Restaurant culture: a comparative study

In many parts of Latin America, you can sit for a good hour before anyone in the restaurant even deigns to acknowledge your existence.

So when I landed in California, I was wordlessly thankful for the fast service and over-attentive staff. The concept of taking food home in a box was novel and charming; it was also good for the planet and my bank balance, effectively allowing me to turn one meal into two.

But I have yet to be offered a dessert menu. And I eat out the vast majority of the time.

To my mind, a meal out in the evening should last about an hour, or longer if you are with company. The American ideal, by contrast, appears to be about 20 minutes.

Being given the check (bill) before you have finished eating strikes me as rude, despite servers assurances that it is for “whenever you’re ready”. A demand for payment is not easily ignored though; it sends a message beyond the immediate. It insinuates that you should leave, and soon. Put your food in a box to take home,  pay quickly and vacate your seat. It suggests that the waiter is done serving you.

I may be being cynical here. But I do think it’s part of a wider cultural prevalence for speed over almost anything else. Don’t Americans ever want to sit and enjoy a meal? Slowly?

To a European (and in mainland Europe this is even more pronounced), food should be savoured. There is time to think, and talk, and digest. You do not feel as if you have outstayed your welcome.

The Latin lateness irritated me at times, but the American extreme goes far too far the other way.