Side Dish 

Prom Indignation

How much do local restaurant staffs dread prom season?

For some, it's right up there with Valentine's Day — a wildly busy night with a bunch of inexperienced couples hoping to celebrate the evening of their lives, but on a budget.

Other restaurants trot out special prom menus with teen-friendly entrées and package pricing and are glad to get the business.

And every now and then, a prom dinner disaster happens, such as on May 13, when a dozen high school seniors with a parent-verified 7 p.m. dinner reservation found themselves cooling their heels for more than an hour in their tuxedos and gowns while later-arriving parties of adults were promptly seated at a popular West End restaurant.

"They continued telling us they were setting up our table, but they were seating other groups," says Rachel Easter, a member of the class of 2006 at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School. After waiting until 8:10, and getting stalled by the staff, her group left. "It was a letdown from what you expect on the night of your senior prom," Easter says. "We were willing to pay more to go to a nice place, so it was really disappointing that they wouldn't treat us respectfully."

Hal Waller, chairman of the English department at Maggie Walker, is aware that "sometimes kids are intimidated in restaurants" and suggests they prepare for their big night out with a crash course in good behavior. So each year, he drives home certain points of etiquette after his classes finish reading Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," a comedy of manners.

Some of Waller's tips for students, drawn from the etiquette teachings of Emily Post and Judith Martin, include these about dining in restaurants:

  • Remember that the people who work there should be treated with respect.

  • Remember also that you shouldn't be intimidated.

  • Have one person speak with the host about reservations.

  • Feel free to request a table in an area you prefer.

  • Be seated how you wish. (Consider conversation.)

  • Gentlemen should hold chairs for ladies.

  • As soon as you sit down put your napkin in your lap.

  • Bring enough money. (You may wish to bring a credit card in case of an emergency.)

  • Check the bill before you pay.

  • Tip 15 percent if the service is satisfactory.

    When Waller heard his students' tale of woe on the Monday following prom, he asked, "Did you take the high road?" They told him yes; they left the restaurant after their long wait and had a huge and less expensive meal at Chipotle, missing the first hour of their much-anticipated senior prom. They were indignant enough to share their complaints about the restaurant with Style Weekly.

    When contacted, the restaurant's manager expressed concern about the students' disappointment: "Sometimes people have to wait. It's not pleasant, and there's no way you can make everybody happy. Saturday was a crazy night. With these prom kids, sometimes they get very emotional, sometimes there's a lack of patience. But in our opinion, the customer is always right."

    On Monday, he offered the students gift certificates to the restaurant; Easter declined, saying that she appreciated the courtesy. Senior prom, she added, comes just once in a lifetime. S

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