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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?

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Comments

90 thoughts on “The 10 Biggest Gripes of a Restaurant Writer

  1. My husband and I eat out rather frequently. We do this often in Sonoma County and have dined out all over the world. We are also good cooks.
    Please us by having clean restrooms, easy to decipher menus, specials that are announced clearly with prices and comfortable chairs. I am a good tipper and also spread the word re good restaurants to friends. Disappoint me once and I will possibly return for another try. Twice burned and I will never again eat at that place!
    I find many restaurants simply don’t get it-offering skimpy,expensive portions, lackluster service and indifferent surroundings. I will be happy with minimum decor, cleanliness and a pleasant atmosphere-plus of course tasty food!

  2. Great list Heather!

    As for the menu lies, diners should be able safely assume that the kitchen has the ingredients necessary to prepare the items as listed on the menu; and the waiter should either take off menu items that are no longer available or warn the customers.

    And, this is picky, and the trolls will drool on who gets to bite me first, but is there any front of the house staff that will actually take diners to the best available seat? It seems that you either get offered the most convenient seat, for that server, or they just tell you to choose yourself.

  3. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the new architecture. Concrete floors, hard walls, and hard ceilings. At middle age, I still have exceptional hearing, and in these nouveau restaurants I cannot have a conversation with my wife. Possibly, because my hearing is so good, it creates a problem. But if I can’t have a conversation, I don’t care how good your food is, I’m not coming to your restaurant. Sorry, and I might be missing out on some good food. But I’m sure it’s no better than I can create myself at home. And a bottle of Paul Hobbs wine at home goes a long ways!!

  4. Falsify not thy “wild mushrooms” – crimini, portobello, enoki, maitake etc are not wild. Tasty, healthy, but not wild.

  5. My gripe is how I am treated on the occasions that I dine alone.

    At the hostess’ podium, I am either ignored or treated as if I am an intruder. When they finally acknowledge me, I am coldly greeted with “Just you tonight?” or some similar reminder that I am dining alone. When I am seated, the table tends to be in the furthest back corner of the restaurant – either next to the kitchen or bathroom.

    The service I have received when dining alone tends to be indifferent at best. Servers seems to be in a hurry to hustle me out the door since I am taking up a table that can occupied by a larger (and more lucrative in terms of tip) party. I am not a demanding diner and will often know what I want to order before I am seated. I don’t want the server to have to make multiple trips to my table to see if I am ready to order. By the same token, I often have the bill given to me before I have asked for it. I fully realize that a server will make more in tips with a larger party, but I do tip well for good service (25% or more). If there are empty tables in the house, I’m not tying up a table that could seat 2 or more diners.

    Bottom line: A little courtesy to solo diners can go a long way.

  6. My pet peeve is the short pour. The norm now seems to be that “a glass of wine” will be at least $10.00. What’s really galling is when the $10 of wine is poured into an oversized glass and you know it nowhere near approaches 6 oz. Or, both you and a dining companion each order a glass of different wine, and one is significantly more generous than the other. This actually happened to me and when I complained, the waiter took it back and returned with what appeared to be a no more generous amount. I am guessing I got what was left in the bottle. If you are being fair, a bottle should deliver approximately 4 servings of wine. On menus where the bottle price is slightly less than you would pay for four glasses of wine, I will always buy the bottle and take home the leftover in order to avoid being ripped off by the short pour.

  7. As a food writer you are supposed to be leading us to innovative, delicious, healthy, local food. Right? We are inundated with the opposite of that in this country (yes, even in SoCo). Salty, sugary, fat-ladened, corporate foods are pushed on us at every turn.

    Why in the world then, would a “food writer” insist on being served a diet pepsi with your meal? Are you kidding me? And at the same time mocking a restaurant that might try to provide you with an interesting, tastier (and healthier) house-made alternative?

    If you’re really afraid that a single glass of good (local) red wine is going to get you “drunk,” then ask for a quality tea or coffee with your meal if a caffeine “bump” is what you’re after.

    You may be a nice person Heather but you have lost your way as a food writer.

    To castigate a restaurant (and under-tip a server) because they don’t want to offer a corporate, overly sweet, artificial-tasting beverage is just astounding coming from someone who is supposed to have a reasonably developed palate and an authentic curiosity about food and drink (read: a food writer).

    Diet Pepsi may be the perfect symbol for everything that is wrong with our food system in this country. Way to go Heather!

