in Your Own Juices
A host of angry readers discuss
their pet peeves with the restaurant industry
My father approaches restaurant
meals as a challenge. I won’t say he goes in with a chip on
his shoulder, because he enjoys the ceremony of dining out,
but it’s his wont to prepare early for the Two Major Sins.
First: Receiving a salad with leaves so large he has to take
a knife to it. Second, and most dreaded: Waiting overlong
for the check.
As a teenager, I took this to be more evidence of grown-up
fussiness; now I share this fussiness. I haven’t had to wrestle
a salad in recent memory, but if I could recover all the time
I’ve spent waiting for a check to be delivered, it probably
could be counted in weeks.
Whenever I reveal my line of work, I’m asked to identify my
favorite restaurant. Then I’m usually regaled with some tale
of horror enacted during a recent evening out. So, when I
asked a few weeks ago what your particular peeves were, I
expected a deluge of responses.
This wasn’t the case. What I did get, both as e-mail and in
person, was a fairly consistent cross-section. Nobody is out
there complaining about food, which is fascinating. I would
think the sins of the many kitchens out there would attract
criticism, but it’s the service that ticks you off the most.
One problem close to my heart was well stated by a correspondent,
who dislikes “servers who insist on giving you back dirty
flatware, usually forks. Implicit message: We’re too damn
lazy (or cheap) to get you a new one.” Should you get a new
fork with each course? With the possible exception of diners,
I think so. It looks good, food is more appetizing that way
and it gives the server a chance to pay a little extra attention
to your table.
Making it less tempting for servers to hang out with one another,
as another reader griped, should be a priority: “I don’t want
my waiter to be devoting his energy to trying to impress/pick
up the waitresses at the expense of doing his job. If I am
trying to get a waiter’s attention and I see him flirting
in another area of the room and not doing his job, I have
a fit! And rightfully so!”
Slow service probably was the most oft-repeated complaint.
It’s so bad at one area restaurant, writes J.F., that “it’s
almost as if they purposely ignore you there. Getting a glass
of water (or the beverage you ordered from the menu) is often
a challenge. You can expect your appetizer to arrive after
your main course. Your bill generally arrives 45 minutes after
you finish eating.”
A litany of service-related problems were spelled out by S.K.,
who griped, “Salads and appetizers that take too long to arrive.
Then the main course gets piled on top. . . . A salad should
appear within five minutes, an app should take 10-15 mins.
Soup should come right away.” I think he speaks for us all
in lamenting “waitpersons who don’t check back after serving
the main course to see if all is OK. If something isn’t right,
you want to get it back to the kitchen quickly.”
And he added one I can’t recall experiencing: “Not being told
about the specials. Halfway through a meal, I will hear a
waitperson reciting specials at the table next to me that
I never heard about. This infuriates me.”
Then there are busboy problems, as M.K. notes with obvious
passion: “Keep my damn water glass full! Sometimes it is not
refilled for the entire meal; this is just negligent!” He’s
also exercised about “Rolls and bread that are served at room
temperature or colder. Butter that is served very cold or
frozen and is virtually unusable! I can eat at home and get
that by opening the refrigerator; give me a reason to want
to come back!”
Let me add my own gripe about wrapped butter patties. They’re
inconvenient to use and a waste of packaging. The better alternatives
require a little work, but will save money in the long run.
J.T. noted an instance of what he termed bait-and-switch at
a local place that promised (through dining-room table tents)
a happy-hour special price on wine. After enjoying a few glasses
of same, he was dismayed to get a bill for much more than
he expected to spend. The discount, the waitress said, was
only for the bar area. “They begrudgingly gave it to us at
the discounted price, but why put it on the tables if it doesn’t
Physical comfort is an issue. I fielded complaints about restaurants
that are overchilled. “Not only am I uncomfortable, but food
gets cold quicker,” notes one.
Nobody seconded my mighty peeve about restaurants that dispatch
servers to clean tabletops with chemical-laden cleaners, the
mists of which always seem to gather between my food and my
mouth so I get a little ammonia with my meal.
Cigarette smoke came under the gun, with accompanying cheers
for the new smoke-free-restaurants law.
But the all-time top complaint, expressed eloquently by M.B.,
was about server introductions. “I don’t need to know my server’s
name. And when you get that, ‘Hi, my name is So-and-So and
I’ll be your waiter,’ the subtext is, ‘You clearly don’t know
how to dine out in a restaurant, so I’ll tell you.’ ”
The message to restaurateurs may be simply this: You can serve
us anything, so long as you serve it attentively and without
pretense. But I’ll open the discussion up to the food-service
professionals. If you’d like to weigh in on the customers,
send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.