I've been eating out a lot recently, and I've developed a new skill. With one look at the dining room, and without looking at the menu, I can tell how much lunch or dinner will cost me.
Let's start by saying the average price of dinner per person is $20. If your server greets you by saying, "How ya doin', honey?" -- subtract $3. But if they say, "My name is Bob (or Sally) and I'll be your server," the price remains the same. If they say, "My name is Kennedy (or Cristal) and I'll be your server," add $3. If maitre d' says, "Cristal (or Kennedy) will be your server tonight," just turn around and leave. You can't afford it.
If your server is handing you your food through your car window, subtract $9.
Nelson Algren's famous advice of "Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's," is great, but it leaves way too much to chance. If a place has "Home," "Family" or "Old-Fashioned" in its name, subtract $4. If the place is named "Mom's Old-Fashioned Home-Cooking Family-Style," just keep driving. If you're eating at your actual mom's house and you're under 25, good deal. If you're eating at your mom's house every single day because you live in the basement and you're, like, 45, add a psychiatrist's bill.
If the restaurant is named after a celebrity chef, add $25. If the place is owned or named after a non-cooking celebrity, say a football or baseball star, add $10. If the place is owned by a reality TV star, add $1. If there are signed, framed publicity photos of three or four famous people who have eaten there, no change. If the place is owned by a supermodel, just keep driving.
If the restaurant has Formica tabletops and there's a bottle of hot sauce on the table, subtract $4. If the restaurant uses tablecloths, add $2. But if the restaurant uses tablecloths and there's hot sauce on the table, add $15.
If the food comes in plastic baskets, subtract $4. If the food's on a plastic tray, subtract $4. If the food comes on a plate, no change. If the restaurant offers plastic utensils -- or no utensils at all -- subtract $1. If they use metal silverware, add a dollar. If they use metal silverware wrapped in a paper napkin, add $1.50. If they use flatware and cloth napkins, add $2. If they use silver-looking plates, add $20. If they use real silver, look around -- you're in Monte Carlo.
A candle on the table, add $2; fresh flowers, $3. If your server makes the salad at your table, add $6. If the chef cooks the food at your table, add $12. If the chef cooks the food on your table and juggles sharp knives and tosses food to you to catch in your mouth, add $15. And by the way, happy birthday. Enjoy it.
If it's an Italian restaurant, add $5. If it's a French restaurant, add $8. If the food is served under a dome, add another $10. If the food is flaming, add another $2. If it's a North Korean restaurant, I don't know what it'll cost, but you should probably leave a big tip.
If the restaurant is playing recorded baby boomer music, add $1. If there's a live piano player, add $3. If there's a live jazz band, you've wandered onto a movie set in Hollywood. There is no such thing in real life.
If there are more than three Heimlich maneuver posters on the wall, subtract $4. If you can still see the spot on the wall where an old picture used to hang, subtract $3. If you can still see the tape on the window where the "Closed by the Department of Health" sign used to be, subtract $9. If there's a sign that says "No Shirts, No Shoes, No Problem," what do you care? You're just here to use the bathroom.