    1. Hold up, you got some facts wrong.

      The alternatives weren’t house-made or healthier. I almost always order something that is creatively crafted and unique to a restaurant. And I’m not castigating anyone who doesn’t deserve it. Although I do see the point of the chef who says it clashes with his menu. That’s fair. I also admit it is plebeian of me to want it. I just don’t appreciate the sneer that comes with my request. I simply want a fizzy, non-sugary drink that I can get refilled and it tastes good. That’s almost impossible to find. Usually they are sickly sweet, there is about an ounce of liquid to a pound of ice and they’re very expensive. i’ll order one of those, but I have a powerful thirst, people. I’m trying to start drinking seltzer, but it doesn’t inspire.

      My drink choices have nothing to do with my palate. Frankly, I find the argument of drinking a tannic wine with food incorrect, and I do not have a budget for alcohol in my food writing. I love pairing wine with food when I’m just having a meal on my own. But the alcohol in wine dulls my palate. As do coffee and tea. That’s a red herring.

      I would NEVER undertip for not having soda. I never said that. I overtipped for someone willing to assist me with a desire (regardless of their opinion of me).

      I don’t know if Diet Pepsi is a symbol for everything that is wrong with our food system, but yeah, it’s pretty not great. I admit that. It’s just a gripe I have. And this is my list of gripes. 🙂

  8. Hey everyone! I’d like your to meet my friends, supply and demand. Just because you have a demand, does not mean I need to supply it.

    1. Perhaps you should get reacquainted with your friends; you don’t seem to understand how they actually work in a first world capitalist business world.

  9. I agreed with many of the items listed. I have eaten at a well known restaurant at the Barlow where my date had a difficult time in his medal seat. (he is not svelte nor is he large) but he thought he may need a shoe horn. By the end of the dinner he was very uncomfortable. We watched as an older couple brought pillows with them for their seats. Hello management did you not see this. Other customers did. Frankly the place was loud with concrete floors and high ceilings. I have not been back. The eating establishments need to remember a comfortable client is a happy person. That also applies to temperature and music in their restaurants. The old adage is bad reviews will garnish 20 comments, good comments only 5 to friends and family. Lets not forget Yelp. I am not hard to please and I tip beyond 20 percent when service, food and atmosphere is good. Will I pay for artisan bread, probably not but will never notice if your prices have increased across the board. I agree there are good customers and bad. That also applies to servers, restaurants and food.

  10. My pet peeve is individuals with smart/dumb phones yakking on them while eating and in a loud manner so that all can hear!

    Please restaurants, make it a requirement to turn off all phones, on to either vibrate or off all together. And NO accepting of any calls unless it’s an emergency!

  11. My tiny beef is not being able to get a refill of water or iced tea without a long wait. My tantrum beef is the presence of cilantro when I’ve requested a cilantro-free meal.

  12. My gripe is about reservations. I recently made a 7:00 pm reservation at a nice restaurant. I arrived on time and had to wait 35 minutes for a table. I wasn’t picky about where they would seat me and there were empty tables. The hostess told me they were “reserved” for others.

    Apparently my “reservation” wasn’t good enough to be seated in a timely manner.

    1. He guess, what? It’s not the 19th century anymore and nods to “decorum” (such as serving women first) is as outdated as a hoop skirt.

        1. Manners? Are these the same manners that dictate that women should be seen, but not heard? Because they are from the same era. Please give me a logical reason why women should be served first? Should the check be delivered to the man, because those are “proper” manners? Manners evolve over time. Do you have formal wear for dining (including the proper white AND black variations)? Should women be required to wear white gloves? Probably not. At one time, it would have the height of rudeness not to dress accordingly, but times change and with them the standards of etiquette. I would argue that it actually much more polite to not single women out. They are not delicate flowers that can wilt at the slightest offense. Women are equals are should be treated as such. What you call “manners” is archaic and insulting to 50$+ of the population.

      1. Former Server, snark much? You appear to have quite a bit to spit off about……

        “Just because you have a demand, does not mean I need to supply it.”

        I’ll keep this short, your id is quite appropriate, I for one am thankful you no longer serve the public; most likely you didn’t fare too well in the tip department with that attitude.

