There’s an ongoing marketing campaign looking for salty, a cute little salt shaker who went missing when Knorr cut salt by 25% in their Sidekicks side dishes. His buddy pepper searched the earth looking for him and Knorr went as far as to offer the consumer 25K to find him.
Honestly, I don’t know where salty ended up but I think he is stuck somewhere on the island of misfits with a bunch of other items that have mysteriously disappeared from restaurants tables over the past few years. Long, long ago there used to be a carousel of condiments glued to tables containing recycled bottles of Heinz ketchup with a questionable upper crust and a peeling label, a half-empty squeeze container of mustard that magically never empties and a token three packages of tartar sauce with faded yellow edges and no expiry date. Instead, this contraption has been replaced by a floating candle, house made hot sauce or a centrepiece expressing the sadness and lament toward those who do not adhere to a locovore diet.
In all seriousness, salt and pepper shakers have gradually faded into oblivion like molten lava cakes and dandelion greens. Salt went first and despite a tough fight, pepper followed after a spell of confinement in large wooden mills controlled by smiling food servants keen to add the perfect amount to your pasta or salad. Chefs have taken the liberty of seasoning food perfectly, eliminating the need for table dwelling peasants to finish the dish based on their personal preferences.
Tap water has also vanished, replaced by “still or sparkling” or something identified only by Q water which flows from a draught tap, usually at a cost of three or four bucks a person. Fountain pop is almost extinct as the pednulum has swung from environmental protection to reliving the nostaglia of yesterday by selling premium sodas in bottles reminiscent of the thick horn-rimmed glasses worn by Uncle Fredrick and popularized again by the server cracking the top open with his tattoo-riddled forearm.
Bread baskets have had the biscuit…literally….replaced by baked goods full of buttermilk, jalapeno/cheddar or black olive and sundried tomato. Gone are the overly hard butter packets and ramikins of whipped butter. Instead, shallow bowls of organic oils with droplets of Modena balsamic vinegar grace the tables now.
A suggestion of brewed coffee after a meal often raises an eyebrow or two followed by a response along the lines of “Sorry, sir, we do not serve brewed coffee but I would be happy to get you an Americano”. I just shrug my shoulders and dream of the days when the Bunn machine was pumping out half-ass coffee much to the pleasure of Timbucktoos and ICCs (see Argueing with Venti Caffiends post for more details). I just can’t picture Phyllis the waitress of times yonder whipping up frothy vanilla lattes instead of ripping open a portion pack of coffee grounds and slamming the filter into the reinforced steel basket. Equally as sad is the removal of triangular desserts such as pies and cakes; they have been “deconstructed” or sentenced to death by consumption out of a mason jar.
In 1994, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Ficton unleased a pletheria of memorable quotes into pop culture. One in paticular was Vincent’s (played by John Travolta) proclamation about a milkshake, stating that “I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars but it’s pretty f”ing good”. Urbanspoon now defines a five-dollar shake as ” something that’s more expensive than its worth; even if its pretty damn decent”. Almost 20 years later, the five-dollar shake mentality reigns supreme and is rooted in the philosophy of many eateries. In other words, sell the customer something that is more expensive than it’s worth by using a combination of personal testimony (I order the fois gras gravy with everything on the menu…it’s especially great with the nicoisse salad) and creative vocabulary (aioli vs mayonnaisse, gherkins or cornichons vs pickles, tomato jam vs ketchup etc.).
I understand that the restauranteering is a competitive business and that upselling is a necessary evil to ensure maximal profit margins and prosperity, but the alienation of the fundamentals of traditional dining (eg. salt shakers and complimentary bread and not messing with Grandma’s apple pie) is saddening.