Second Helpings

Light My Fire: Remember the woman who sued McDonald's for big bucks after spilling hot coffee on her lap? Although her award was later reduced significantly, her legal victory has restaurant owners more worried than ever about getting hit with negligence suits.

A recent case in Louisiana, reported in Nation's Restaurant News, an industry journal, shows why that fear may be justified.

A customer ordered what must have beenthe house-specialty drink: a flaming, 190-proof grenade that could have been called a Molotov cocktail. He downed two of these burning beauties with no problem, but the third time wasn't a charm. The patron got too close to the flames and suffered first- and second-degree burns. Naturally, he did what any right-thinking American does these days. Hesued.

At the first trial, the tavern's attorneys contended that the drinker was 100 percent at fault because he was intoxicated, saying he spilled the drink on himself after it was set afire.

The plaintiff claimed the straw in the third drink was shorter than the straws in the other two, causing him to put his face dangerously close to the flames. The jury decided to apportion 65 percent of the blame to the plaintiff, 35 percent to the tavern. The jury awarded the victim $5,500.

In this age of multimillion-dollar judgments, though, who could be happy with that piddling amount? So the plaintiff appealed. But a higher court upheld both the verdict and the damages. In a display of uncommon sense, the judges said that the plaintiff knew about the volatility of the drink and had to accept some responsibility.

It's hard to choose the dumber party in this case--the tavern, for devising flaming, 190-proof drinks and delivering three of them to a guy who was already lit; or the customer, who didn't have enough sense to realize that if you play with fire, you may get burned. I'd say the legal system got this one right.

Spell Check: A recent review, in which I raged about two restaurant menus that massacred the French language, prompted a call from Elin Jeffords. She's a former New Times and Arizona Republic food critic who now spends much of her time as a restaurant consultant.

She told me how difficult it is to get restaurant owners to take menu writing as seriously as they do food and service. Jeffords tells them the menu is "a primary sales tool," and says badly written menus "turn people off."

She's right. I get annoyed at bad French because even good French, in most cases, seems comically pretentious in this town. (My favorite goof? "Tornadoes of beef.")

How can I trust restaurants to make a proper caesar salad when they can't even spell it? I don't feel any more confident when I read "potatoe" or "cooked in it's own juices."

The misuse of "compliment" for "complement" particularly sets me off--as in, "Have a glass of wine to compliment your steak." I can imagine the conversation:

Steak: My, you're looking especially drinkable tonight. And I just love your fruity bouquet.

Wine: Oh, I bet you say that to all the reds, you muscular slab of beef.--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,

 
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