Restaurant gripes

Removal of the bottle to an unreachable position at a drinks station or the like is always an issue for Stuart Knox. Pexels

This month, Fix reached an incredible milestone, 15 years of trading. What scares me more is, at this stage, I’ve been working in hospitality for double that time. Over three decades of carrying plates and pouring glasses, I’ve no doubt done things that have infuriated my guests, and equally, I’ve seen many things as a diner that have been rather frustrating as well.

I know different places have their own systems but if the person on the door isn’t dropping menus, then the section waiter needs to be there quick snap.

When I go out for dinner I always want to sit where I can watch the comings and goings, it’s a certain perverse pleasure to watch others toil whilst I have a rare opportunity on the opposite side. My wonderful wife is usually very accommodating until I get in a huff about something silly. Life is about learning and I find dining out a great teacher for things I should and shouldn’t do at Fix.

I have a few pet peeves that come into play depending on the style of venue I’m at. Expectations are very different when you’re eating burgers and drinking natural wine at Mary’s to a multi-course extravaganza at Momofuku. Yes, these are two of my favourites and I’ve not a single gripe about either! Below are a few of mine. No doubt you’ll have some as well so let me know in the comments. Sometimes restaurants do things that seem strange (and annoying) but are such because it helps the entire venue operate smoothly.

Seating. These days you’re not getting in anywhere without waiting to be seated. QR code check-ins and inevitable VAX checks will leave you waiting to get someone’s attention at the door. I’m OK with this, but if you want to sit me, please bring menus at the same time. I know different places have their own systems but if the person on the door isn’t dropping menus, then the section waiter needs to be there quick snap.

I’m always thirsty so I want to start the detailed study of the wine list quickly. In that same vein, once I’m sat you can pretty much guarantee I’ll want a drink ASAP. The longer you leave me hanging then the less chance of extra sales the venue gets. A glass of bubbles, a Campari soda or a beer add to the bottom line easily.

The old practice of napping customers has fortunately mostly died out. In a post COVID world, I’d suggest the idea of someone fussing with the napkin you intend to wipe your mouth with is a serious turn-off.

Wine service is a minefield to navigate, with everyone having an opinion on what is right and wrong. Who should get the list, should a taste be offered of wine under screwcap? The list goes on and on. For the most part, I’m OK with the many variations of the sommelier dance. I’ve done most of them in my time. There is one that I always have issue with, the removal of the bottle to an unreachable position at a drinks station or the like.

I know it’s seen as a no-no for fine dining customers to pour their own wine, but is a meal ruined by pouring your own wine? Or by being made to wait to get someone’s attention to have more wine poured? Most tables in the fine-dining space have more than enough acreage to accommodate a bottle and a decanter. It also removes the chance of a wine pouring mix-up. I must admit I have been guilty of topping up with the wrong bottle, grabbed in haste, from a waiter’s station.

I know it’s seen as a no-no for fine dining customers to pour their own wine, but is a meal ruined by pouring your own wine?

With that said, if the bottle is empty, don’t be scared of asking me if I’d like another or to see the list again. To be honest, I rarely relinquish the list in the first place because I’m a wine list nerd. But when I want to order the next wine and can’t, that is a level of frustration for both me as a customer and me as a restaurateur. Once again, a revenue opportunity goes begging.

Then we come to the bill. I get it: it’s a downer on any meal that it must be paid for but somewhat essential, so don’t run away at the point I might want it. Once again, tradition says we don’t present the bill until requested. I learnt many years ago that that is the European rule, but the American version is the exact opposite. To me though, it’s common sense. If I say I’m done and wish for nothing more then it’s ok to bring me the bill. If the policy is to bring it when I request it, then be eagle-eyed. When I was younger, I’d be keen to get on to the next venue. These days I’m probably ready to go to bed. Either way, it’s not the experience you want it to end on.

Undoubtedly, I’ve been guilty of all the above gripes over the too many years of doing it, but I hope a lot less than I see it around the industry. Let me know yours and we can make a list. For another day, I’ll let you in on the list of gripes the waitstaff have about customers too. I can assure you that the customer is not always right.


7 thoughts on “Restaurant gripes”

  1. Avatar
    mentalblank@gmail.com says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Stu about how aggravating it is at restaurants where they take your bottle away to somewhere inaccessible, because they think that’s somehow ‘fancier’ than leaving it with you so you can pour your own. Of course it’s possible for this to work well, but that requires super-vigilant waitstaff who pay close attention to the levels in diner’s glasses. Any restaurant who is not prepared to commit to that level of vigilance (and staffing) should just leave the bottle at or by the table. Nothing enrages me more than either having to keep eating with an empty glass, or pause eating while I scan the room for a waiter to refill my glass.
    The other one that resonated with me was when waitstaff vanish at the precise moment you want to request the bill, or to pay for it. Amazing how often this happens, even in places that have been efficient up until that point. A really silly oversight, considering it’s right at the moment that you’re contemplating what tip to leave…

    1. Stuart Knox
      Stuart Knox says:

      Yes, stopping me from having a wine and not letting me pay are not good business principles for a restuarant!

  2. Avatar
    Glenn says:

    Waiters who assume the beer is for me and the G&T is for me. Pay attention when we order, ladies do enjoy a beer or three. And don’t clear the plates while some of us are still eating!

    1. Stuart Knox
      Stuart Knox says:

      Assumptions of who’s drinking what is a very slippery slope. Clearing plates whilst some are still eating is definitely a no no at fine dining level, on occasion though there may be extenuating circumstances.

  3. Huon Hooke
    Huon Hooke says:

    Can’t wait to read about the waitstaff’s gripes, Stu!

  4. Virginia Jacobs
    Virginia Jacobs says:

    I really don’t like it when I have ordered the wine for the next course and the food is served but not the wine. Cold food with wine or warm food with no wine??? No option is appealing there.
    Also quieter venues where wine by the glass can often be past its prime.

    1. Stuart Knox
      Stuart Knox says:

      Service timing is always critical. With things such as he Coravin there really is no excuse to be serving wines by the glass that have lost their freshness.

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