Eating at the Bar, But (Please?) Without the Fanfare

I have a friend (or sister, or aunt, or all of the above…) who never orders dessert herself. Instead, her M.O. is to let the rest of the table order, then capitalize on the inevitable offers to “taste” the sugary, fatty spoils. Like the chronically dieting office mate who tears off but a fraction of one of the home-baked peanut butter cookies left on the “Free Stuff” table near the copier, she’s pinning her hopes (at least psychologically) on the notion that the calories don’t count when you don’t fully commit.

Ridiculous? Of course it is. On the other hand, while I long ago worked through any lingering “commitment issues” when it comes to full portions of food, there’s some psychological finagling that still comes into play when dining up at the bar.

Namely, the set-up. It usually goes a little something like this: We’re enjoying some Sazeracs at Gaslight, or maybe a nice bottle of 2007 Grosjean Frères Premetta (a lightly chilled, fruity red from Valle d’Aosta) at Bina Osteria, and the munchies hit. Wanna share a shrimp cocktail? A small portion of the lemony lobster-clam-squid-crunchy-chorizo gnocchi? Yeah, totally!

Within seconds, everything changes. Placemats, forks, knives, spoons, bread basket, butter pats, still water, tap water…or perhaps sparkling, Monsieur? What started out as a casual evening clinking glasses and catching up with an old friend, or newly befriended co-worker, suddenly becomes a full-on production.

Any well-trained front-of-the-house vet would call it what it is: proper, precisely correct service. I’d imagine many might complain if it were anything but. But for me, at least, it saps the mood. Much like the clever french-fry “borrower,” I want all the pleasure of snacking at the bar without the tell-tale trappings of a full-meal commitment.