Celia Rivenbark: Rules for eating at a fish camp or barbecue joint

Having lunch with a friend who isn’t from the South and, therefore, doesn’t speak fluent fish camp can be an exercise in frustration for all concerned.

I said fish camp, but this also applies to every barbecue joint that’s worth its hush puppies and any and all locals-only diners.

I got to thinking about this after taking my Yankee friend to the fish camp where he was, bless his heart, a total and complete failure.

For those who are new to the South, please feel free to clip and save this handy reference guide.

Tips for not ruining it for everybody when it’s your first visit to a fish camp, BBQ restaurant or similar:

1: When the waitress arrives, she will have big hair, she will weigh 95 pounds soakin’ wet and she will have her free funeral home pen poised over an old-school “guest order” pad. She’s ready to go; you should be, too.

2: Keeping Rule No. 1 in mind, do not ask “Can you bake that flounder with minimal butter?” or similar idiotic questions. It’s a fish camp; it will be fried. Suck it up.

3: Do not ask: “Is this fish sustainably sourced?” She might just knock the crap out of you right there. She is tiny, but she is fierce.

4: Do not, when she asks, “What’ll it be?” say, “Can I have just a minute?” The truth is, you can’t. And now that you have asked that dumb-butt question, none of us will ever see her again. She will turn on her blindingly white Keds and disappear like the Rapture has come – which it might have. And, lookee here, you’ve been Left Behind.

5: If she brings tea and it’s sweet, don’t ask for unsweet. She has looked out for your clueless self, and you should be quietly and humbly grateful.

6: If it’s a BBQ joint, don’t start talking about “bark” and similar food magazine puffery. It’s pork. It’s chopped with fat in it. Move on.

7: If it’s a locals-only diner, get the meatloaf. Just do it. Everyone else is. Don’t ask if there’s veal in it. There isn’t. That sauce? It’s ketchup. And it’s fabulous.

8: Tip way more than you should. These people work harder, and for less, than you would. Don’t be a jerk.

9: Is there a water spot on your glass? Keep that information to yourself. It’s not going to kill you, but asking for a replacement might. What kind of hothouse flower are you, anyway?

10: When she asks if you want some pie, don’t ask if there’s cake or ice cream. If there were other choices, she would’ve told you. You are allowed, however, to ask what kind of pie. If she says “peach or cherry” and you ask “Don’t you have apple?” you might walk outside and find a slice of Velveeta melting on your windshield in the hot sun. That’ll learn you to be high maintenance.

I’m glad we had this little talk.