"Are you still working on that?" asked the busboy, pointing to my plate, which still bore a few delicious remnants of the meat loaf platter at Jones.
I replied with a deep wink: "I am definitely not working."
The phrase "working on that" is one of my own dining peeves, as is when an upselling waiter asks: "How about something for the table?" (To my dining partners' dismay, I then will look down and ask with a grin: "Table! Are you hungry?")
We all have our quibbles with certain aspects of the restaurant experience.
Most issues seem to be related to service. It's generally accepted that service — more than food and atmosphere — is perceived as the weakest link. Training is spotty. The "waiting pool" is shallow because of the sheer number of restaurants. Emboldened by Yelp, customers increasingly demand perfection in an imperfect industry.
I put out a call on Facebook to ask what's bugging people. (In fairness, I also asked restaurant workers about what's bugging them about customers.)
To keep perspective here, most if not all of these are first-world problems. And there's sometimes little consensus. Some complain that waiters check in too frequently; to others, it's the opposite problem. Some want to linger with the menu; others wish to order right away. "Servers literally cannot win," one restaurateur said.
"Hello, my name is Schmo and I'll be your …"
" 'Have you dined with us before?' (If not, I will assume you are an idiot and can't read a menu and will teach you all about 'our concept')."
" 'What will we be having tonight?' Sorry, but you're the server and you are not dining with us."
"When a server or bartender uses possessive jargon, such as, 'For a special this evening, I have,' as if it's in their pocket or they themselves have spent all day making said specials."
"When the waiter validates my selection. 'Excellent choice! That's my personal favorite.' "
"Yelpers who ask for the manager so they can read them and everyone else nearby their review."
"Server looks at empty plate: 'Are you done with that?' Every time I think, 'So do you want me to wash the plate?' 'May I take that away?' is sufficient."
"When a hyped spot is serving mediocre food and the well-known chef is sitting in the dining room in whites talking to friends."
"I hate that waitstaff and bar staff always refer to everyone as guys — including women. 'Would you guys like dessert?' 'Are you guys finished?' It's not just in the restaurant business, but for some reason that's where it really annoys me. Would you ever refer to a table where there was even just one man as, 'Would you gals like anything else?' "
Waiting for the entire party to arrive to be seated. "I want to sit and have a drink. Please let me start giving you money."
"Having a reservation, showing up on time and then having to wait more than 15 minutes to be seated in a tiny waiting area. … They can manage their reservations vs. walk-ins better. It happens. I've seen managers go to tables they need to move and offer a drink or appetizer or dessert in the bar area for asking them to relocate."
"Not being acknowledged by your server once seated. 'Be with you in a moment' goes a long way."
"Waiting for a server to come to your table when you are seated by a hostess. And when you wait so long that you are ready to order when they finally come over, only to have them tell you they will take your drink order and be right back."
"When I order coffee and the waiter serves the coffee and then has to go back to the kitchen to get the sugar and/or cream and sometimes even a spoon instead of bringing everything at the same time. The coffee is almost cold by then."
"When a restaurant uses the language 'family style' as an excuse to bring out food as it comes up in the kitchen rather than properly expedite courses."
"Waiters/chefs who rush things. I like to have a few minutes to breathe, relax, and chat with my companions between courses."
"When the check takes a long time to arrive."
"When a party is not getting up from the table you are waiting on to be seated at."
"Bartenders who don't drop off food menus, too."
"Not remembering the drink I'm having."
"Taking my drink menu. We're going to be ordering more drinks."
"When restaurants have different menus for the bar area vs. the dining room, and the areas are literally a few feet apart."
"Wobbly tables. When the first impression is that your table is going to need leveling, it's a bad start."
"No-eye-contact greeting; no-eye-contact goodbye."
"Not being told of any specials or features and overhearing another table being told."
"When servers think they memorized your order and don't write it down and then it comes to the table wrong."
"When servers auction off food" — as in, not knowing who had ordered what.
"Having to ask for silverware, plates, or napkins. I ordered food. I need those things."
"Not keeping the water glasses filled."
"Automatically putting lemon in your water without asking."
"When my glass of wine is empty and I have to hunt down a waiter. Even worse, when I order a bottle of wine and they take the bottle and don't come back. Excuse me! It's my bottle. Just leave it here."
"Servers that disappear," which was countered with, "Wish some of mine would!" (Hovering is never a good practice.)
"Zero management presence on the floor of almost all restaurants, both high-end or not. When was the last time a manager touched your table?"
"When the server comes by and takes my plate the second I'm done. It's rude to me and to my dining partner. I feel bad if my dining partner is still eating and I don't have a plate in front of me."
"I use a card now because I'm trying to reduce the risk of a serious error for my multi-allergic child."
"When the waiter neglects to tell you that there are no free refills and you get your check, you are in shock."
"As a tea drinker, I hate when I'm delivered a lukewarm cup of water and being charged more for tea than coffee."
"You just spent a lot of money for a special meal, and they charge you for a refill of your coffee. You can spare it?"
"The offer of a free meal once you have complained about the [poor] one you just had. Why would I come back and eat another [poor] meal, even if it's free?"
"Having to place outerwear on the back of chairs, even in a few nicer restaurants. Don't know if they had a coat room but it wasn't offered."
"Tables too close together. I hate hearing every word of someone else's private dinner conversation or having to feel fat just because I gotta suck it in and scoot in between chairs."
"I always feel like most tables are too wide. I hate feeling like I have to lean onto the table to hear someone, especially in a noisy place."
"Wiping down adjoining tables with stinky cleaner while we're eating. Hasn't the restaurant business learned about cleaning with white vinegar? Did the people before me really have typhoid?"
"The quality of your restaurant is not measured by the decibels of the dining room. I don't like the trend toward overly noisy and overly crowded rooms."
"If I can hear what's going on in the kitchen. I don't want to hear yelling and chaos if I'm there to enjoy a nice meal."
"Years ago, a loud fight broke out in our kitchen between a dishwasher and a cook toward the end of the evening. Cursing, crashing, banging sounds were clearly heard throughout the small dining room. I was aghast. Our brilliant server turned to the guest he was serving and apologized: 'We told them to turn down that television!' "
"When you walk into a restaurant 10-15 or 20 minutes prior to their posted closing hours and the first thing out of server/bartender's mouth is, 'Just so you know: Kitchen closes in X minutes.' Wow. What a start to a meal."
"Closing before posted hours, or rushing you out because the staff wants to lock the door at the posted closing time. I can understand not wanting campers staying all night, but if you seat me, let me eat my dinner. And I really think you ought to seat me up to your posted closing time. Change that time if you want to go home earlier; otherwise, how are customers supposed to know what that time means? Is it an hour before close? A half-hour? What if I'm a quick eater? What if I don't get an appetizer?"
"Asking my kids if they want dessert instead of asking me."
"Obnoxious kids whose parents don't address the situation. (For that matter, obnoxious adults, too.)"
"Assuming because I bring my kids to nice restaurants that we will be an annoying table, and giving me less-than-stellar service from the start because they got a table with one adult and two kids."
"When server takes your drink order but not your kid's and your app order, leaving you to wait forever before a morsel of food hits the table. Then by the time your dinner comes, kids are in meltdown mode."