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Stardate 092199.1401

Oh Great All-knowing Guru:

My significant other and I eat out twice a week. If we eat in a restaurant that serves bread or rolls, invariably they give us three or five or seven pieces, even though most of them can count and see that there are only two of us. Why do they do this? Those places that serve bread always slice it about three-quarters of the way through. It's usually sourdough bread, so we have to fight and tear through the remaining one-quarter, at which point the bread is smushed and not looking very edible. Why do they do this? And when it comes time to use the salt and pepper, the shakers are crammed to the top and one cannot shake anything out of them. Not only why do they do this, but how do they do this?

-- Russell, Mt. Helix. Kirk out.

Oh, I can hear it all now. It's Friday night. You're in the transporter yelling, "Spock! Uhura! Significant Other! Hustle it up. Our reservations are for 8:30." Significant Other whines, "Aw, Russell, do we hafta? I don't think I can take another night of it. The bread. The salt. The pepper. The tearing, the smushing, the shaking! It's driving me mad, I tell you, mad, mad!"

Cut to restaurant, 8:25 p.m. Head waiter to staff, "Inspection, inspection! We're ready for Russell and Significant, yes? The bread? Cut only half-way through tonight. Very good. Particularly devilish. The salt? Pepper? Well glued, I see. Good, good. But what's this? Six rolls in the basket, six? How many times have I told you swine, it's five or seven or... Aha! What do we have here, hidden in the fold of the presentation napkin? A minimuffin! You clever vipers. Get their hopes up, then dash them again. A gambit that will have them weeping into their arugula and perhaps earn us our first Michelin star!" Could it be a plot? Perhaps.

Clearly the fun has gone out of your dining experience. The elves and I wonder why you persist. But putting on our best Miss Manners hat and gloves with matching pumps and handbag, let us suggest that an odd number of rolls served to an even number of diners solves a delicate problem of etiquette. Who wants to be the piggy who takes the last roll from the basket? An odd number of rolls allows an even number of people to take one and still gives the last roll-taker a choice; he or she is not stuck with the dry, pointy end of the French bread. Then one roll is left in the basket so other diners won't think you're the kind of people who also put sugar packets, butter, salsa, centerpieces, and other "free" things in your pockets before you leave.

The bread-slicing insult makes the loaf easier for servers to handle and distribute, facilitates portion control, and also keeps the bread from drying out too fast. The salt? The pepper? Full shakers are the restaurant equivalent of the little triangular folds that hotels put in the ends of the toilet paper. It eliminates all traces of those who have come before. It suggests they have set up everything fresh just for you and Mr./Ms. Other. I'm sure if you arrived at a table with near-empty shakers, you'd be complaining about the restaurant's negligence. Humidity can make salt and pepper cling together, especially if the shakers aren't often used. Diminutive shakers with teeny tiny holes add to the frustration. I'm sure the chef would say that the food's properly seasoned in the kitchen, and you shouldn't need salt anyway.

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