Is it just me, or…

Has anyone else experienced this?

You’re in a cool little place in NYC, one of those ones that’s cannily designed to feel divey but is not really because it is, in fact, “designed”. All reclaimed wood, bare light bulbs, exposed brick, chairs that look like they were rescued from a disused factory and tables that could have come from your 9th grade science lab. Remember? You used the pointy end of your compass to carve something cute like SW + PL 4 eva! into the top left hand corner.

The food is usually good, the ingredients organic or of good provenance or sourced from within 100 miles of where you’re sitting, all very worthy (I’m not knocking it, I’m all for responsible, accountable dining).

You’re on about plate two of the seven small sharing plates* you’ve ordered and, predictably, they’re coming out of the kitchen in whatever damn order the chef feels like sending them**, so you pick at a zucchini salad and a plate of wilted ‘market greens’ (whatever they are) for ten minutes before the arrival of your flank steak and grilled pigeon breast (and let’s be honest, you only ordered the zucchini salad and the wilted greens so the waiter wouldn’t think you were a carnivorous glutton for placing the all meat and offal order your heart secretly desired) and out of the corner of your eye you spot a discreet sign, usually above a register somewhere, that makes you go a little cold. “Cash only”.

My first reaction is always one of panic – I never carry cash. You think I’d learn. But this is 2012 and we can transfer money around the globe in a matter of seconds using nothing more than our mobile phones, and restaurants don’t take cards? In New York City?

It’s at this point in the evening, feigning calm but sweating a little, (I don’t know why this causes panic for me… will they think I don’t have money to pay for this wine served in a ridiculous stemless glass, will they think I’m going to try the old dine-and-dash, will they think I planned this?) I catch the eye of a waitress and explain that I don’t have cash. I’m going to need to go find an ATM. I promise I’ll come back. They can keep my mobile phone or my car keys or my car even, until I get back. The waitress usually nods her pretty, twenty-year-old head with sympathy, bends a little at the waist, gives me an understanding arm-squeeze and then points to the ATM conveniently located in the back of the store.

I’m usually so ridiculously grateful I immediately jump up and head for the ATM, leaving my smoked goat ragu and truffle polenta (that is an actual dish) to get cold alongside my now slightly congealed, wilted greens. So grateful in fact, am I, that I barely notice, while pushing the button that says I agree to pay, the $2.94 charge being levied for the privilege of using this thieving ATM.

Does the restaurant get a cut of the pilfered $2.94? Or do they charge rent for the ATM? I really don’t know the answer to either of those questions but the whole thing just feels a bit sneaky. I’d rather they brazenly tacked on an extra $2 or $3 for the convenience of being able to pay by card, maybe with some kind of cute “we’re a small, independent business bringing you the best quality at the best possible price blah blah blah…” explanation on the bottom of the bill.

C’mon guys! It’s not that hard. If you don’t want the schlepp and/or expense of installing PDQ machines and the paraphernalia that goes with them and if you really want to avoid the inconvenience of land lines going down in the middle of a busy service you can get those handy little gadgets that turn iPads, iPhones and android thingies into card readers. And they can email a receipt directly to the customer’s phone. Which of course has the added benefit of helping you, the restaurant owner, build a reliable customer database (check appropriate t&c box first, of course).

* and ** While I’m having a rant, I’m going to get these two things off my chest…

* Small plates! Accompanied by the ubiquitous “designed for sharing” remark from your server as they explain the “concept” to you. Dear Lord, are we not done with this yet? I DON’T WANT TO SHARE A SMALL PLATE! Have you ever tried splitting a burrata and three broad beans four ways? It’s impossible! That said, I’m always happy to share a large plate, or even a medium plate. And with that, a nod to Yardbird (one of my favorite Miami restaurants) and the “Big Shares” section of their menu.

**  The food arriving in any old haphazard order! This is sold to you as a great idea because the chef (who only has your best interest at heart) wants the food on the table the very second it’s ready, no sitting around on the pass under a couple of quality-sapping warming lamps for your meal. Sounds good, but isn’t it just a bit lazy? When the pot stickers you’d ordered as an appetizer get to the table fifteen minutes after your ginger chicken udon (sorry Wagamama, you’re an easy target here) and you’re just about done when your date’s yellowtail and spring onion uramaki turns up.. it just makes for weird, sometimes rushed, eating.

All that said, I love restaurants…. I love that some think it’s cool to serve wine in the aforementioned ridiculous stemless glasses (I don’t love those glasses), I love the over-thought decor that masquerades as a happy accident, I love the chefs and their melodramatic ways, I love the servers solemnly explaining the “concepts” – it’s clearly a lot more complicated than simply ordering and receiving food. It’s all so affected, and so much part of the show. I love dining out.