Competition - Win a bottle of champagne

No 3563 Set by Leonora Casement

Late last year, the Spectator's "Dear Mary" column received a letter from a distressed restaurant-goer. "What can one do when, having flashed a flirtatious look at someone you consider yourself to be more attractive than, you see an expression of shock horror come over their face? In my case it was doubly galling because I did not even fancy the man - a waiter in a restaurant I frequent. I was just being patronising." We asked for you temporarily to play the part of Mary.

Report by Ms de Meaner

You took two tacks: one that the poor unfortunate should actually return to the same restaurant ("Just as the learner must immediately remount the bicycle from which he has fallen, so must you get back into the restaurant . . . "); the other took the line that - as this was obviously going to occur again - the writer should be prepared for similar eventualities. I was amused by Eric Swainson's beginning: "Get yourself a fairly ostentatious 'New Labour, New Britain' badge and wear it on your smartest, sexiest outfit. Stride purposefully into the restaurant . . . " Ah, if only the rest had lived up to that intriguing start. £15 to the winners; the bottle goes to Connie Yapp.

Thank you for your letter. You would be well advised to redouble your efforts in such an apparently unfortunate eventuality. You should return his look as if it were an open invitation to courtship, and leave a cryptic note with your extravagant tip, including the word "tryst" as the only decipherable word (use a lipstick). Waiters love nothing more than pursuit by a customer, since it sets up in them that tension caused by the conflict between duty and desire. Return the following evening, dressed to kill, and refuse to be served by anybody else. You will observe a marked increase in his alarm. This is only a natural part of his aim, which will be to seduce you. He will offer such tokens of his esteem as bringing you indifferent courses, not those you ordered, and he will spill them. When the manager himself comes to your table, reprimands you, and bans you from the premises, you will have the satisfaction that you have captured your false quarry's heart, and the added bonus of never having to engage in further exchanges with him. You will get equally successful results when patronising men in domestic and/or intimate settings.

Will Bellenger

When you visit this restaurant again, arrive in dark glasses and enter slowly, tapping a white stick before you. Ask to see the proprietor and inform him/her in a loud voice that you're afflicted by an intermittent form of partial blindness that manifests itself in a facial spasm. Ask for the waiter who rejected you, as he reminds you of your dead mother. Take care to flash as many flirtatious twitches at him as you think credible during the meal. When departing, leave a handful of low-value foreign coins and notes - obsolete and east European being particularly recommended. And do not fail to address him as "Miss" when thanking him effusively for his services. Thereafter, omit the white stick but retain the dark glasses, say twice more. During these visits, moderate the twitches and tip more generously. Confide in the proprietor that the operation was successful as you return to normal.

Connie Yapp

I can understand why you should be so upset. You spend hours getting your look right - mascara, lipstick, blusher, eyeliner, anti-wrinkle cream - and you venture out in the belief that you are highly attractive and that every man you smile at is going to put his hand in his pocket. I know waiters; they rarely look closely at anyone and only react strongly if there is something to react strongly to.

It is clear to me that you are incredibly ugly. I don't like to lecture, but it is for your own good. You must have a close look at yourself. It may be painful, but sit in front of a mirror and examine yourself closely. I mean truly examine yourself. When you realise how gross you are, then perhaps you will have the grace to return to that restaurant with a sturdy paper bag over your head and apologise to that waiter for the bad night's sleep you gave him.

Geoff Horton

On leaving, buttonhole the head waiter and say something along the lines of: "My eyesight is not of the best, but surely one of your waiters is the Hon Alfred Moncrieff, nephew of my dearest friends Lord and Lady Boggwater, and I've been puzzling my brains as to why he's gathering experience here. I wasn't quite happy to leave a tip on the table, but if you'd kindly pass on this £10 note to him, and mention that I'd inquired after his dear parents, I'd be most gratified. Oh, and here's another for yourself." Expensive, but worth it to salvage self-respect. It might also cause the waiter to wonder what it is the Hon Alf is getting, and thus put the boot on the other foot.

Gerard Benson

No 3566 Set by Leonora Casement

You have belatedly discovered that you mixed up the Christmas presents, but one of the recipients of the wrong gift has as yet, even though it is now the beginning of February, said nothing to you. We want a letter of apology to this person. Two hundred words max and in by 18 February.


This article first appeared in the 05 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Think, think and think again