25 Things Diners Hate About Restaurants

In the wake of “25 Things Chefs Hate About You,” it only seemed fair to turn the table and let diners vent their sizable spleens on the restaurant industry. From an original list of more than 50 suggestions comes this collection of largely reader-generated gripes, warnings, grievances, and general stern advice about how not to alienate your customers.

Caveat Emptor

Disclose the price of your specials as you’re describing them tableside — nobody wants to ask and look cheap, and yet there are times when spending $28 for a mahi mahi with a citrus reduction will break the bank.

Drink menus without prices drive people crazy.

A table of four ordering four entrees rarely wants 50 pounds of food to arrive at the table. If you’ve got huge portions, give people a written or verbal heads up that meals are large and sharable.

Go easy on the jargon. Not everyone knows what charmoula or gremolata is; the typical diner may not know a brunoise from a coulis. There’s no shame in utilizing parenthetical explanations or just writing in plain English.

If you offer extra dressing, salsa, maple syrup (and so on), let the customer know up front if it costs extra, and what that cost might be.

Service With a Sneer

When asked what’s particularly good — please, for the love of God — don’t say “it’s all good,” even if it is. Have some knowledge and insight into your own menu. Have an opinion. Know what’s fresh.

Don’t practice snobby seating — Cafe Maude gets a shout-out here — such as reserving “VIP” tables by the window that go un-used for hours as paying customers are shunted into busy two-tops in the middle of the dining room.

Be vigilant of the Bermuda Triangle Effect, wherein an empty restaurant also features glacial service. Those two customers sitting alone in the dining room are still customers. Some would argue that their rarity makes them that much more precious.

Adam Sward / Heavy Table

Adam Sward / Heavy Table

If you refill wine glasses from a bottle on the table, you’re divvying up someone’s else (expensive) property. Don’t do it. You don’t know who’s planning to finish what, who’s driving, and who is picking up the check. It also looks like you’re trying to hurry people into ordering another bottle.

In a moderate to upscale restaurant, practice full service — don’t ask a customer to pass a beer to a fellow diner when you could just walk around the table.

“Don’t hit on my girlfriend when I am the one paying the bill, enough said.”

It’s both rude and foolish to refuse to acknowledge that an overdone steak / burger / etc. is overdone — there are objective ways to sort rare from medium rare from medium from well done from burned to a crisp.

Don’t refill water glasses every four minutes. Nothing kills a conversation more quickly than someone leaning over and refilling the glass.

Awful Ambiance

Wobbly tables. Period.

Loud acoustics — if you’ve ever been in the Town Talk Diner on a busy night, you know the hideous feedback loop of yelling to be heard in the echo chamber, only to increase the overall room volume and thereby provoke other tables to yell more loudly in turn.

Food for Thought

It’s time to finally banish the paternalistic assumption that Minnesotans can’t handle spicy food when it has been specifically requested or labeled as such. Issue a warning if you must. But serve it hot upon request or as the dish demands.

There’s no call for Midwestern buffet sushi. Period. Sushi is premised on fresh, high-quality ingredients prepared to order, knowledgeable chefs, and respect for the ingredients. Asian buffets are premised on long periods of sitting around, indifferent preparation, and low ingredient costs.

Timing is Everything

It’s uncool to force people to wait at the bar (and purchase drinks) when there are tables available.

It’s also uncool to make people with reservations wait — if customers take the time to reserve a table and then show up on time, they’ve got either a table or a free drink coming their way.

Don’t spring the check the second the final fork drops. People might want dessert, another drink, or a minute to linger after the meal. Turning tables over means money, but people deserve a bit of time to digest before the bill arrives. Ask if a customer is ready for the bill.

On a related note: “I hate it when they ask to clear your table prematurely and excessively. Literally 100 percent of the time I have dined at Chatterbox Pub-Highland Park, they’ve treated me like a piece of cattle with a wallet.”

checkpleasewww.frustrateddiners.com

If you’ve got a menu online, make sure it bears at least a passing resemblance to the food served at your restaurant. It takes a few minutes to update a menu online; even if you’re changing it daily, change your website daily, too.

The whole point of having a website is to disseminate your address, hours, contact information, and reservations policy. List ’em. List ’em prominently. Keep them current. Do not bury them behind a 30-second Flash introduction with music.

Bottoms Up

Fill those pint glasses to the top. Beer drinkers worth a damn would rather have it slosh out onto their hands than have breathing room, AKA not all the beer that was purchased.