        1. Let me be clear: you do not own the restaurant, therefore you do not get to decide how it should be run. You DO get to decide if you will eat there. Thus, if you do not like it, do not eat there. If enough people feel the same way, the restaurant will fail. That’s the way the world works. Call it snark if you want, I call it supply and demand.

          And FYI, 20%+ in my career.

  13. So dumb, elitist, and snobby. Does anyone with any food service experience expect a server (even in an upscale place) who is likely making minimum wage plus tips to tell a patron some the specials aren’t good? Grow up.
    Lived in Stockton years ago and some of the meals I have had were in family owned Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and burger places in the south Stockton. I doubt the writer would feel comfortable there.
    In fact some of the best Mexican food in Santa Rosa is served by greasy mobile restaurants.
    Single women and large families don’t tip as well as well dressed couples.
    What restaurant critic drinks a sweet sugar filled soda with a meal? Compare their wines and beers with the food, or just drink water.
    And how ridiculous to endorse a restaurant because of it’s restrooms. Sorry to enlighten but you’re still using a public toilet.

    1. Robert, the world is ugly enough. Why add to that? I have had some great greasy meals, mobile and immovable, with Heather. Heather is not dumb. Heather is not elitist. Heather is not snobby. Heather is a nice person. Be like Heather.

    2. Yeah, you don’t know me very well. I spend a lot of time eating and writing about places where a sticky tablecloth and plastic utensils are absolutely ok. Maybe I wasn’t clear that this was really about white-tablecloth service.

      What does minimum wage have to do with the specials? I didn’t say tell me something isn’t good. I said, tell me what’s good, because everything isn’t.

      Also, you didn’t read well. I don’t drink sugar-filled soda. That’s part of the gripe. My budget also doesn’t pay for wine/beer. It pays for non-alcoholic drinks. Tea and coffee dull my palate.

      And you clearly don’t know the adage about bathrooms and kitchens. Basic cleanliness says a lot.

      Put on your glasses when you read. It’s all in the details.

    3. Only one dumb, elitist and snobby person in this convo Robert. Go back, reread what you wrote, then look in the mirror. No place for your amount of anger.

  14. Being in Sonoma County all my life-I EXPECT better and usually disappointed outside my comfort zone. My major gripe are servers that are overly happy and joyful. This tends to happen at more “tourist” type restaurants or places that seem to always be empty (but, hey, I’ll give them a sniff).

    To Add-
    Be clear on your happy hour drinks and specials! I was at an eatery on Barnes Rd (I wont name the place-but you can figure it out) Our second half Rotarian group(we had 16) arrived at least 30min before the end and the waiter still charged us full price! When we inquired about the confusion-he stated, “Oh I’am sorry-I cant find my manager at the moment and it will be awhile”
    “I don’t have the authority to change the screen” The look on my presidents face meant we wouldn’t be having a social here anytime soon. This tends to happen at top tier restaurants on a slower night.

    MEDIUM RARE MEANS MEDIUM RARE-thanks!! Any top restaurant that can’t get this right should take a break.

    I disagree on the bread Heather (respectively)-if the establishment lists an extensive note on the menu or the server lets my party know how special it is..I’ll try it once. Fool me once (if its not that great, just wont order it) and tell others not to either.

    And last- Don’t over word complex ingredients or phrases that have NOTHING to do with a dish.

    Adding yellow/red peppers to a topping or side is LAZY…give me a great sauce or new flavor please. Many restaurants try to be something they are not. Agree-simple is best and the hardest to accomplish.

    on drinks- please add Ginger Beer to your menus-refreshing during the Summer and has a fantastic bite with most dishes.

    OK. Soapbox over.

  15. Thanks, Heather! You were spot on. As a senior citizen who has enjoyed about a thousand meals dining out in the US and abroad, it’s SO refreshing when you go someplace that gets it right. Pet peeves: dirty spaces, frowning faces, LOUD music of any type (particularly with banging drums involved), and servers who want to chat about their great aunt Tildee Jo. Just feed me something decent, be nice to me and care enough to wipe down sticky / clean up stinky places. I’ll tip you nicely and also come back!

  16. I am very put off when a person uses “no problem” in lieu of “you’re welcome” in response to my “thank you.” As a customer, I feel the focus should be on my experience. “No problem” only tells me that the restaurant employee is not overly burdened by seating me, filling my water, handing a cup of coffee or taking my money. I hope not! It’s their job! It does not reflect pride in their work or appreciation for my business. Big ding on the tip for that one.

