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Jun 30, 2011 08:41 AM

Feeling "out of place" at a restaurant

Am I just socially awkward, or has anyone else felt this way upon trying out some new place? Be it the way you're dressed, your age, your choice of dish or what not?

I can't say it has ever happened to me more than once or twice really (the other times perhaps in bars where I felt ancient), but recently a girl friend and I got a great deal on a top of the line luxury hotel for a getaway weekend, and one evening decided to dine at the restaurant/patio downstairs. We dressed up of course, and we were told to seat ourselves. And we sat there, and sat there, feeling more uncomfortable for no completely obvious reason (i.e. no one said anything to us or anything). There was a lot of designer clothing around and a general feeling of uber-rich. No one stopped by to take drink orders or drop off a menu, so after some time, we eventually got up and left and went elsewhere for a meal. It was a place that realistically should have pristine service, so all round it felt a little weird. It wasn't until afterward that we both talked about the vibe of the place, and how we both felt like we missed the boat somewhere / didn't get a copy of the manual or something.

Yes maybe that was us feeling more self-conscious for some reason, but it was definitely uncomfortable there.

Anyone else with similar experiences?

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  1. My experience is different. I love trying new, casual, ethnic restaurants but often feel out of place being the only WASP and am hesistant to ask about the menu because of not wanting to feel like an idiot because I am unfamiliar with the cuisine and/or language issues. I feel like everyone is watching me and waiting for me to screw up or make a fool out of myself.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Janet from Richmond

      When doing ethnic, especially if I am not that familiar with the particular cuisine, I quickly throw myself at the server's mercy, explain my lack of knowledge, and then ask for recommendations. That usually works perfectly, and the servers are usually ready to educate me, with regards to the choices, that they concocted for us. Yes, there can be some language barriers, but if I am attempting to communicate, they usually take pity on me, and I cannot recall an instance, where they have let me down. Along the way, I have managed to learn quite a bit, though obviously not everything.


      1. re: Janet from Richmond

        The OP got poor service, even snobs have their culture. Pity, as some equate that with fine dining.
        Here in Los Angeles, I have yet to find a casual, ethnic place where a sincere interest in the food didn't break the ice. Language and unfamiliarity with the options fade to irrelevance when the server, even a busy one, gets to play cultural tour guide.
        A Vietnamese pho vendor in Little Saigon delicately asking whether we want blood in our pho, the Chinese restaurant waiter discussing that -animals we consider pets- are only used for medicinal purposes in his culture and not for mainstream dining, or the Hunan-Chinese restaurant staff wondering how we gwai found their restaurant when there are no western characters on their sign or menu (Chowhound!) all make for a richer experience. These are the locations where the food is as good as it gets until you can get invited into someone's home, and even then, only when grandma is cooking.

        1. re: Phood

          There is never blood/boudin in pho. In bun bo hue, yes.

        2. re: Janet from Richmond

          Janet, How would you know you're the only WASP? Did you ask people their religions or ethnic backgrounds? Besides, a Chinese guy might be just as "out of place" in a Turkish restaurant. Either way, people should be ok with wanting to try foods not from their own backgrounds.

          1. re: Wawsanham

            Because I am's not a hard time to determine in some instances who is "white-anglo-saxon-protestant" and who is not. And yes, the Chinese guy may feel out of place at a Turkish restaurant.....didn't say otherwise.

            1. re: Janet from Richmond

              How can you tell if someone is protestant or catholic or atheist?

              1. re: wadejay26

                I am Agnostic, but that is not what I am refering to (and I believe you know that). My ancestry is Welsh and Scot. If I go into an ethnic restaurant (Mexican, Lebanese, Afgahan,Indian, Korean, Greek, etc.) that the average client is of that ethinic origin, knowing the food, the language, the customs, etc. it becomes pretty clear very quickly that I am of a different ethnic background and I feel awkward and am sometimes challenged by language or not knowing the food, the traditions, etc. And since I generally go to such places alone I am often intimidated at the thought of trying to order and ask the right questions on my own.

        3. I think it was them not you. Sounds to me like it was a restaurant with horrendous service--glad you got up and left. Hope you had a great evening elsewhere.

          1. Amazing that you were told to seat yourself. I hope you said something to management. At those prices, there are no small mistakes, and this was a big one. There is still occasionally a prejudice against young attractive women; I know someone who was told to leave the Oak Bar at the Plaza Hotel a few years ago after one drink. She puzzled over it for some time before someone told her that someone misinterpreted, let us say, what business she was in. I am sure this isn't what happened with you, but as a woman who traveled and ate alone for many years, I'm on your side!

            33 Replies
            1. re: lemons

              I figured the reason for self-seating was because we sat at the patio area. For a while we were also wondering if it was self-serve as well. To me it seemed like the kind of place that would have a menu in front of you the moment your butt hits the seat.

              And its funny you say that, because we shared a good laugh for that very reason. I really don't think that's what they thought , but we shrugged it off saying that maybe they thought we were "of a certain profession" while having a good chuckle over it. We had a pretty good meal elsewhere.

              1. re: im_nomad

                Well, there could be many reasons for being "put on ignore." None is acceptable, IMHO.

                I'd be most inclined to just take those folk off the list, and to not return.

                There is plenty of great food and service, and many of restaurants are just waiting for you. I would frequent them instead.



                1. re: im_nomad

                  My experience with any kind of outdoor seating is that unless the outdoor area is loaded with people, you have just consigned yourself to Siberia. You get forgotten. Your waiter/waitress is busy inside. If you had been inside the restaurant, that would have been one thing. On the patio, you were probably just forgotten, without any animus being shown toward you.

                  1. re: gfr1111

                    Oh I don't think they were trying to freeze us out of there or anything, like I said some of it was probably down to us just feeling self-conscious for no reason. We had however, taken the last seats on the patio and there were at least two servers out there. There was barely anyone in the dining room.