Don’t serve beer without a head on it.

There’s nothing worse than to have a fantastic meal followed with a tres leches slice of cake and then a cup of watery swill mislabeled “coffee.” It isn’t rocket science — don’t serve Cameron’s or McGarvey and call it gourmet.

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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33 Comments

  1. About half of these are questionable, at best, but the one about serving beer with a head is simply ignorant. The submitter really needs to realize that MGD is not the only brew in existence.

  2. I wish more servers would write down orders. I’m not looking to be impressed by someone’s memorization skills. Get the order right and you’ll have a satisfied patron.

  3. I agree with Ed. That’s a good one.

  4. HazelStone 04/17/2009 Reply

    Wobbly tables and loud acoustics are my top two gripes. I can handle almost anything else.

    Oh, except allowing animals in the restaurant. This isn’t France, people.

  5. I can’t count how many times a server won’t even bother to mention the specials. I don’t care how busy you are, I shouldn’t have to find out about the specials by overhearing them offered to another table.

  6. I’m surprised that “Don’t serve food in waves” didn’t make it on the list. As in, don’t bring half the table’s food out first and make the other half of the table wait for their food to arrive. If the entrees weren’t all ready at the same time, that is due to miscommunication and incorrect timing in the kitchen. Nothing irritates me more!

  7. I second Mag’s comment about serving food in waves. Although, I can understand that happening with a large group, it is not acceptable for a table of four.

    “Don’t serve beer without a head on it.” What? Many American pilsners and lagers are low-head beers as are various other beers. I was at Town Hall Brewery the other night where I ordered several pints of their Hefeweizen. Not a one of those came with a head. Was there anything wrong with those pints? Not in the least.

    Loud acoustics kill it for me. Places I’ve found with terrible acoustics are Bulldog Lowertown, Greatwaters Brewing Co, and the previously mentioned Town Talk Diner. Install noise absorbing panels or something.

    And the point “of having a website is to disseminate” is spot on. Drop the Flash animation and post useful information. I’m not visiting the website to be impressed with the gee-whiz graphics, I’m there because I have a question about the restaurant.

  8. ThinkingGood 04/19/2009 Reply

    The last time I was at Crave in the Galleria, the hostess literally looked me up and down and then sat me in the sun room next to the old people. I may not dress like I’m rich all the time, but I can not stand someone assuming how much money I have and then treating me accordingly. Every guest is a new possibility and I can’t tell you how many people I’ve recommended to restaurants like 112 where I feel absolutely no prejudice about who I am and how I’m dressed.

  9. Author

    ThinkingGood, great point. What really gets to me is the false sense of sophistication that drives appearance-based seating / treatment at restaurants — it’s actually the worst kind of provincialism, assuming that the designers you’re wearing (or aren’t wearing) define your social status, which in turn merits better or worse service. The absolute inverse of true hospitality. I’ve lived in Boston, New York, and Minneapolis, and Minneapolis seems to be generally more prone to appearance-based discrimination than New York was. Boston, however, takes the cake.

  10. I agree about the water bit. At a recent restaurant I visited, the waiter refilled it three times like his life depended on it. Slow it down there, mister!

  11. Le Grand Fromage 04/21/2009 Reply

    @ HazelStone

    In response to the statement concerning animals in restaurants…

    “This isn’t France, people.”

    I’m confused. As someone who has lived and worked in France, I can’t recall ever seeing animals of any number in any restaurant. City or Country. Does HazelStone know something about French restaurants inundated with animals of which I’m completely unaware?

  12. Riley Masden 04/24/2009 Reply

    The pouring of wine isn’t about trying to rush people into another bottle, it’s aboutproper wine service. Any sommelier worth his/her salt will simply ask each guest if they’d like more.

    I’d be fired if I didn’t pour my guests’ wine.

  13. two sandwiches 04/28/2009 Reply

    I agree that our wine should be poured- but with communication so all the right guests get the correct amount of wine. Also the Host/ess should not act like they own the place and are not at all inviting, as they say things like this is a good table even if you dont think so and glare or we will be needing this table in 1 1/2 hours just so you know you will have to move-there are some people who should deal with the public and others………

  14. occula 04/29/2009 Reply

    Please just bring me my check after a reasonable time. I can’t tell you how often a nice meal with good service is overshadowed by trying to catch a glimpse of our mysteriously disappeared server for ten or fifteen minutes after we’re ready to leave. Please. I want my check.