    Also, when they take my money and say, “do you need change?” This recent happened when I used a $100 to pay a $40 tab. Just bring the change. If I mean for you to keep it, I will tell you or leave it on the table.

    How about the auction when the plates are delivered to the table? “Did you have the shrimp?” Not yet but I am praying you will check you order book so I soon can. Or, worse, “Are you the shrimp?”

    And I agree with the person who does not like to be asked if they are working on their food. That is the job of the kitchen staff.

    The flip side? I feel appreciation for the many service people who do a demanding job with grace and courtesy.

      1. Don’t bother. I am agreeable and a big tipper ( min20%) when they get it right, which is most of the time. I spent ten years as a server. Just some freaking manners go a long way.

      1. I know right!? Just reading that it’s clear there is ALWAYS an exception to the saying “The customer is always right.” Sometimes the customer is clearly a d-bag.

    1. I agree with the no problem reply. I didn’t ask if I was a problem. I said thank you which means a you’re welcome should follow. I was a server for many years. Others wondered why I walked with so many tips at the end of shift. It’s because I was attentive, listened and served as I would want to be. It’s not rocket science.

      1. I miss servers like you Anne-a great listener, just enough attention to your topper-and a smile

        THIS IS GETTING
        RARER and
        RARER
        non existent IMHO

        My guess now is you have a great job in Sonoma County teaching others it’s not rocket science 🙂

      2. So Anne do you take everything people say at its most literal meaning??? Are you annoyed and irritated at the people who serve you if they tell you “good night” when you leave because you had no intention of going to sleep just yet???

  17. If votive candles are the only lighting you have to wonder what they’re hiding. Ick

    Sticky menus, sticky tables, crumbs on the chairs, wobbly chairs/tables…make it stop.

    We’re in a drought so I get why water isn’t automatically supplied. But don’t make me ask for it. Please offer water when you seat your customers.

    Being ignored when you walk in the door. I understand if you’re not able to immediately attend to me, but please acknowledge my existence.

    I understand charging for well-made, artisan bread. But if that’s the case please find an alternative option for your customers to nosh on while waiting for their order.

  18. A) I fully agree that the server should ask if they can take your plate rather than “Are you still working on that?” My first boss used to get so mad if any of us said that in his cafe. It’s a plate of food- not a construction site!

    B) If the bread can’t be free please find another way to offer a pre-nosh nibble.

    C) If the diner wants Diet Coke let’em have it! It’s their body..

    D) Trolls go away! This conversation is for intelligent people and does not concern you.

  19. You hit all points head on. number xl. When I come in a place of eatery please stop your conversation of personal business to your colleague and acknowledge my presence and greet me. Retired from the biz I get the fact that there is free time but your there to work when a customer steps through the door. Also what happened to the side vision rule of staff when a customer is looking at you dead on to get your attention? We know that you can see what is going on, if you can’t maybe you should get a desk job.

  20. Loud music of any kind. Inappropriate music. For example rock music in a Japanese restaurant, or heavy metal in a French Bistro. I could name names.

    Touching the customer. Being overly friendly. I’m not your best friend, I am your client, and expect professional behavior.

    Asking if the food is ‘great’ and the like. “Is everything alright” is more to the point. If the food isn’t “great” I will tell them no, and there is always a shock on the server’s face.

    Disappearing servers. I expect prompt service without it being in your face. If the server thinks the diner wants to linger, let them ask first. At the end of the meal, be attentive. There is nothing more annoying (aside from loud music or poor food) than having to sit and wait for a server to attend to the check. Many tips have been lost by servers keeping me bored and waiting for the bill.

    Hearing “I love this dish” from a server is truly irrelevant. A better thing would be an accurate description of what is in the dish and how it is prepared.

    Did I mention loud and inappropriate music?

    1. I could not agree with you, and others who mentioned loud music, more!! I hope more restaurants read through these comments and make a change to lower the volume on their music, I came to enjoy dinner and conversation with friends. If I want loud music, I’ll go to the bar, not talk, and dance!

