Food & Drink

Chew On This!

Before we get too far along in the holiday season, I'd like to get the Grinch out of my system. So this week, I'm unburdening myself of a few gripes. No doubt, some of you restaurant owners and employees will recognize yourselves. Just keep in mind, If these things bother me, they probably bother other people as well. And I'm sure you'll agree it's in your best interest that my heart not shrink until it's two sizes too small. (Oh, and if any of you readers out there have pet peeves of your own, feel free to get them off your shoulders at blogs.newsobserver.com/epicurean.)

In this computer age, it's inexcusable not to keep your menu up to date. Nobody likes to learn after the fact that tilapia has been substituted for the sea bass they ordered, or that the broccoli raab is missing from their order of pasta with Italian sausage and broccoli raab. If your menu is printed on expensive card stock, it's still no excuse. At the very least, print a supplement explaining the changes to the menu. I'd say train your waiters to give verbal notice of unavailable dishes or substitutions, but I've long since given up on that quaint notion.

In a similar vein, I would rather see nightly specials printed on a supplemental menu than have a waiter recite them (and, more than likely, forget at least one of them. Has anyone else out there overheard a waiter at a neighboring table describe a dish you wish you could have ordered, if only your waiter had told you about it? Thought so). If you insist on having the waiter recite specials, make sure he or she includes the price. And don't tell me it's tacky to recite prices, as one restaurateur did. Are prices printed on your regular menu? I rest my case.

If you have candles on your tables, for Pete's sake, light them at the beginning of the dinner service -- preferably before you open your doors to customers. Presumably, you're going for a romantic atmosphere. And believe me, an unlit candle -- not to mention wondering whether you should flag down your busy waiter to light yours -- does nothing for the mood. Sure, it'll cost a few pennies more in paraffin or lamp oil expense. But you'll make it up in increased dessert sales.

While I'm on the subject of increased income, here's a way for you waiters to get better tips. Even if the owner has told you to push the $90 bottle of wine, don't try to sell it to me if I've indicated I'm interested in wines in the $30-$40 range. Unless, that is, the owner is paying your tips.

Your tips are likely to be higher, too, if you offer more than a perfunctory "Is everything OK?" 30 seconds after you've brought my food to the table. Give me time to taste the food before you ask, and wait for an answer. Check again as you're clearing the table. If I've left my plate mostly untouched and I don't ask for a doggie bag, everything was probably not satisfactory. Even if I don't complain (probably because I don't want to spoil the mood), you should at the very least offer to have the dish prepared again. I'll probably say "no thanks," but I'll appreciate the offer.

Owners, your restaurant should have a Web site. If you don't have one, you're likely to lose business to a competitor who does. It's by far the most convenient way for potential customers to find out about your menu, prices, location and hours. And if you're still wary of 21st-century technology, at least invest in a piece of 20th-century machinery: an answering machine. You don't have to accept messages, but you can record a message telling people your hours of operation.

If your hours change (as they frequently do with restaurants), don't forget to change the recording. Nobody likes to drive half an hour to a restaurant only to find that it no longer serves Sunday brunch. Trust me on this one.

There, I feel much better already. Now, who's ready for some roast beast?

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