I panic every time a waiter asks, “Have you been here before?” It’s such a cryptic, loaded question. The consequences of answering either Yes or No seem fraught with peril. Am I in for a lengthy explanation of the restaurant concept and ordering process? Is he simply trying to break the ice? If I say No, will I be pressed about how I found out about the place? If I say Yes, will I get a mere friendly “Welcome back” or am I to be shown a secret passageway into some sort of members-only speakeasy club?

There is no routine question that gets under my skin so thoroughly. And every time I’m handed a menu and faced with it, I’m reminded of Laurence Olivier’s Nazi torturer in Marathon Man and his cruelly unanswerable, “Iz it zafe?”