  21. As a passionate diner who spent 20 years living in big cities and wine country, traveling the globe for work, eating out far more nights of my adult life than eating in, I agree with all but two of your points…

    As a new, first-time restaurateur focusing on local, organic, New American cuisine, I disagree with your ‘diet coke defense’. To satisfy the people who grew up on Folgers coffee, should I put it on the menu right next to the perfectly balanced, locally-roasted offering? Should we change out our house-crafted iced teas, infused with local winter citrus, to serve Liptons? Should I add margarine as a choice alongside our house-made butter? Diet Coke would be as out-of-place in my restaurant as a Twinkie on the dessert menu.

    And to your point about bread…Being snarky about restaurants that make their own bread exposes a hole in your restaurant acumen. We make our own bread, with organic flour that costs us $50 a bag, with a proofing process that takes our head chef two hours a day, with a refrigerator dedicated to the proofing that cost us $3K to buy and about $50 a month in electricity and maintenance to run, in a wood-fired oven that can only take 4 loaves of bread at a time. So yeah, we charge for bread because it’s expensive to make and really, really friggin’ good. We aren’t the Olive Garden.

    The days of “the customer (or critic) is always right” are coming to an end at quality restaurants. The new mantra is “we wouldn’t exist without your patronage, but understand what we are trying to do here and come along for the ride”. On 8 of 10 points in your article your requests are reasonable, however, on the aforementioned two points, at our kind of restaurant, they are not.

    My recommendation to you as a critic? Don’t stop complaining; it’s essential to improvement – Lord knows I haven’t stopped just because I’m now in the restaurant business – but seek to understand…Sit down with the GM’s at different kinds of restaurants to get a better understanding of their economics and why they do the things they do. Most would love to talk with you, and I think your articles and your readers would be the better for it.

    1. “we wouldn’t exist without your patronage, but understand what we are trying to do here and come along for the ride”

      Recipe for disaster

      1. I can think of at least 50 Bay Area restaurants that operate successfully under this mantra, so please explain your reasoning in a little more detail.

    2. Agree about the sodas. No obligation for a restaurant to have cooler stocked like a 7-11. But charging for bread? No. I don’t care how good it is or if you had to import a team of French peasants to make it. Raise the prices on other items to cover your costs. It’s a win-win. You avoid customers being upset and you don’t lose money.

      1. And I would add we’ve never had a negative online review or an in-person customer complaint about it. Primarily because of the kind of food we serve people aren’t expecting free bread or bread as a starter.

        1. Point taken. Your restaurant, your rules. And overall I do agree with your approach, beginning with sticking to your guns. Do what you perceive to be the best approach and let the market decide. Dining out is not a right. You vote for a restaurant with your pocketbook. Don’t like it? Eat somewhere else that does have unlimited refills of your favorite diet soda.

      1. Who cares? Value and cost are not the same. And how do you think they pay rent, wages, taxes, etc.? By selling at cost? Too rich for your blood? Don’t eat there. A restaurant (really ANY business) has the right to run it any way they see fit. They have NO obligation to cater to your whims. Is that good business? Let the market decide. No one is putting a gun to your head and forcing you to go to a restaurant.

    3. Sounds as if you get bent out of shape if a customer adds salt or pepper to their food, or asks for ketchup or mustard.

      “To satisfy the people who grew up on Folgers coffee, should I put it on the menu right next to the perfectly balanced, locally-roasted offering? ”

      If you are charging $5/cup, no refills, damned straight. What to you is “perfectly balance” coffee may be an insipid colored water to someone else.

      1. You really misunderstood basic economics (at least supply and demand). Don’t like paying $5 for a cup of coffee? Don’t go there. If there is no demand, there will be no supply.

    4. So Matt, I find it interesting that you are so vocal and critical, but basically doing so anonymously. Why is that? You are a newbie in the industry and clearly don’t have a strong handle on cost-effectiveness. Maybe because you don’t need to care. Probably a 2nd career for you no doubt. And you’re not hungry, perhaps? I mean spending $3,000. on a fridge that isn’t a multi-tasker? Just proofing? Seriously? And costs $50 monthly to use it? Yikes. And your Chef is friggin SLOW. 2 hours slow. Can he not be prepping during those proofing hours? And why would you buy an oven that small? Our wood oven takes 4-6 loaves and it’s in our residential backyard. You made some poor business choices that slammed your costs, so you think that justifies charging (probably too much) for your unequaled artisan bread. I can only imagine the surcharges imposed on your entrees and salads because of extra ‘chilling and oven time’ prerequisites.
      So, I only have 2 questions for you. This will illustrate both your business acumen AND your pride.
      HOW MUCH (been asked already) DO YOU CHARGE FOR THE HEAVENLY SUPERIOR BREAD?
      WHAT’S THE NAME OF YOUR RESTAURANT AND WHERE IS IT?

