Planet Hiker
2005-05-16 1/2 wine, Salta, Argentina

The note posted on the window advertised lunch for 18 pesos (about $6 dollars), including appetizer, dessert and a drink. So I walked in. I was greeted by a tall waiter, dressed formally, he was even wearing a bow tie. He showed me to my seat and presented the menu. As promised, there was a section for the lunch special that was for 18 pesos.

Surprisingly, there were actually quite a few options for the "special" - I had to chose an appetizer amongst 5 or 6 options, then there were several main plates, dessert, AND, there was a choice of Coca Cola, beer or 1/2 wine. I wasn't sure what "1/2 wine" means, but I ordered it anyway since I didn't want Coca Cola or beer.

Couple of minutes later the tall waiter came back, holding a bottle of wine. He then ceremoniously uncorked it and poured a little bit into my glass so that I would taste it. This was the house wine that came with the lunch special, so the whole notion of me sampling the wine was a bit out of place, even if we assume that I could tell the difference between good wine and bad wine. Thus, I looked up at the waiter with a questioning impression on my face, but he, standing straight with a pompous posture, made a hand gesture encouraging me to sample the wine. Finally, I said to him "Look, this is house wine that you are serving, so don't bullshit and just pour me a glass". On that he giggled, admitting that the whole ceremony is rather preposterous, pored me half a glass and left the bottle on the table.

I ate my appetizer (some sort of canned meat in an oil sauce) along with the main dish - spaghetti with clams, occasionally sipping the wine. Soon however, I noticed that the glass was empty and my eyes automatically shifted on to the bottle. "Since the wine isn't diluted, does '1/2 wine' means half a glass or half a bottle???" I kept wandering. "If it's half a glass, then the waiter left the bottle just in case I want another half of glass and thus, he would charge me extra for it later. And since I did not discuss the price of the extra wine, it would probably be outrageously high, just to screw me over and make up for the low price of the lunch special. On the other hand, if it's half a bottle, then there is a lot more wine to go! But where exactly is the half marker?.. Will I be charged a whole bottle if I drink just past it?.."

Trying to be tactful, I waved down some other waiter that happened to be passing by and, pretending to speak less Spanish than I really could, asked him for the significance of "1/2 wine". He pointed at the bottle, about half way down. "Wohooo! More free wine!" I almost yelled out. So I poured out some more, watching closely if I am approaching the half way point.

This was turning out to be quite a good lunch. The main dish was filling, the appetizer had meat while the dessert was pure bonus. More often than not the "lunch special" is just a way to lure in tourists for some yesterday's leftovers that are sold as the "local specialty dish". But this time I felt I got the better end of the deal. So I left a good tip and walked out of the restaurant fully satisfied, wearing a grin on my face.

Couple of days later I revisited the restaurant. The tall waiter immediately recognized me (must have been the tip) and seated me at the same table. Now that I was a returning customer he even took the time to inquire where I am from and where I am headed before handing over the menu. The lunch special was still in effect so for the drink I ordered another "1/2 wine". Just as before, he uncorked a new bottle and pored a little for me to taste. At that moment I realized that he was trying to deliver the best possible service and he would not take the risk and be casual even while knowing that I don't appreciate formalities. Thus, instead of ridiculing his pompousness, I smiled broadly, took a sip and confirmed that the wine is good. One question, however, that still remained to be answered was - what do they do with the other half of the bottle?