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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.