The 10 Biggest Gripes of a Restaurant Writer

Here are my 10 Commandments of Restaurant Service. Behold!

My irritation reached a tipping point the other night when I watched four people pull out their cell phones to read the menus inside a ridiculously dark restaurant. Not only that, but the seats put a huge dent in my dining partner’s lower back, the bread was extra and the only soft drinks they had were bitter Italian sodas that came with a smirk. Throughout the meal, I just felt unhappy, and I probably won’t be back even though the food was wonderful.

Conversely, I recently had the magical experience of a Toto toilet at a Japanese restaurant. Suffice to say it refreshed me in multiple ways, and made my dining experience a joy. I will go back, perhaps just to use the toilet.

Having gone to hundreds of local restaurants, I’ve experienced the good, the bad and the really awful, and realized that when it comes to making customers happy, there are a handful of niceties that can make even mediocre food seem luxurious, and conversely, ruin a wonderful meal.

I’ve broken them down into my own Ten Commandments of Restaurant Service:

I. There Shall Be Light: I’m all for romantic lighting in restaurants, but using a flickering candle the size of a quarter to read my menu is infuriating. Not to mention dangerous, because I’ve set several on fire using this method. Restaurants seem to be getting darker and darker at night, making it not only difficult to see my menu, but nearly impossible to see the food itself. Tea lights are not “lighting”, and my dining partners will appreciate a few more lumens in order to avoid the temporary blindness of my cellphone flash in their eyes.

II. Thy Music Shall Not Make Ears Bleed: get that you’re really into Death Metal right now, but please don’t make me listen to it while I’m eating. I seriously long for the old days of elevator music when I’m in Chipotle having my ears accosted and I have to scream at the person next to me to pass the Tapatio. I totally get that you need to turn over the tables quickly, but making my ears bleed isn’t going to make me eat any faster. They make ambient music for a reason.

III. Thou Shall Not Judge: There’s a whole theory that ugly people, single women and families get seated at the back of the restaurant, while groups of attractive people are seated in the front. Look around next time you’re at a nice restaurant and tell me it isn’t true. So when I’m in an empty restaurant, dining alone, and I get seated next to the restrooms, its hard not to feel a little uncomfortable. I’m more likely to bring my friends and family to a place where I was treated politely, rather than stuffed in the back room. Just keep that in mind.

IV. Save Not Thy Dirty Menus, Make Them Readable: Recycling is terrific, but I really don’t want to see a bunch of greasy fingerprints on my menu from the last guy who used it. Not. Appetizing. I can also tell how long a restaurant will last based on their menu design. If the owner has spent the time and energy to not only use a readable font, but organize the dishes into sections that make sense and run spell check, chances are they’ve done the legwork on the food, too. A janky menu spells disaster from the start. Keep it simple, and use a simple, readable font in type readable by people over the age of 40. If I have to haul out my readers and a flashlight, I’m already irritated.

V. Speak Not Menu Falsities: The first sign of a bad waiter is when they say everything is good on the menu. Everything is NOT good on the menu and I’m guessing the waiter is a pretty good person to get the inside scoop from. If I’m asking for your opinion, chances are I’d actually like to know what you’d eat here, and if there’s something I should really try. Chances are you’ll even get me to order the special of the day if you explain it nicely and tell me how delicious it is. No need to lie, just give me a little heads up, and I’ll probably give you a nicer tip. Conversely, if I don’t ask for your opinion, feel free to keep it to yourself.

VI. Thy Bread Shall Be Free: I’m glad your bread is homemade and artisan and all that. Please bring me some, because I’m hungry. Plus, it will keep my blood sugar high enough not to start crying when you forget to put in my appetizer order.

VII. Thou Shalt Not Ignore Me: Okay hostess lady, I get that you’re busy, but just a nod and a smile to let me know I exist. It calms my existential angst.

VIII. Thy Seats Shall Be Comfortable: Restaurant seating should not do the following: Bruise my lower back, wobble, take two people to move, require moving several pillows, feel like a church pew, make my posterior feel enormous, or leave indents on my rear end. When I need a shoehorn to get into your elfin-sized chairs, they’re too small. When I have to sit on my feet to reach the table (and I’m tall), they’re out of proportion. Function is far more important than form when you’re sitting for an hour or more. There is a special circle in hell for restaurateurs who force us to sit in torturous seats.

IX. Thou Shalt Bear Witness to Clean Bathrooms:  A pretty, nice-smelling bathroom is such a joy. I’m not saying you have to have one of those Japanese numbers with a heated seat and dryer (although there’s one that made my night at Hana Japanese, 101 Golf Course Dr., Rohnert Park). Just a few extra rolls of TP, a clean floor, some nice hand soap and a place to hang my purse. I’m eating here, and making me gag at your restaurant cleanliness doesn’t inspire confidence.

X. Thy Drinks Should Be Plentiful: For the most part, I drink water and diet soda with my meals rather than alcohol. Mostly because am working and I need a boost of caffeine rather than getting drunk. But there seems to be a new snobbiness about colas, which I hate, because its ironic. No, I don’t want some silly sugary artisan cola with cane sugar that costs $5 and has no caffeine. You’re also not my mom, and I don’t need a lecture on the evils of diet soda, of which I prefer Diet Pepsi. I am totally serious about this, and  I recently had a wonderful waiter offer to go to the grocery next door and buy me a can because she thought the restaurant policy was silly. She got a 35% tip for that.

What’s your major restaurant gripe?