Dishing Out Pet Peeves

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - September 28, 2005
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People write to me a lot about their restaurant experiences. Usually the topics are pretty much the same - waiting too long for a table, not getting good service, and whom to complain to when the food isn’t up to par.

Usually the e-mails are good, and mostly I look for the positive side to almost every restaurant experience. But, just occasionally, little things drive me mad. Poor service isn’t really one of them anymore. I just complain immediately and have long since stopped worrying about whether some disgruntled busboy is spitting in my pasta. Anyone who grew up eating porridge and haggis has a pretty hardy stomach.

No, the things that drive me crazy in restaurants are a little more subtle. But peeves they are, and I wonder how many of them you share.

The tone a waiter uses and what he chooses to call a guest can sometimes set the mood for the evening. The other night I was out for dinner and the waiter constantly referred to my husband and me as “you two.” As in, “are you two ready to order?” and “are you two done?”

We felt as if he couldn’t wait for us to leave. The other thing I can’t stand is when a waiter refuses to write down an order, smiles inanely as you’re talking and then gets the order wrong. Happened just the other night. Wrong salad, mixed up entrée, wrong drinks. And, to make matters worse, my order of fish was badly over-cooked. I didn’t eat it. The waiter cleared the table, still grinning idiotically, without noticing my plate was full. I hate that. Pay attention out there. A full plate means that something was wrong with the dinner.

But even more than waiters with attention deficit disorder, I just hate it when waiters compliment me on my “choices.” I don’t care if a waiter thinks my choice of wine is great. In fact I don’t really mind if he thinks it’s pathetic - I just don’t need to hear “good choice” on every utterance from my mouth.

“Good choice,” says waiter after waiter on everything from appetizers to wine. Is there a bad choice? Are there truly horrible things on the menu that we don’t know about? Would they grimace and pull a silent finger across their throat if I ordered the clams? Or feign a gagging motion with an order of a bottle of Riesling? Are they really dying to say, “Oh, terrible choice. Ugh, wouldn’t go there if I were you”?

And while we’re on the subject of ordering, would someone please put an end to the awful language on some menus. I call it “menuese.” You know, those descriptions of dishes that don’t really mean anything at all. The ones that usually end in “perfection.”

“Grilled to your choice of perfection,” reads one, “roasted to perfection” another. In fact, one dish I had recently, (“blackened to perfection”) should truly have read, “we burn the living daylights out of it then cover it with a sprinkling of Cajun spice to disguise the scorched taste.”

In fact, the whole “to perfection” thing is a little, well, overdone. There are a couple of menus in town that need a complete overhaul so they read as beautifully as they should.

And a final few, seeing as I’m on a roll. Waiters who fill up my water glass after every sip. Waiters who don’t fill my glass up at all. Waiters who rush past the table when you ask for something and say “you’re not my table.”

So, next time you see me coming,compliment me on anything you like, just not on what I order.

Happy eating.

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