Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Gaming strategies

It’s a trend of the moment to provide more tableside craft and showmanship. Shop around the dining market of a major city and you’ll likely find places to have your guacamole custom-mashed, your Caesar tossed to order, your margarita hand-shaken, your roast carved, all a few feet away from where you’re sitting.

But perhaps restaurants are going too far with a new variation on the age-old practice of letting guests pick their lobster. In the contemporary twist, places install a crane-type game, similar to the ones you see in an arcade, where hopefuls put in some coins, work some levers to position a mechanical claw, and then let it drop, hopefully to hook a stuffed bear or some other inexpensive prize. But in the seafood variation, you’re trying to snag a lobster, not a toy. If you manage to snatch one, the restaurant cooks it and serves it for free. According to press reports, each attempt costs $2, though you can pump enough greenbacks into the machine to qualify for volume discounts.

PETA has already forced some restaurants to ship the games back to the manufacturer. I hate to say it, but I’m somewhat sympathetic, though not because of any animal-cruelty considerations. Putting a lobster on the same footing as a crappy teddy bear made in Taiwan just doesn’t enhance its dinnertime appeal. What’s next, Whack-a-Capon?

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