies, especially kale, cabbage, spinach, and carrots. They may not be what the taste buds are shouting for, but they are the quickest road to revitalization.

Now get moving even though you really just want to curl up and die. A hot shower opens up your pores and allows your system to sweat out some of the toxins. A sauna is even better. A shower alternating between hot and cold is especially effective. A simple walk in fresh air will revitalize you surprisingly well, although that much movement may seem a bit beyond your capabilities, all depending on how much you indulged.

Rather than pound aspirin or ibuprofen for your headache, use a cold cloth. And lastly, try not to think too much about what might have happened the night before. You can always check online for the video when you’re feeling better.

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