You know those people who love to ‘know’ people in hotels and restaurants – who greet the maitre d’ like a long-lost friend and air kiss the waiters on both cheeks, in the hope of a free glass of prosecco and a table in the window?
I’m not one of those people.
I just want to go to a restaurant, eat a meal and depart quietly, without having to hug or kiss anyone – least of all the waiter.
The husband is even worse than me: he hates fuss. So much so that he has stopped staying at ’boutique’ hotels for fear of busybody bell boys and an over-zealous concierge. One of his pet hates is being escorted to his room and being shown how to operate the curtains, TV and light fixtures (usually in painstaking detail), followed by the ensuing awkwardness of whether one should tip them or not.
In his advancing years, he has begun to relish the anonymity of a large hotel where he can relax FUSS FREE, without a simpering waiter loitering in the background, or being forced to make small talk over breakfast with the owners of some quaint B’n’B.
But there is one Italian restaurant that we go to where we do happen to ‘know’ the manager. He’s a genuinely lovely guy – the husband of a friend of a friend. And as we all know, there’s always a perk to knowing the manager…
In our case, that perk comes in the form of… a free garlic bread.
The Garlic Bread Saga began some time ago when there was a group of four of us and I attempted to order a half tomato/ half cheese garlic bread. What actually arrived, was a half tomato/ half cheese AND tomato garlic bread. Oh no!
‘Not to worry, madam, one half tomato/ half JUST cheese garlic bread coming up…’
From that day on, every time we visited the Italian, a half tomato/ half JUST cheese garlic bread would magically appear on our table, with a knowing wink from our manager friend over yonder.
The problem is that the garlic bread is huge – and extremely garlicky. And while it’s great for a table of four, when it’s just the husband and I, it’s a bit of an undertaking.
But because it’s a gift, it would be rude to leave it – so we dutifully chomp our way through it on every visit, making a mental note to keep at least a metre away from anyone we come into contact with the next day.
Recently, I went to the Italian with my friend Abi. Abi began studying the starters.
‘I think there’s a free garlic bread coming,’ I whispered.
‘What?’ she said.
‘He usually brings one over – half tomato/ half just cheese…’
We waited a while but there was no sign of the garlic bread.
That’s the problem with regular freebies: you kind of come to expect them.
The waiter came over. We decided to order a garlic bread anyway – just tomato (Abi’s not keen on the cheese).
But after our waiter had gone, another waiter came bearing down on us carrying… a huge garlic bread.
A big FUSS ensued: Waiter 1 consulted waiter 2, who then had to go and find our friend the manager, who then had to go and speak to the disgruntled chef, who didn’t look best pleased but decided that now he had cooked two garlic breads, we might as well have both of them… It was garlicky, carb-fuelled madness.
And we hadn’t even got to our main course.
On my most recent visit with the husband, I decided to tackle The Garlic Bread Saga head on. There was no sign of our manager friend. We also happened to have a new waiter, who appeared rather surly.
‘I was just wondering if we could have smaller garlic bread to start,’ I said.
‘We can do it on a smaller base but you’ll still have to pay for a full-sized one,’ he sneered.
He obviously didn’t know that were garlic bread royalty around here.
‘Fine,’ I said, wearily.
I just didn’t want any FUSS.