Don’t be that guy

May. 06, 2014 @ 08:48 AM

I am confident that you, gentle readers, are the perfect restaurant guests for whom every staff hopes.
But perchance you know someone who might benefit from a subtle refresher course (maybe you could leave this column where they will see it). I’ll be addressing this column to you, but we all know that I really mean “them.”
First, please know that the restaurant biz is a very tough gig. It’s hot, physical work, with long hours, for low pay. It’s no business for a dilettante. Folks do it because they love to feed people and make them happy.
I’ve spoken to a few chefs lately, asking about their pet peeves. 
There are ways to enhance, or conversely, damage your night out before you even leave the house. If the eatery encourages reservations, then make them — and honor them. If you decide to cancel, give the restaurant a heads-up. There’s no need for embarrassment; it happens all the time; plans change. 
Don’t show up late without calling. Before the evening’s service begins, the staff looks at the book, and makes their plans based on that information. If you’re late, everything has to be reworked on the fly. 
The staff has a rough idea how long it takes to get you seated, and take your order. Work with them. This is not the time to take an hour to catch up with your friends, then peruse the menu and decide what to order. If you want to visit for a while, meet in the bar and chat. Most places have their menus online. Take a look. That way you have a rough idea of what you might like to order. 
It will also give you an idea if you’ll even like their food. One local chef told me that some diners will take a glance at the menu, and then proceed to build their own dishes. If you need to do that, do it at home. The kitchen is prepped to cook from the menu, not to design your original ideas. Besides, these guys are experts and they agonize over the creation of each component on a plate.
If you have legitimate dietary restrictions, or allergies, don’t keep it to yourself. Tell the server; they know the ingredients, and can let you know if something will be problematic. Don’t order the pecan crusted trout and then when it arrives complain that you’re allergic to tree nuts (or you don’t like fish).
Don’t be a big baby. I was waiting on a table one day, and the special was gumbo. When I imparted this info, one guy asked me if it contained sausage. I said yes and he actually asked me if I would pick it out for him! After regaining the power of speech, I turned him down, and informed him that I wasn’t his mother. His companions also chimed in, telling him to stop being a jerk.    
If you’re unhappy with something, let the house know. They really do want you to enjoy yourself. Don’t stew in silence and then go home to write a scathing online review.
Mind your manners — you aren’t eating takeout in your jammies. If you bring the kids, make them behave, and be responsible for them. The wait staff has a lot of things to do and being babysitters, or dodging out of control children shouldn’t be on that list.
A couple of things that should be no-brainers apparently aren’t. Don’t stick your used gum under the table — ask for a cocktail napkin. This isn’t an elementary school cafeteria.
And do your grooming at home, or if absolutely necessary, in the rest room.  One restaurateur told me that she had somebody trim their toenails at the table. That is just horrifyingly, insanely gross. 
Dining out is a two-way street. They will do their best to show you a good time, but you have an obligation to meet them halfway. And factor in the tip when you’re picking a joint. If you can afford the meal, but not the tip, eat somewhere cheaper. 
Just remember, when in doubt, err on the side of thoughtfulness. Heck, that’s good advice anytime.

Thanks for your time.

Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is momsequitur@gmail.com.