“Would You Like Service With That?”

“That’s an interesting tattoo,” she said. “What is it?”

He smiled, unbuttoned one more shirt button so she could get a better look, and explained the symbolism behind the image decorating his upper chest.

Sorry if you were expecting something a little racier, but this isn’t the beginning of a short story featuring a hookup in a singles bar. It’s just the description of a family dinner out at a nice restaurant.

The tattooed guy was one of our relatives, visiting for a few days. The tattoo fan was our waitress.

This restaurant is considered one of the best ones in town. Its chef is from Europe (or maybe New Orleans, or Omaha. I don’t remember exactly. Anyway, someplace distant enough that he can safely be considered an imported expert.) Its atmosphere is subdued. Its ambiance is sophisticated. Its food is generally excellent. Its prices reflect its high opinion of itself. Its service, however, can be a trifle inconsistent.

On this particular evening, the waitress was attentive, friendly, and immediately responsive—to our guest. She stopped by several times to make sure his entree was prepared to his satisfaction. She refilled his glass. She offered more bread. She made conversation. To be blunt, she flirted. To be fair, he flirted right back.

And the two of us on the other side of the booth from our guest? Our meat might have been undercooked, our salads might have had caterpillars in them, our glasses might have been empty. She didn’t seem to care. She never checked on our entrees or offered us more bread or asked about our tattoos. It was as if we didn’t exist.

At first this was amusing. As the meal progressed, it became less entertaining. In order to get my water glass replenished, I practically had to crawl across the table to grab her sleeve and beg. By the time I got a refill, I felt like one of those cartoons of a parched traveler stranded in the desert.

She was still friendly and flirtatious—to our guest—at the end of the meal when she brought the bill. She laid it beside him. Tactfully, I waited till her back was turned before I reached for it.

As I signed the ticket, I hesitated over the line marked “tip.” I finally decided there wasn’t room to write in the real tip I had for her: “Before you fawn over one guy and ignore the rest of the table, try to make sure he’s the one picking up the check.”

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