      …let’s see if Matt (real name?) answers, Heather. 🙂 I’m gonna vote he doesn’t. But I’m thinking it might be in Forestville. Just a guess though.
      Have a Coke (diet Pepsi please) and a SMILE.

      1. $4 for the bread and house-cultured butter. As far as the rest of your reply well…why would I give you the name of my restaurant? In a world where yelp exists, and someone like you can write an ignorant, assumptive rant, such as the one above, then attach a one-star review to it with impunity, why would I do that? How can I as a restaurateur provide my opinion without some level of anonymity as a safety net? You surely think you know more than me, with your backyard oven and back-of-the-napkin cost analysis. How would I stop you from taking that out on me on a forum, like yelp, potentially ruining my livelihood, my partners, the people that work for me? What did I really do wrong? Provide my opinion in the same snarky “us vs them” tone in which the article was written? How horrible of me!

        When restaurants and restaurateurs can share an opinion (as I tried to do by giving one restaurateurs view to the conversation) about customers and critics without repercussions from people like you, I’m all in. Till then I’ll hide behind “matt” just as people like you hide behind yelp, travel advisor, and this website.

  22. In many areas, there is increasing interest in quiet dining. The Bay area is about a decade behind. As a good (bad) example, check out the corrugated metal ceiling in Healdsburg’s Cafe Lucia. The deafening vibe is unpleasant and probably bad for your health.

      1. Tell them you don’t like the music and if they don’t respond to your liking, go somewhere else. One of my favorite beer joints in Oakland and BLASTS death metal, which is not my thing. But what I appreciate is someone saying in effect “This is MY place and this is what I want to present to the world. You are not obligated to stay.” It’s called personality. I assume you have one, too. Are you deferential to every person who comes up to you and tells you what they don’t like about YOU? Probably not. Same goes for restaurants.

  23. I think your next column should have the view of the server / restaurant / kitchen for their top irritants, Customers don’t always behave appropriate,

  24. I call it row/bench seating where all the tables are in a row separated by a small space from each other. One side of the table has a chair while the other side shares a common bench encompassing the length of the dining area. There’s no privacy, you can hear other table’s conversations as well as they can hear mine. This also makes for a loud dining environment as people try to shout over each other to be heard by their dining companion. For me, individual tables separated by a comfortable amount of space makes it a more pleasurable dining experience.

    On the subject of noise level. Restaurants having hard reflective surfaces with no sound dampening treatment are a negative for me. The food might be great but dealing with a roar of conversations going on is not enjoyable. To dine in such establishments, I find getting there just as they open before the crowds come is best or having a meal close to closing when the diners thin out works.

  25. Would love to know WHERE to experience the Toto toilet…
    Where I go, lighting hasn’t been an issue…
    But music is…Generally, music is BLACK NOISE, not pleasant white noise…
    I haven’t paid attention to where people sit, but will now…
    Yes, dirty menues are disgusting…
    Chairs, booths can be uncomfortable…is it that hard to tell the difference???
    Who really likes dirty bathrooms??? Don’t get me started on grocery store bathrooms…
    Water carafes are cool…
    Thanks

      1. Oh, yeah! We were there recently and my son was commenting on that, but I never got around to visiting. BTW they have recently done a major expansion and it looks great. The food is as awesome as always.

  26. A couple of additions/expansions if I may.

    XI. Servers who recite the daily specials in great detail without the most important items: the price. Are they embarrassed for themselves, the restaurant, or afraid they will spoil the mood? Please give me enough information to make an informed decision.

    IIa. Overall sound level (sans music) at absolutely ear splitting levels. The industrial chic look in restaurant design (no tablecloths, concrete floors, brick walls, exposed pipes) does have its drawbacks. Or are people actually speaking in a tone of voice that is more loud—and more loud–and more loud?

    II. (Expanded) Ate at a well-regarded Glen Ellen place this week. Food was good, but it seemed like they kept the same music channel and sound level as when they were doing the day’s prep work; i.e., R&B/funk featuring War, James Brown, Ray Charles. Good artists, all, but would not consider the genre dinner music, no matter how hip the place.

