1. Enter the diner. Do not buy a gumball. Do not try to win something in the claw machine. Do not pick up a complimentary copy of Auto Trader. Great minds through history have made it through meals sans Auto Trader. You will soon join their ranks.
2. Stand uncomfortably in the vestibule. Look for evidence of seating protocol. If you are instructed to Please Seat Yourself, choose a seat from which you have a view of the entire restaurant. If you are instructed to Please Wait to be Seated, ask for a booth. Make sure this booth is not near an air conditioner or other source of indoor wind.
3. Open menu. Marvel at the expansive variety of dishes proffered at this diner. Wonder how the proprietor managed to find a chef with the extensive technical know-how to cook clams casino, quesadillas, and vegetable dumplings.
4. Wonder how many other diners use the same stock photo of a tuna melt on their menu.
5. “Sure, I’ll take another minute.”
6. Choose an entree according to the following guidelines:
- If it can be argued that you are still in the realm of breakfast or brunch, you will be ordering breakfast food.
- If you are out of the range of breakfast, you will be ordering one of the following options: a) breakfast, b) something with the last name “melt,” c) something that you suspect will arrive impaled with a frilly toothpick, d) something with gravy.
Note: Do not order a steak unless it is Salisbury in nature. Do not order seafood unless it is fried shrimp or tuna salad. Do not order a salad. Do not substitute your fries for a salad. Do not order a Panini or a wrap. There are times and places for these behaviors. They are not, however, acceptable at a diner.
7. Narrow your meal choice down to two entirely different options. Stress over which you are in the mood for.
8. “Yes, I’m ready to order.”
9. Change your mind at the last minute and order neither of the previous two options.
10. If your impending meal involves bread, the answer is rye.
11. Begin the wait for your food.
12. Wonder if the installation of a faux Tiffany lamp is a mandatory bylaw in diner zoning law.
13. Try to distinguish which elements of the diner’s décor were present at the time that it opened, and which were added ex post-facto. Hint: Everything (except for maybe a few staff members) is original.
14. Look at the placemat. Wonder how much business “Arthur’s Stair Chair” gets from their business-card-sized ad. Wonder what it is like to ride in a stair chair. Vow to ride a stair chair someday.
15. Look at other diner patrons. Choose one table to hate for an arbitrary reason. Consider: what they are eating, volume of conversation, if they “seem like jerks.”
16. Your food is here! Is there toast? Quickly! Apply butter before the toast cools!
17. Put ketchup on your food. Get grossed out by how many times the glass bottle has been refilled without being washed. Do not look at the tomato smegma crusted around the inside of the cap. Do not look at the Chuck-E-Cheese-ball-pit-esque residue stuck to the adhesive under the curling label. Instead, slide your knife into the bottle and think about how much lycopene you are about to consume.
18. Drink some of your beverage. Try to come up with another object that is made of the same diner-cup-plastic that your cup is made out of. You can’t. The diner industry holds the patent on kind-of-rough-kind-of-smooth, red-or-translucent-mustard-colored plastic.
19. “Yes everything was great… I’ll take a check when you get a chance.”
20. Pay with cash. Help your mouth to one complimentary mint. Help your purse to fifteen or twenty.
21. Exit the diner. No, you may not play the claw machine.