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We blew our dining budget, but this is what we learned

During our last vacation, Patrick and I stayed home because our travel budget was in the red. Besides, we don’t enjoy missed flights. Or sunburns. Or saltwater on our faces. Oh wait, those are tears.

Anyway, on the first night of our “staycation,” we pondered what to have for dinner. I suggested keeping it simple with a sleeve of Ritz crackers, cheddar cheese, some grapes on the verge of rotting, and a bottle of wine.

There was only one problem. We had no wine.

“Somebody’s been drinking MY wine,” I growled.

So we decided to go out. We went to a classy restaurant, but in keeping with my idea of simplicity and being true to our frugality vow, we decided to limit our order to appetizers and one drink.

What evolved from our commitment to a night of thrifty dining was an epiphany of ‘do’s and don’ts.’

Don’t settle for a high top table. As my legs dangled from a giant stool, I bellowed, “This chair is much too big!” After flailing my arms and creating a commotion, a server noticed my agitation and offered us a seat on a comfy couch near the gas fireplace. Ahhh, it was just right. And there was no extra charge.

Don’t order a menu item that includes the word ‘artisan.’ We selected an ‘artisan cheese tray’ which arrived on a rough-hewn board and included fashionable slices and chunks of cultured cheese, along with a few olives, some fig jam, and four lonely crackers. Price $19.

Don’t order extra crackers. We powered through the crackers in a cholesterol-laden heartbeat and had a mountain of cheese left, so we tapped our knives on our glasses until our server noticed and graciously agreed to bring us more. He impressed us when he plunked down eight crackers for our crunching pleasure. The bill impressed us more when we saw that our crispy carbs had a $3.50 price tag.

Don’t order a “sampler.” The bruschetta sampler sounded intriguing but disappointed us when a miniature bread trio with three different toppings arrived whistling a $14 tune.

Don’t order a mixed drink. I ordered a margarita, which was mostly ice, served in a small highball glass. There may have been a splash of tequila in it, but without doing a chemical analysis, I can’t say for sure. One thing is certain; it wasn’t worth $12.

Do take wet wipes with you. Unbeknownst to us the artisan cheese tray composed entirely of finger foods had honey drizzled over everything, so from the first bite, we had impossibly sticky hands. At one point Patrick got too clingy, and we had to march into the non-coed bathroom looking like Siamese twins to dunk my head under water to extract his syrupy hand from my hair.

Do ignore the astonished looks from other diners. You can expect bewildered glances from other patrons when you return to your table with wet, stringy hair carrying a stockpile of paper towels. If you must, a well-placed glare should inhibit snickering.

Don’t say I told you so when Patrick looks at the $71.83 tab and says, “I guess we could have gone to Hannaford and bought a $9 bottle of wine, couldn’t we?”

Do tell everyone who asked you where you went on your vacation that you went to the Ritz to eat crackers. But it was tacky.

— Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens arrived late to the writing desk, but is forever grateful her second act took this direction instead of adult tricycle racing or hoarding cats. She blogs at, where she skims over important topics, like her love affair with white potatoes and why she saves user manuals.


Reflections of Erma