Was that Usher eating at the Cheesecake Factory late Saturday night after his concert at the Sprint Center? It's not unlikely -- the California-based dining chain is one of the few restaurants on the Country Club Plaza that serves late on weekends.
A bartender at the restaurant told a Pitch reporter that the staff was sure it was Usher. For one thing, he was in town. "He looked just like him," said the bartender, "but he was in a hoodie and sunglasses and it wasn't like we could say, 'Hey, are you Usher?' "
Why couldn't he? What is the proper etiquette when celebrities are in a restaurant? First rule: Don't gawk.
Sure, it's hard not to want to stare if a celebrity (or even a fake celebrity -- like the chick who once passed herself off as Tori Spelling) if the celeb-in-question is sitting just one table over. In that kind of close proximity, even celebrities with less-than-stellar cachet -- like Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, whom I once waited on myself -- become objects of fascination.
As a server, it's important to keep cool -- no fawning, slightly reverent -- and give the celebrity attentive (but not gushing) service. There will be exceptions to this rule. A waiter I knew in Chicago practically fainted from excitement when he realized that the tanned hunk at his table was a gay porn star. "Of course I asked for his autograph," he later told me. "I framed it!"
But if most servers are total professionals about celebrity customers, the other guests in the dining room can be obnoxious. I've seen people come up to even low-ranking celebs (like, say, local TV news anchors) and attempt to start cheery conversations just as the guest has been served his or her dinner.
But some celebrities want to be gushed over. The late Ruth Warrick (of All My Children fame) dined out in Kansas City -- she was originally from St. Joseph and came back from time to time. She wasn't always recognized, but when she was, she positively glowed.
Several years ago, TV sitcom icon Marion Ross and her significant other, Broadway star Paul Michael, were dining on the patio of Sullivan's Steakhouse in Leawood. They were in town performing at the New Theatre Restaurant, and since Sullivan's serves late, it was a favorite after-show spot for the couple. On this night, one man recognized Ross and called out, "Hey, it's Mrs. C." The pair were suddenly surrounded by Happy Days-loving admirers. They couldn't have been more friendly as they talked -- briefly -- to everyone, and the crowd dispersed before their dinners arrived.
The most gracious celebrity I've ever dined with and waited on -- but not at the same time, thank goodness -- was local legend Marilyn Maye. This singer is so warm and lovely to everyone who interrupts her at her table -- even in midbite.
"It's when they stop wanting to come to your table that you need to worry," Maye told me.
It was a very good tip.