Okay, I admit it, we eat out a lot as a family. Most of that is my fault. We do well when we actually plan in advance, and organize accordingly. But often I let the majority of the weight fall on Andrea, and if we don’t have a plan for the week, it is easy to say, “Okay, it’s 6:30, nothing is planned, what are we ordering?”. It’s basically a plan to use our backup plan. Andrea doesn’t enjoy it as much as Jacob and I do, but she doesn’t tear my head off either.
But to avoid total chaos, we have a three-part rule that we follow. The first two are simple politeness, the third one was ingenious in hindsight.
Part one of the rule is that we take turns deciding. We don’t always remember whose turn it is, necessarily, as we all like similar restaurants, and have our favorite dishes from each. Ones that one of us doesn’t like much tends not to be in the rotation much. On pizza nights, it’s a separate rotation from the normal rotation, and is more rigidly enforced. I like Colonnade Pizza, Hawaaian with chicken; Andrea is open to moving around to different places like Milano’s or Toppers; and Jacob will choose Pizza Hut every time. For regular restaurants, we have fast-food staples of Wendy’s or Harvey’s, or if Andrea isn’t participating, McDonald’s. Subway is popular with all three. Other restaurants are Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese (low-end), Royal Oak, Swiss Chalet, Montana’s, Red Lobster. A few others in lesser rotation.
Part two of the rule is we can’t always choose the same thing in our rotation nor can we choose something we just went to, those are kind of “pre-veto” guidelines. Andrea reacts to that more than I do, and Jacob would eat the same place every time if it was Pizza Hut.
But as I said, Part Three is designed to save marriages and prevent family breakdown. Have you ever been in a situation where someone asks where you want to eat, you don’t really know, where do they want to eat, they don’t know, blah blah blah? Or someone says, “anywhere is fine with them” but you suggest Place 1, they say nah; Place 2, no; Place 3, it wasn’t very good last time. But yeah, anywhere is fine.
Both of those situations drive me round the f***ing bend. Seriously, it used to piss me off to no end. And so I finally got fed up one night and said, “Okay, NEW RULE”.
Here’s the eye-opening truth bomb.
If someone suggests somewhere to go, and you don’t like it, you can say no,
BUT…wait for it…you have to propose an alternative.
You can’t just say no to other people’s suggestions and crap on their idea. You have to suggest something that you yourself are comfortable with as a choice. And if you don’t have a better choice to suggest? You shut the f*** up.
I wish I had thought of this years ago. Years of organizing things with friends, family, dates, and seriously, this rule has changed our discussions. No stress at all. We all know we can’t say no without an alternative to suggest. And surprisingly, it makes us all more collaborative.
For tonight, I probably would have opted for Montana’s. We haven’t done them in a long time, could be good. We all like their food, not regularly, but occasionally. Early on we had tried to go to the one local and it wasn’t open. We’ve gone a couple of times since they figured out how to be open, which coincided more with their patio being open too. We’re not THAT brave.
For Andrea, she has a craving for Red Lobster, and I bet it’s her next choice.
But it was more or less Jacob’s turn, hard to tell when some previous nights were collaborative decisions, but we called it as Jacob’s choice. Frequently he wants some suggestions from us to help him create a menu. We suggested Montana’s (he normally gets burgers), Vietnamese (won ton soup and pad thai…I know, not exactly Vietnamese, right), or Red Lobster (probably would get some sort of nugget). His choice? Swiss Chalet.
I like Swiss Chalet, and they have their festive special on right now. But here’s the small irritating part. Jacob doesn’t order their chicken. When he chooses the Royal Oak? He orders mac and cheese. Vietnamese? Some Thai food. Swiss Chalet? Cheesy pizza. With stuffing from the festive special as a side.
I did point out to him, as I have before, and will in future, that it is his choice. And that he might want to consider something else in the future. But it is his favourite food, even if it is not the best place to get it. I find it a bit ironic, and my parents would chortle at the experience. When I was a kid, well, Jacob’s pre-teen age, my parents used to take my brother and I out to the Miss Diana restaurant, sit in the “nice” section rather than the diner, and order. My dad frequently had veal; my mother too, but she varied occasionally. My brother had varying things. Me? I would look over every item on the menu, and in the end, I would choose fish and chips. Every time. Used to drive my dad nuts.
I didn’t really know how to articulate it back then, but later in life, I realized that it was perfectly rational as a decision. Not only did I know they did a good job with it, and that it was consistent, I also never had fish and chips at home. Most of the rest of the meals on the menu might have been okay, but the ones I was likely to choose were all dishes that would likely have been “different” from the way my mom made it, and different wasn’t necessarily better. She wasn’t some gourmet cook, but I liked her cooking better for most things. Sure, not veggies. But meats certainly, potatoes definitely. We could have burgers on the BBQ, her tenderloin was awesome, and I still salivate at the thought of her broiled pork chops. We tend to burn ours, I have no idea how she had hers perfect all the time. Maybe just volume.
As an aside, back in my single days, if I was eating out by myself, I appeared to be a definite creature of habit. If I went to a specific restaurant, I might have soup if they had a good choice (anything but tomato or vegetable usually, or pea, blech), maybe chicken nuggets, fries, diet coke, and perhaps some ice cream afterwards. One of the waitresses thought I was crazy cuz I always ordered the same thing. I was like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. But not really. What the waitress didn’t know, was that I could have gone ANYWHERE for dinner. I decided I was in the mood for nuggets and fries, and so, I went to that restaurant as they had decent nuggets at an okay price. With possible soup and ice cream added to the front and back. If I had wanted steak, I would have gone somewhere else. Pasta? Somewhere else. Thai? Burgers? Italian? Pizza? All somewhere else. I would occasionally ask about specials just to see if anything enticed me away from my plan for the night, but not often. I had decided 2 hours before what I wanted, that’s why I was there. Not for the restaurant, not for their menu. Just that dish. In a COVID world, you can just order it. Heck, we could order three different take outs if we wanted to do so.
So if Jacob wants to choose Swiss Chalet and order pizza? Sure. If we want to veto it, we have to suggest somewhere else AND feel strong enough to override someone else’s choice. Neither Andrea nor I felt strongly enough, so Swiss Chalet it was.
Today I chose to follow my own rules. I only wish I had those rules long ago.
What choices did you make today?