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Let's Do Lunch, Billy

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JUST AS IN ANY GOOD RESTAURANT, there is a maître d’. Napkin over one arm, he escorts the diners to their reserved tables, which are draped with linen, with centerpieces of carnations and baby’s breath. The napkins match the tablecloths, as they should. The silverware is lined up just so. There are water glasses and there are wineglasses. A long-stemmed rose rests on each china plate. The waiters are attentive—but not intrusive. Obviously, this is a fancy place.

The roses, though, are made of pink and red chocolate. The wineglasses will soon be filled with milk. The well-dressed diners are the 43 children of the third and fifth grades at Royerton Elementary School in Muncie, Ind. The waiters and waitresses in the school’s media center are parent volunteers joined by students. And the solicitous maître d’ is none other than Royerton’s principal, Kevin Kile. Today’s special is ham with vegetables, salad, fruit Jell-O and pastries. It is time for Lunch at the Ritz, an occasional treat in the 630-pupil school and a reward for the class or classes that have been on their best behavior in the lunchroom. Keeping their voices down, eating with the proper utensils, cleaning up after they eat, wailing until everyone else at one’s table is ready before starting to eat—this is the kind of exemplary behavior that earns Lunch at the Ritz.

Started last fall, Lunch at the Ritz has been such a four-star hit that Principal Kile has promised the kids that it will be back for the next school year.

Says Ryan Cox, the 11-year-old student council president: “I think Lunch at the Ritz is neat; kids try really hard to win. It used to be pretty loud in the lunchroom, and now it’s much better.”

Parents also like the idea. “The Ritz casts an impression on the kids that’s reflected at home,” says Cindy Robbins, who has three children in the school and is chairwoman of the event. “Some kids are in a situation where they can’t go to a nice restaurant—or any restaurant at all—and this gives them a chance to see what it’s like.”

Amid all the praise, there is just a little nostalgia for less well-mannered days. Andy Ballinger, 11, is on his very best behavior, but he has his dreams. “It would be fun to yell real loud,” he says. “And,” says Michael DiTucci, 10, “a food fight would be great.”