  27. The one that sticks out for me is when the starters and entrees come at the same time…even when you specifically tell them, based on your last time there, to please bring the entrees after the starters are finished! It is such a nice place to dine for lunch al fresco, but this one irritation multiple times over makes me never want to go back.

  28. I have two that really bother me:
    Ignoring me when I arrive or refusing to make any eye contact when you walk by my table, because you’re afraid I might ask for something.
    My biggest pet peeve is when all the entrees don’t come at the same time! I HATE sitting with my rare steak in front of me, waiting for my friend’s pan fried chicken to arrive…

  29. Thanks Heather-my biggest gripe is being ignored or waiting too long for anyone to come to the table after being seated-that simple nod or hurried quip goes a long way to making me feel comfortable and welcome. Just this afternoon I grabbed a coffee and they were out of half and half. Trying to get the barista’s attention or anyone there to look at me so I wouldn’t just yell hey you’re out of half and half and I need some now. Great work. May we all visit restaurants with super clean bathrooms!

  30. Love the list Heather, I am considering printing off your list and circling the offended commandments to leave along with my tip!

  31. I know this is pretty trivial (in all grand schemes) but there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way for servers to address diners during the course of any dining experience. I appreciate the removal of (obviously) completed/finito plates, (pushed slightly forward) on our table. But if I still have a portion of food (even 2 small bites of say an $18 appetizer) and my fork and knife are not across the plate, signaling that phase, then PLEASE do not ask “ARE YOU STILL WORKING ON THAT?” Oy. Gyod. I cannot tolerate that phrase. Servers should know that just doesn’t sound good. And seriously, I’ve had servers ask that annoying question whilst I had a fork resting in my hand. And talking to my dining companion. Or I am actually chewing. (My response is usually, “I’m not working, and yes, I’m still enjoying it”)
    If you must know if I am ready for the plate to be removed, how about “May I take your plate or are you still enjoying that”? And PLEASE don’t interrupt an obvious more-than-casual conversation to ask anything. Wait for a lull. It can truly be bad enough timing to sour the experience.
    Getting ready to remodel our bathroom, so thanks Heather for that very cool article (link) on the Toto toilet. 🙂 Pricey but wow!

    1. check out Spaloo- I am a Hana Toto fan myself, and spaloo is a very similar product about half the price! We installed two. Well worth it.

  32. On a cold, midweek night last December, 2 couples were celebrating our 41st wedding anniversarys at Cindy Pawclyn’s Kitchen in St. Helena. There was a private party upstairs and maybe 16 people downstairs. All of the diners were 50+ years old. The music was loud, head-banging metal. We asked our young server to find a different channel or turn it down. Twice. We left without considering dessert. We won’t be back.

  33. When I specify “Water, no ice,” don’t put frigging ice in the glass!! If you ignore this simple request, I figure you’ll ignore others…and me.

  34. I couldn’t agree more! I always carry a small flashlight, which is used more than I would like. As a vertically challenged person I really prefer to have my feet touch the ground so my upper leg doesn’t go to sleep! And as a diet coke person, I must order iced tea more than I would like and I cannot do caffeine after 3 PM so many times my only option is water. I must confess that I live with a Toto toilet at home and am extremely spoiled. Public rest stops are avoided if at all possible…..Great work Heather!

    1. Then perhaps you should keep your snarky opinion to yourself, you stay classy now!

      Heather, thanks for addressing the list of concerns that many of us face when dining out no matter how young we are!

    2. Perhaps you’ll die young then, and save the world from you as an old, bitter man. The young, bitter version is tedious enough.

      1. Heather-most of your article had great points!!

        -another thing to write on…the closing of so many family type simple food restaurants when we just are hungry and don’t need the pomp and circumstance. Farmers Ln.
        is a ghost town lately. Is sad (but I realize why) Legends at the golf course is getting way more business because of it (and the food is ooook.

        1. I don’t disagree that sometimes I just want an old-school diner experience, and that’s getting harder to find. Usually because the food is pretty low quality, and younger people just aren’t interested in that. What i do see a lot more of is “fast casual”, like chipotle or Persona, where its fast, relatively inexpensive and no pomp and circumstance.

          I think you’ll find that replacing the old diners. For better or worse.

          But yeah, on Sunday morning when I just want to read the paper after church and munch on eggs and toast that don’t have a pedigree (or wait in line for an hour), it can be a challenge.

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