  15. Bill from Madison 05/02/2009 Reply

    When I called one of Minneapolis’s best restaurants for a reservation I told them I was coming specifically for the Cassoulet
    and they said they’d mark me down for it. But two days later, when I arrived for my dinner reservation, Cassoulet was off the menu. Everything on their menu is good, but disappointment is a poor appetizer.

  16. On the flip side of the too much water pouring… a diner should never have to ask to have their water refilled. If that glass is bordering on empty it should be refilled. It always pisses me off when i’m eating and having to wait several minutes + for a beverage refill. At that point i’m taking time away from enjoying my meal and my company to be judiciously surveying the restaurant waiting for someone to make eye contact with for some service.

    Also, I absolutely HATE IT when a server brings out the wrong item and when notified proceeds to argue/proclaim their supposed correctness. Even IF the diner made the mistake (in my personal experience diner/server mistake has tended to skew more towards 20/80) it is ridiculous for a server to ARGUE with a paying customer. Just fix it and be gracious and hopefully your tip will reflect that!

  17. I second the comment about waiting for checks. There have been several times my husband and I have literally stood up at a good restaurant to finally get the server to understand that we’re ready to go. You’d think the empty plates, refusals of more coffee/wine/water, bustling with coats/purses would have provided a clue.

  18. David Blackman 07/16/2009 Reply

    If you can’t afford a $28 fish entree, you have no business sitting down in an upscale establishment whatsoever. You can buy 5 fast-food combo meals for that kind of money.

    Sometimes you have to wait at the bar for a table. Boo hoo. Just because a table’s open, it doesn’t mean that it’s clean, set, and reserved for you. You’re waiting because other people have to be seated before you. Get over it.

    Servers are ordered to keep your water glass full. If you don’t want your glass filled, quit drinking so much damn water. Same goes for bread.

    A busy restaurant is loud because it’s full of more morons like you, talking to each other. You want silence? Go to an empty restaurant or eat at home.

    Don’t want wine refilled? Don’t order a bottle. Get a single glass and no one will ‘bother’ you.

    As much as you may enjoy sitting at a table covered in dirty, empty plates, the server is required to remove them. Next time someone tries to clear your table, just yell, “No, damn it! I want these empty plates in front of me because I’m a jackass. Get out of here!”

    Don’t serve a beer without a head on it? You must be a joy to deal with.

    Go easy on the jargon? Don’t get mad because you can’t recognize the things on the menu. Ask the server some questions, and maybe you’ll learn something, such as what a gremolata is.

    I hate wobbly tables. I also agree with Mag and Amy.

  19. @David- I apologize (profusely) that my fellow diners and I aren’t as suave and up to date as you. I also apologize for our manners.

    Personally, I will do my utmost to be as rude and overbearing as you the next time I make a complaint.

    While it may be true, a lot of a diner’s complaints about a restaurant are based in half-ignorance, some of them -are- legit.


    The only thing I can think to add is when a restaurant has super dim lighting. My eyes get tired easily, and straining them as hard as I can to see the person across the table from me is not on my list on how to enjoy an otherwise delicious meal.

  20. Snobby seating is the worst. I rarely dress up, but I expect to have as good a table as someone in a ball gown. Usually this isn’t a problem. I ask for the table I want, by a window if the restaurant isn’t packed. I will politely insist. If I can’t be accommodated, I leave.

    Also terrible is treating a single woman diner as second class. Doesn’t happen so often these days, but…

    At A Rebours a few years ago, I had to request a near window table (2 top) more than once. The restaurant became full and the host, a famous somebody named Michael (forget his last name), stopped at every single table to chat. Except mine. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t look cheap; I’d ordered a bottle of wine. Never went back.

    On the other hand, I eat (lunch or early dinner) most often at Wild Onion. Their food is fine, but the service and recognition I get is over the top. That’s the one thing about a restaurant that wins my business. They treat all the “old people” as nicely as everyone else, alone or not.

  21. AbitBiased 12/27/2009 Reply

    I am biased because I work in the restaurant world.

    First off, if there is a wait and empty tables, it most likely means the server is overloaded. Most fine dining restaurants have “steps of service” each server must perform. Triple seating a server makes this impossible.

    I don’t know of a single restaurant in Minneapolis that seats based on appearance. Restaurants have a seating rotation and generally follow that rotation. If you got the bad luck of a shitty spot, it was most likely random. You believe it is how you look because of low self esteem and perspective.

    The comment about serving food in waves is stupid, in my opinion. I lived in Europe for three years and that is common practice there. I would rather have my food come to me when it is ready rather than sitting under heat lamps and drying out.