                    1. re: im_nomad

                      You could always go to the old Joe Pesci lines from Goodfellas. "What am I a mirage? I'm on your pay no mind list?" It's not necessary to follow up by shooting the server in the foot.

                      1. re: James Cristinian

                        however tempting a little gunplay might be...

                    2. re: gfr1111

                      What does being outdoors have to do with being forgotten or worse, ignored? I fail to understand how dining al fresco mitigates their poor treatment.

                      1. re: monavano

                        The point is that if you sit outdoors - especially if there aren't many other outdoor diners - and staff is less-than-attentive, it likely doesn't have anything to do with whether you're 'out of place.' The problem probably isn't your dress or you're demeanor. You're out of sight, which is halfway to out of mind.

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          I guess it depends on how big the patio is. I have however, always thought that going in and out of doors would be a pain for the server.

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            Now, this might well be indicative of the exact restaurants, but I have never noticed this. I dine al fresco often, when others do not, and the service has always been good. Again, it probably depends on the restaurant, and less on "inside" vs "outside."


                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              Bill, you and I may well frequent very different types of establishments. Around here there are a bunch of low to midrange (price) places that have outdoor seating available during the summer, but most diners know full well when they take an outdoor table that they're not gonna get quite as attentive service as they would indoors. It's nothing personal - the servers are responsible for both indoor and outdoor diners, and the outdoor ones are more out of the way.

                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                That just sounds like bad service on the part of a restaurant, and management should make allowances. Al fresco dining is often sought after (like here in PHX in some months out of the year), and is a topic on some restaurant review boards.

                                Sorry to hear that al fresco is "to be ignored" in some establishments. Not good.


                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  It's only a problem if it's a problem, if you get my drift. The servers aren't ignoring them, exactly - there's just slower, more hands-off pace of service. The outdoor crowd at these places tend to be the lingerers and smokers and laid back types. Of course, sometimes the uninitiated get irritated.

                              2. re: Lizard

                                On a slight tangent, and not in response to any specific poster - but the sub-discussion on how single women are not welcome is interesting in light of the positive comments in another thread from single women on dining alone in restaurants, whether at the bar or not...


                                1. re: huiray

                                  Were I the restauranteur, I would welcome diners of either gender, alone, or with guests/partners, and try my best to make all feel perfectly welcome. But hey! That's just me.


                                      1. re: buttertart


                                        Just an iconoclast, I suppose.


                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          "Everyone in here is wearing a uniform, and don't you forget it". Frank Zappa, live concert commentary.
                                          (We're dressers too, my husband was born in a jacket.)

                      2. re: lemons

                        That happened to me in a Chicago Hilton bar (although it was almost 20 years ago!) Two suits-with-crewcuts ordered me to pay for my drink and leave. They just snorted when I told them I was waiting for my friend who was staying in the hotel and said "You ALL say that." They stopped laughing, however, when my friend who WAS staying in the hotel for a Police Chiefs' convention showed up and verified that yes, I was waiting for him and that I too was attending the same convention.

                        1. re: POAndrea

                          Don't get mad, get even. Good one.

                          1. re: POAndrea

                            Bad move by the "suits."

                            Was that the South Michigan Ave. Hilton?

                            We used to love their Scotch Whiskey Bar, and spent many evenings there, while wives were in meetings upstairs. Never had anything BUT great service, and conversation. However, that WAS years ago, though roughly about the time that you cite.

                            I still recall Melanie, the bartender, who was going to the U. of Chicago, and while she did not know her single-malts, did "homework" every evening, knowing that my good friend would be there, and she wanted to impress him. She did, every day!


                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              Yep. Sounds like a wonderful place to have a drink. Too bad I never went back.

                            2. re: POAndrea

                              That's interesting. I used to work at a restaurant inside a famous Chicago hotel, where they don't allow single woman to sit at the bar. Their solution? The restaurant manager always sat with the single woman.

                              1. re: PeterL

                                That's weird! How sexist!! How would they handle it if a single woman came in and sat at a single seat between two other customers at the bar?

                                1. re: PeterL

                                  I would love to be the manager at that hotel.

                                  1. re: PeterL

                                    Oh yeah....that wouldn't feel weird at all.

                                    1. re: im_nomad

                                      I'd rather leave than have to sit with the restaurant manager so he could make sure I didn't engage in any whoring while I was there. Yuck.

                                      1. re: babette feasts

                                        I'm with you. I wonder how they can get away with such blatant discrimination.

                                        1. re: monavano

                                          It is absolutely repugnant. Maybe the manager should target unaccompanied men to stop them from looking for tricks.

                                          1. re: monavano

                                            Ugh should not try to post on iPhone. CH won't let me edit so I have no idea what is left if the mess I was working on. Sorry.

                                            1. re: Lizard

                                              came through just fine Lizard, and a good point. no 'johns' = no 'ho's'

                                              hey! it's another variation on the chicken/egg question!

                                  2. re: lemons

                                    At my age, I can't understand anybody having a prejudice against young attractive women :-)

                                  3. I feel uncomfortable and that I don't fit in sometimes. I'm glad you did the right thing by leaving. You're not alone!!

                                    1. It's not you, it's bad service. Their loss in terms of $$ and public relations. I'm not a needy guest but I do expect someone to notice me.

                                      I only feel out of place when I'm underdressed in a nicer place -- sometimes we don't know where we'll end up and it's not what we dressed for. But then I realize that restaurants almost everywhere have to deal with a "tourist culture" and though they might roll their eyes, the service is fine.

                                      (Plus, we're in Texas. The Official State Uniform is flip-flops, cargo shorts, and t-shirt.)


                                      1 Reply