We went to a restaurant with my parents over the winter holidays. Not a particularly busy day, no huge crowds or waiting time, just a nice evening to go out for an early family dinner with the kids. And our kids were behaving fairly civilized to boot. Nothing to make us an onerous table by any means.
I mention all this because despite our seemingly bland, inoffensive presentation, I noticed something different about the service we received. It wasn’t bad or slow. Our waiter was both polite and helpful, even friendly.
The difference was he talked mostly to me and my husband. Not to my parents.
I wouldn’t expect or even want him to talk to my kids (actually, it kind of annoys me when waiters try to somehow “empower” my kids into ordering for themselves. I’ll teach them to do that, thank you very much.). But having a waiter look to me as the decision maker when my parents are there is a newer experience.
Now, part of me thinks, well, that’s the passage of time; that’s the natural order of things, isn’t it? Yes, it is to a large extent. But then a friend of mine told me what her restaurant experience is like these days and the attention shift took on a darker hue.
My friend is a single woman in her sixties. She occasionally goes out to eat by herself but less and less. This is because of late she gets ignored at restaurants and treated as a huge inconvenience instead of a paying customer.
When she and I go out to restaurants, even I notice that younger patrons waiting to be seated get an almost relieved smile from the host who noticeably relaxes upon spotting their youthful glow and trendy phone cases. It’s almost as if the host was worried the place was starting to go downhill but if these young people are coming to eat here, we must be okay. For now….
Look, I get trends; I understand marketing to certain demographics. But restaurants – places to eat with other people around – are a mainstay of civilized living, especially urban living. You may live in a small space, but that’s okay because you have places to go that are bigger, airier and will break you out of your isolation without having to move in with anybody.
But what if you started to feel unwanted out in public? Imagine venturing out of your shell only to feel like everyone is really just waiting for you to climb back in. This is what going to cafes and restaurants starts to feel like for many older citizens.
Older members of the population feeling shunned or unwanted is obviously not a new phenomenon. Neither is the glorification of youth (why?? Youth is dumb. So what if it has smoother skin??). It’s just that the problem is coming home to roost, if you will, with more of the people I know and love.
It’s fascinating to watch my older friends worry about becoming “old people”. I don’t pretend to understand it fully, but I do mention that if it’s any consolation, my five and nine-year old make me feel ancient many a day. But I am only thirty-six. I am under no illusion that that somehow qualifies me as aged.
But I look forward to being so. I really do. I have great respect for older people – older women in particular -because, well, they’re tough. Tough in ways I truly admire – saying no, knowing their limits, their strengths and weaknesses and also having persevered this long in life, damn it. That’s no small feat, and I really think our society needs to start appreciating that achievement to a greater extent.
The next time you happen to see an older patron, make sure they get their turn. If they’re taciturn or grumpy, smile and nod. And if you’re thinking “Wait, am I in that category now??”, know that some of us are and always will be looking to you for advice and examples of how to go on living and enjoying life.
I don’t care what the next trend of electronics or fashion is, I want to learn how to develop character and continue tolerating the rest of society.
Can I come sit with you? Let’s get dessert.
Maya Missaghi is an estate planning and elder law attorney with Missaghi Law, PLLC. She genuinely enjoys slowing down, hearing stories and thinking long term. She loves helping her clients plan for the future, find a new home in their older years and make sure they know who’s getting the artwork. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 952-237-9602.