Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

If Restaurant Walls Could Talk about First Dates

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

If Restaurant Walls Could Talk about First Dates

Article excerpt

There comes a time in nearly every first date when someone goes to the bathroom. Or ducks away to take a phone call. Or pretends they have to do both and actually high-tails it out the front door. And that's when things get interesting for the restaurant employees of North Jersey.

Bartender Michael Sherman remembers watching one customer at Twisted Elm in Elmwood Park darting his eyes between his phone and his date. "When she went to the bathroom, he showed me the phone. "Does this look anything like her?" Sherman was asked. "I'm like, 'Not really.' "

Michael Fetherston, owner of Taphouse Grille in Wayne, has watched many dates politely sip water and pick at appetizers. Then "the guy gets up to go to the bathroom, and the girl just starts cramming the food down."

What does that Tinder or Match.com or just old-fashioned first date look like from the other side of the bar? Restaurant veterans spot them immediately: the awkward small talk, the hesitancy to order food. And they're used to being pressed into service.

"Always, one of the daters is late. Always, always," says Gene Bazzarelli, the general manager of Franco's Metro in Fort Lee. "We'll get a call. 'Is Julie there?' They'll describe the person. It sounds like they're reading the Match.com profile. We have a packed house and I find myself looking for a [5-foot 4-inch] blonde with blue eyes."

Bazzarelli says that often when he receives online reservations, "we'll get a special note that says 'first-time date or blind date. Please introduce us to each other.' " Before cellphones were common, a desperate customer waited until her date went to the bathroom, then begged Bazzarelli to pretend she had an emergency call that would allow her to leave the restaurant.

But his toughest job is trying to save daters from themselves. Such as the man who walked in with a "First Date" balloon and insisted on tying it to the salt-and-pepper shakers. …

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