  22. Howard 12/31/2009 Reply

    I’m with Meg on the food in waves and against Abitbiased. It isn’t common practice in any part of Western Europe I’ve been in. It also makes it very uncomfortable for the diners. Do you start before the others get their food, do you wait, do you ask where the rest is?
    Some of the other diner criticisms seem harsh. On balance I’d sooner have my glass refilled too many times than not at all. The poor waiter is going to get berated whatever he does if filling is intrusive and not filling negligent.
    I also don’t think it is necessary to give the price of the day’s special as the waitress
    describes it unless the cost is out of step with the rest of the menu. The retaurant is entitled to expect that if you go there you can pay their prices. Different if it is the first grouse of the season or suchlike and treble the price of anything else on the menu.

  23. “It’s uncool to force people to wait at the bar (and purchase drinks) when there are tables available.”

    – If you are put on the waitlist and asked to wait on the bar, then obviously there isn’t a table available. The waitlist acts as a mechanism to ensure the flow of orders into the kitchen is manageable. You are being asked to wait in the bar area because this is a more comfortable and social experience as to sitting you at that table, and making you wait at the table for your food. You have to take into account that you and your guests aren’t the only ones in the restaurant. The kitchen can only accomodate for a set number of orders at any given time and just because you’ve had your order taken doesn’t mean your meal will come out in a timely fashion. Hense the reason why there are checks in place to ensure your experience is managed. Howabout you actually just enjoy the company of your guests, enjoy a beer, or a glass of wine, relax, and as soon as the table becomes available we’ll grab you. Otherwise, make a reservation next time.

  24. “Fill those pint glasses to the top. Beer drinkers worth a damn would rather have it slosh out onto their hands than have breathing room, AKA not all the beer that was purchased.”

    Follwed quickly by,

    “Don’t serve beer without a head on it.”

    So which is it to be? Worried about not getting all the beer you purchased? Most pint glasses, i can happily say in Australia at least, serve the standard pint pour. The head on the beer? That part of glass realestate doesn’t actually exist. That is to say, you get the exact amount of beer you purchased, and the head on the beer is there because it is supposed to be there. If you knew anything about beer you would understand that. If there is additional height, or the glass isn’t filled up more simply, it’s because the glass is actually bigger than a standard pour. If we were to fill it to the top we would be overselling, and thus making a loss. How about you stop being so cheap and accept that we are the people that are trained to provide you with that product and service, and that you are given a product in the way it is supposed to be given?

  25. “There’s nothing worse than to have a fantastic meal followed with a tres leches slice of cake and then a cup of watery swill mislabeled “coffee.” It isn’t rocket science — don’t serve Cameron’s or McGarvey and call it gourmet.”

    Obviously good coffee is important, agreed, but actually while not rocket science there really is an art to being a quality barista. Think you can do better? Step up to the plate. Much like every other misinformed statement here, unless you have worked in hospitality, you just wont understand. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a reality that you honestly have no idea all the things that are in play when you sit at the table. Can you carry 3 plates? Or 4? Can you open a wine bottle at the table professionally? Can you make good coffee? Can you construct cocktails? Can you cater to the demands of up to 30 people at any given time to ensure they are all happy?

    Hospitality workers are underpaid, overworked, and put up with far more than you understand. And really, i don’t think it’s fair to judge if you have never worked within hospitality, because you just haven’t got any idea, even when you’ll say you do. People continue to be blissfully ignorant and think that they are the only ones that exist in the world when really, there is an entire restaurant or bar of people thinking exactly the same thing. And you know what slows us down, all the things you do as customers. Continuously hassling us about your position on the waitlist while we are doing so many other things, just do what your told. Relax in the bar and we’ll come get you as soon as we are ready. The more you hassle us, the longer our job takes and the more miserable you make yourself. Of which you only blame us anyway.

  26. okay this is stupid….I know everyone likes to get their food on time but coming from someone who has worked as a server and a cook, that cannot always happen. Especially when customers request all kinds of special orders. Or if there is an error in the kitchen and your dish is messed up and then the server happens to notice it when he is trying to deliver your food. Does everyone really want all of their food sitting under a heat lamp until the one person’s dish is fixed. I’m sorry but everyone is human and not everything can be totally perfect. Sorry, but the whole wave delivery thing is never planned. On the other hand some restaurants are just incompetent and that is how they roll.

  27. hell hath no fury like waitress rage.

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