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Restaurant Pet Peeves

Over at the Bruni Blog, Marian Burros has a post about “annoying restaurant practices.” She leads off with paper tablecloth tops:

If restaurants cannot afford fresh tablecloths made of fabric — and I know it costs money to clean them — it would be far better to have a bare table.

I agree with that, but I have a few more pressing ones:

  1. “You can have a seat at the bar until your full party arrives….” I realize there are some legitimate economic reasons for this policy. But I’ve been shooed over to the bar even at restaurants that weren’t full. It comes across as a cynical attempt to generate bar income, rather than a legitimate way to manage the reservations book. Needless to say, if you do begin your meal at the bar, any good restaurant should offer to transfer the tab automatically to your dinner check.

  2. “Would you like still or sparkling water?” This is a subtle trick by which the restaurant hopes you won’t realize there’s a third option: tap water. Bottled still water is the biggest rip-off in the industry.

  3. Would you like to start with a cocktail?” There’s nothing wrong with this question. But if you order pre-dinner cocktails, then the server should give you time to drink them. You shouldn’t be asked for your wine order when full cocktail glasses have been dropped off just moments ago.

  4. Let me tell you about our specials…” Any decent restaurant ought to be able to produce a written list of specials. If they’re recited, rather than written, it should be no more than two or three items—otherwise, you can’t keep them all in your head. Most annoying is when the server comes by to recite the specials after you’ve already had menus for 10–15 minutes. By then, you’ve already chosen something. The time to announce the specials is before the diner has decided what to order.

  5. Side dishes. Many restaurants offer separately priced side dishes. I don’t object to the steakhouse pricing model, where everything is à la carte, but many restaurant menus fail to make this clear. The server should say something if you order a side dish, and your entrée already comes with a substantial vegetable. This is especially annoying if the side dish and the included vegetable are similar—e.g., you order a side of mashed potatoes, and your entrée comes with fries.

  6. Tapas-style dining. I’ve nothing against tapas, of course. But nowadays, “tapas-style” is a shorthand that means, “The kitchen will send out the food as it’s ready.” Inevitably, this means that a pile of food is going to arrive all at once, since the kitchen is working according to their convenience, rather than yours.

  7. Butter knives. Any respectable restaurant should have them. And the butter should be soft and warm, not hard as a hockey puck.

  8. Replacement silverware. Any restaurant above the level of Chinese take-out should replace the used silverware after each course, without being asked.

  9. “Can I tempt you with dessert?” By all means offer a dessert menu, but servers shouldn’t call it a temptation, nor should they try to change the diner’s mind after a firm “No, thank you” has been delivered. (Of course, this pet peeve applies to all forms of up-selling, but for some reason it’s most prevalent at dessert.)

  10. Depositing the bill too soon. No fancy restaurant should present a bill till you’ve asked for it. At other restaurants, I don’t mind this practice. But the bill should never be presented when you’re obviously still eating. When you’re done, or very nearly so, the server may ask if you’ll be having any more to eat or drink, and if the answer is no, I’ve no objection if the bill presented shortly thereafter.

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