Dear Restaurants: These Things Are Turnoffs

Our food critic, David Hagedorn, indulges in a bit of a rant.

The Service Game

By and large, I tend to receive excellent service in my dining adventures around the DMV, but there are annoyances, all of which could be fixed by better management. Allow me to catalog some of the misdemeanors most commonly committed by waitstaff:

Introducing themselves by name and telling me “I’ll be your server today.” I’m aware of their function. If I need something, I’ll catch their eye and politely say, “Excuse me.”

Asking if I’ve dined there before. If I have and they don’t recognize me, they are confirming that I’m forgettable. Fellow restaurant-goers, the answer to this question is always yes! Because if we say no, then we are about to get…

The Spiel. And The Spiel is to be avoided at all costs. We know how to read, right? If the menu is so complicated that it needs to be explained or translated, the owner or chef needs to rewrite it.

Validating or complimenting my order. I know what I ordered is a good choice. I just made it.

Auctioning off entrées tableside. To determine who ordered what. Servers need to learn guest position numbers and use them.

Using the royal We. As in, “How are we enjoying our meal?” Because one day I’m going to respond, “I’m enjoying my meal just fine. How are you enjoying yours?”

Accidentally pouring flat water into my sparkling water. Restaurateurs, here’s an idea: Use a different glass for sparkling water. Problem solved.

Leaving empty cocktail glasses on the table through dinner. Honestly, they just take up space. (Even more so if they are competing for real estate with 12 awkwardly overlapping small plates and an oversize menu or two.)
Throwing the kitchen under the bus. If the food is taking too long or if the order is wrong, don’t play the blame game. Get a manager involved.

Asking, “Are you still working on that?” If you are looking for a green light to clear dishes, the correct etiquette is to wait until everyone at the table has finished, then gesture toward my plate, look at me, and ask, “May I?”

Stacking plates when clearing the table. Just don’t. This isn’t a mess hall.

Bringing containers to the table for me to pack up my own leftovers. When did this bit of service become the diner’s responsibility?

Turning on the charm right before the bill comes. This, after being inattentive or less than pleasant all the way through the meal? I mean, c’mon.

The Devil’s in the Details

Little stuff really does matter. Even if the food is terrific, a lack of regard for the small things can kill a dining experience. Among my biggest pet peeves:

Fingerprints all over the front door. This is the diner’s very first impression of a place.

Cloudy water in flower vases. Especially in a giant arrangement at the host stand (a clear signal that other things might be off).

Brown-edged lemon or lime wedge garnishes.

Tables that aren’t set with salt and pepper.

Sour-smelling beer coolers and mats. This odor is instantly recognizable and off-putting to diners.

Dust. On light fixtures, shelves or displayed beer and liquor bottles. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Crumpled or smudged paper menus. These should be single-use items. Print more.

Poorly maintained bathrooms.Which brings me to…

Yes, the Bathrooms

Call me old-fashioned, but I long for the days when I could squeeze soap into my palm, turn a faucet on, wash my hands as long as I pleased, turn the water off and dry my hands on an actual piece of cloth.

Nowadays I find myself performing a Marcel Marceau mime routine in every automated restroom, waving my upturned palm under the soap dispenser until it finally relents (or not)—at which point I have already given up and moved my hands to the faucet, doing the same hand dance for water that may or may not come.

Then I get to wave hello at the towel dispenser until it releases one measly square of paper that is insufficient for the task at hand. After a second (and usually fruitless) waving session, I give up and dry my hands on my pants, only to hear the dispenser click as I’m walking out the door, priming itself for its next victim. I’m pretty sure it’s laughing at me, too.