My authority at the dinner table first came to my attention several years ago while enjoying a meal with my husband's family at The Cheesecake Factory. After a few interactions with the waiter I noticed that he was really only addressing me. Why, I wondered, were all of his questions being directed at me when there were three other women who have never held back on letting people know exactly what they want, plus my husband sitting at the table with me? The answer was clear. I am the Alpha Diner. Whether I like it or not, I am in charge when dinning out. For some reason when asked, "Do you need a few more minutes?" the table is silent and defers to me.
I remember my first date with my husband. We probably went to a movie that I don't recall, but then we went to Friendly's for dinner. (I remember it being Perkins, but Mike assures me it was Friendly's.) Anyhow, we were in "Friendly's" and apparently, the waitress forgot part of my date's dinner. This is when he did an abhorrent thing. With a look of disgust on his face he snapped his fingers to get the waitress' attention. It worked; she came right over. I was appalled, and before he could even make his request I... well... explained to him how a restaurant server is a person, not an animal, and should never be summoned by snapping fingers. I insisted he apologise or I would walk out of the restaurant, which he did. I don't think the problem with his order was ever resolved. I'm also not sure how he got a second date with me. He must have slipped something into my Pepsi. To his credit, he has never snapped his fingers to get any one's attention ever again. This may have been the beginning of my Alpha Diner status.
My father is also an Alpha Diner. When I was a kid Dad was always the one who would flag down the waitress and make a request no matter who at the table needed something. Maybe it was because he was the only guy in a house full of women and he's a chivalrous kind of guy. Maybe it was because my mom was always kind of shy and, like her mother, didn't like to be a bother to people by asking for things even if it was their job to do so. Maybe it was because he was the one paying the bill, so we just deferred to him. I don't know. Whatever the reason, when I have dinner with my dad my status goes from Alpha to Beta.
I like to play a little game I call "Spot The Alpha Diner" while I wait in restaurants. I look at each table around me and try to pick out the dominant diner. Some of them can be a bit obnoxious, but sometimes it's much more subtle. Usually, it's the person who makes the most eye contact with the waiter or smiles the most. Sometimes you can spot the Alpha Diner because they are the one who calls the waiter by his name. If someone complements the waitress on her pretty earrings, they are likely the Alpha Diner. Go ahead, play it the next time you go out to eat!
I'm apparently influencing my children to grow up to be Alpha Diners as well. Both my 7- and 4-year-old girls have independently flagged down our waiter or waitress to ask for a refill on chocolate milk, a bowl of applesauce, or a side of Ranch dressing without any help or prompting from us. Actually, they did it without us even noticing because we were trying to prevent the baby from chucking his food into the next booth. My surprise was not so much in the fact that they asked, but that they did it with so much authority and grace that the teen aged wait staff actually responded to them immediately!
So, who's the Alpha Diner in your family?