Dear Salty: My wife and I were recently shopping in a neighboring city with our 2-year-old. It was getting to be midafternoon when a thunderstorm started, and we hadn’t yet had lunch.
We didn’t know the area well but passed by a restaurant we’d never heard of that looked promising—not too fancy, but better than Applebee’s or something like that. So we run through the rain, go inside, and it’s a really, really nice steakhouse. My wife is dressed fine, but my son and I are in shorts and a T-shirt, and we’re all damp from the rain.
My wife is hungry and 5 months pregnant, my son is hungry and 2 years old, so we stayed. It was also after the lunch hour, so there were only two or three other tables filled at that time. My son was quiet and well behaved, and I like to think we were very pleasant, and the food was AMAZING, and I was sure to tip 50 percent, but I still felt bad being very underdressed for this place.
Am I overreacting? Were we fine, or should we have bailed and tried to find someplace else? I’ve felt slightly guilty about it ever since. Any input is appreciated.
At Least I Didn’t Put Ketchup on the Steak
Dear Ketchup Steak,
I know the commenters are going to type “No, you shouldn’t feel bad. You behaved yourselves, so let’s move on.” But I would be self-conscious in a situation like this—when I get caught in the rain, my hair poofs to approximately the size of a hot-air balloon, and that always makes me think I look like a poodle trapped in a damp tank top. It sucks to feel self-conscious or uncomfortable, especially in public with your family, so let’s dig into why you don’t need to sweat it.
From your letter, it’s safe to assume this restaurant didn’t have any kind of posted dress code, so it’s not like there were “rules” you were breaking. It’s more of a case of social norms and whether people thought your family looked like the Beverly Hillbillies. It’s rare these days to stumble upon a “jackets required”-type place, and as fashion trends get stranger and stranger (what’s with the ladies’ tops that are missing parts of the shoulders?), it’s harder for restaurants to draw lines between what’s appropriate and what’s not. So already, that lack of a dress code works in your favor.
Two, it’s more acceptable be dressed down at lunch than dinner. And you weren’t even there during the business lunch rush (if there was one), so that’s also a point in your favor. If there were only a few other tables there, really, how many people could you be “offending” with your sneakers? Next point: It sounds like maybe this restaurant was in a touristy neighborhood, in which case it probably sees its fair share of visitors in flip-flops and baseball hats. I have a feeling the staff saw your family and figured out exactly what the situation was: This family is here from out of town; they got caught in the rain; this was the nearest restaurant open for lunch. If they sat you at a table, they clearly didn’t have any problem with your outfits.
And this might be a personal rule, but I tend to cut pregnant people a ton of slack. Don’t they need to eat every 20 minutes or something? If your rain-drenched, hungry, pregnant wife and her child showed up at a restaurant during a slow time of day and got turned away because they’re in T-shirts, that would be a pretty harsh dress-code enforcement squad.
If this incident made you that uncomfortable, you could make the opposite choice in a future “choose your own adventure” version of this story and leave to find another restaurant. But then you’re even more drenched; your wife is even more hungry; and your kid is probably starting to whine; and then everyone’s cranky at lunch. I think you made a fine choice in the moment, and I hereby absolve you of your fashion sin. Maybe bring a pullover next time you’re out shopping for the day, I guess?
Oh, and you’re right: A 50-percent tip fixes most any faux-pas.
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