Restaurant Pet Peeves
A great meal can provide a lifetime’s worth of memories. But too often, fantastic food and those memories-in-the-making get blemished by slips in service that are easy to avoid. Restaurant owners, managers and servers, if you want us to remember you fondly (and come back again with our money), here is my short list of restaurant pet peeves, aka mistakes to avoid at your restaurant or cafe:
Watch the water. Maybe it’s because I hang out with so many actors, but we drink a lot of water. It seems like such a simple thing, but every time you pass by our table, keep an eye on the level of the water glass. If it’s low, please fill it. We shouldn’t have to flag you down to fill an empty glass.
Hands off. I was at a Middle Eastern restaurant near downtown LA, and in trying to be helpful, the cashier/counter server, who had just been handling money, literally reached her fingers into a cup as she handed it to me. And I was then supposed to drink from that cup. Yuck. If you grab a glass, hold it from the bottom (of the outside, duh)–not where I’m going to put my mouth–and hold plates from the edges/underneath. There’s nothing like seeing your dish arrive at the table with your waiter’s thumb in the salad.
Clean plate rule. No, I’m not talking about people finishing their food. (Though giving me so much food that I couldn’t possibly finish it will no doubt show up in Restaurant Pet Peeves, Part 2 someday). But if you run a buffet, please make sure there’s signage guiding customers to take a clean plate each time they come up. It’s a health code violation pretty much everywhere if they don’t. For folks who wonder why it’s a big deal, picture this: a customer comes up with a dirty plate and helps himself to more. As he ladling out that new helping, there’s a pretty high probability that the service spoon will touch down, however briefly, on the dirty plate. Yuck.
Slow and steady wins the race. Unless I’ve told you that I’m in a hurry or “I’m so hungry I may eat your staff or the other diners if the food doesn’t come as fast as you can make it,” please don’t bring me my next course right after you clear my plate from the last one. And please for the love of all that’s holy, don’t bring me one course before I’ve even finished the one before it. One, I may want to breathe, and two, I can’t possibly enjoy everything at its optimal temperature or even be able to eat everything if it’s all there at the same time. This also extends to share plates: even if there are several of us, if you bring more than a couple at a time, something’s going to have to sit around and get cold while we work on the others. Remember, we’re at your restaurant to have a relaxing experience, and it’s not relaxing if we feel that you’re shoving us out the door.
We’re all in this together. Two diners are eating, but one has finished. You see that empty plate, and it’s so tempting to clear it. But don’t do it, no matter how much your OCD compels you. It’s no fun to be that one person left eating when everybody else’s place has been cleared–it makes you feel uncomfortable and pressured to finish quickly. If you aspire to anything approaching fine dining–or just to decent service–you clear when the table is finished.
If you screw up, own it. I understand that you’re not going to be perfect all the time, but it’s all about how you handle the bumps in the proverbial road. Example: I was eating at Talula’s Garden, one of Philadelphia’s best restaurants, with my parents. I ordered king salmon, and it was dry. I’m reluctant to send things back–I think most people are–but when our server came by to check on us, I mentioned that it seemed dry. She almost had to talk me into sending it back, but eventually she prevailed (mark of a good server; her primary concern was whether I was fully enjoying my dinner). Not long after, the manager was at our table apologizing; they’d looked at it, and it was definitely overcooked. They refired it (it came out beautifully this time, and they took it off the check as well), and since they didn’t want me to be sitting around hungry while my parents were eating, they brought a complimentary beet dish, which was a delicious tide-me-over. Talula’s bounced back and handled this rare misstep with class, and I know we’d all be happy to return there and recommend them.
Are these my only restaurant pet peeves? Of course not, but avoiding these will go a long way toward making the customer experience the kind that makes people want to tip well, come back and tell their friends how much they enjoyed dining with you.