By Carter B. Horsley
Being overweight, I jumped aboard the Sweet
& Low bandwagon many years ago and have been delighted by
the calories it has saved me and the wear and tear on my one belt.
The other day my associates were in the mood
for burgers at Jackson Hole on Madison Avenue and 91st Street.
It was very crowded, but after not too long a wait we got seated
at a table on the restaurant's balcony, which used to be reserved
for smokers until the restaurant got completely correct politically,
unfortunately, and banned smoking altogether.
We gave our orders and I asked for "a
black coffee with Sweet & Low," something I had ordered
successfully there many times in the past.
A few minutes later, I was brought my coffee
but with two packs of Equal. I called the waiter back and asked
for the Sweet & Low. There are differences. Equal is blue
and Sweet & Low is pink, for one thing. Now it's true that
Thomas Gainsborough divided the world into blue boys and pink
girls and I'm not a girl, but I do like to "think pink"
occasionally as the movie "Funny Face" so "marvelous"-ly
"We don't have Sweet & Low, Equal's
the same," blurted the waiter.
I was not amused and said it was not the same
and "cancel my order." I got up and left in a huff,
leaving my associates and the waiter stunned/dumbfounded. To my
great chagrin, I later learned my mortified associates paid for
my canceled food order. I abraded them, explaining that if the
waitress had said there was no Sweet & Low when I ordered,
I would have left then and that it was her, and the restaurant's,
fault and they should not have paid that portion of the bill.
The only way a restaurant will learn a lesson is by speaking in
a language they understand. Since the rest of my order was a mushroom
burger and fries, the restaurant would not have been "out"
much, if anything, since its turnover for such ingredients, especially
at lunch time which it was, is so huge.
As most people know, coffee is the last part
of most meals for many people and it is the taste you usually
leave a restaurant with, its lingering memory. Sweet & Low
is not a new, esoteric product and its share of the sweetener
market is probably very high. To be peddled Equal in its place
smacks of a conspiracy to restrain trade since Equal's taste is
vastly different than that of Sweet & Low. It is very bitter
while Sweet & Low is very sweet. Some people argue that Equal
is healthier than Sweet & Low, which may, or may not, be the
case. Some people like choices and freedom and some people are
not pure, not perfect. Some people even drink alcohol and some,
believe it or not, smoke. They may not all be bright, lovely people,
but they are people.
Had I not specifically ordered Sweet &
Low with my coffee, my outrage would be somewhat subdued and I
would simply remember to boycott Jackson Hole, which I otherwise
quite like, always being awed by the generous servings and generally
pleasant service. In this case, the waitress acted offended and
looked at me as if I was crazy to suggest there was a difference
between Equal and Sweet & Low.
A few days later, I ventured into Le Pain Quotidien,
a very attractive new bakery/café on Madison Avenue between
84th and 85th Streets and ordered a "black coffee with Sweet
& Low" to go. They courteously poured me a cup and proffered
it to me with two packs of Equal. I repeated my order, calmly,
and they said they did not carry Sweet & Low, at which point
I declined the coffee and walked out. The waitress said "O.K.,"
very nicely, to her credit, though I think I detected a fleeting
thought of condescension that anyone would risk addiction to a
The bakery is so attractive and does provide
natural brown sugar and does have marvelous Belgian waffles and
superb coffee that I might start to lug around the pink Sweet
& Low packets in my pockets, but on principal I am perturbed.
Should we require restaurants and coffee shops to post signs,
or offer refunds, or offer release forms relieving restaurants
of negligence liability or whatever. The only other time I encountered
this Equal problem was several years ago at Ecco, a very handsome
and very pretentious SoHo restaurant, but the dining experience
had been so dreadful that by the time I ordered the coffee with
Sweet & Low and was told imperiously that "We don't carry
Sweet & Low" the insult rolled off my back.
The moral, of course, is carry your own, or
patronize only civilized places like the New Amity Coffee Shop
on Madison Avenue between 84th and 85th Street that has superb
coffee and plenty of Sweet & Low.
On June 7, 1997, some companions were hankering
for a Jackson Hole delectable, in this instance, fried mozzarella
sticks, and since I was armed with a couple of Sweet & Low's
in my pocket and since I did have a pang of journalistic conscience,
I went along.
I ordered something fattening and some "black
coffee with Sweet & Low," and, lo and behold, the waitress
produced from her apron, two of the pink packets. I, naturally,
said, "thank you."
You can go back to Jackson Hole!
It is true that many soda shops in the 1940's
did not carry both Coke and Pepsi. One pities lovers of things
with more choices, like beer. Not every saloon carries several
hundred different brands of beer. Not every restaurant carries
thousands of wines. Not every hot-dog stand carries hundreds of
mustards. Yes, we must make do. Attention must be paid. Perhaps
we should insist on signs saying "Equal served here,"
or "No Sweet & Low-ing," or "Drink it Black
and Pure and Plain."
Life is not always fair, but New York did not
become great by being politically, or environmentally, correct.
Enough already! A little common sense, please.