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The question

My wife and I are good friends with a particular couple. Unfortunately, one half of the couple's behaviour makes it intolerable to go to restaurants together. He's picky about what he eats, and when his meal comes, he'll loudly and persistently complain until the server agrees to bring new food. While that is being prepared, he'll eat what he was complaining about in the first place! When the new portion arrives, he either eats that too, or asks for it to be boxed up to take home. On the rare occasion when the server doesn't agree to replace the dish, he pouts for the rest of the meal. The first couple of times, we just accepted his brashness as part of who he is. Now, many incidents later, we're mortified by his rudeness. We often meet these friends in our favourite places, and we end up embarrassed and hesitant to return. Not sure if he does this because he's paying for his meal: He eats what's on offer in our house without complaint. We've talked to mutual friends to see if they've had the same experience, and they have – in fact, some have vowed never to go to restaurants with this guy. My wife wants to say something to our friend, or to his partner, but I think this will go badly. Do we bail on dining out with these friends, or try to fix the problem by addressing it with them?

The answer

Your friend is what is known in the food preparation/serving industry as a "nightmare customer."

I've worked in that industry, and believe me, the situation you've described has been discussed at length by everyone working at every restaurant you've been to, from servers to kitchen staff to managers and so forth.

And you're lumped in, man! Again, it's been a while, but when servers, kitchen staff and managers get out of earshot and discuss you (in the kitchen, say, perhaps hurling handy bits of crockery against the wall), they don't distinguish among individual members of your party.

To them, it's just: "Table 16 is a nightmare! Table 16 is from hell! In fact, I would like to consign Table 16 to a special chamber of hell wherein the demons first douse them in gasoline and then light them on fire with flamethrowers, and then when Table 16 begs for mercy, the demons put out the flames with their own urine – which turns out to Table 16's surprise to be sulfuric acid!"

And you don't want to be talked about like that, do you?

No, as I see it, you have two options, correctly identified by you: a) keep your lips zipped and just have the couple over to your house, and never ever go to a restaurant with them again, or b) say something.

Personally, I'm cool with you taking either route. I certainly understand not wanting to deliver any home truths to a friend. That's easier said than done. Home truths, like pizza, are best delivered by either total strangers or family members.

But if it were me? I'd say something. Look at it this way. Ultimately, you're doing him, his partner, yourselves and society as a whole a favour.

Because he's being not only a nightmare customer, but also a nightmare partner, nightmare friend and nightmare member of polite society.

I mean, that might sound quaint, but I'm semi-serious: People, we're trying to maintain a civilization here, in a world increasingly regressing (so it seems to me, anyway) into barbarism, selfishness and moronic violence. Every little thing that chips away at that endeavour is a problem. It's important.

You say he's a "good" friend. Good. Take him aside.

Please don't use these words. I'm begging you to be more circumspect, circumlocutory and diplomatic. But say: "Pal. You at restaurants? Big problem. You're out there, buddy. Why you gotta be like that? You're embarrassing us, yourself and making life difficult for everyone in the vicinity. Please cease and desist and try to remember everything is not about you, hmmkay?"

There might be some pushback/blowback from either him or his partner, but honestly, in the fullness of time, I have to believe he'll thank you for reining him in and bringing him back under the aegis of reasonable behaviour.

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