In the last week I've seen three articles on "what not to do" when dining out, and that made me think... have we really become so self-centered that we don't realize when we are being unreasonable? Since in today's world so many kinds of behaviour are considered acceptable, it shouldn't be that hard to stay between the lines, I thought. So why are we such demanding diners? What makes our expectations unrealistic? Here are a few of my ideas on 5 of my pet peeves; I'd love to hear your theories too. You can comment on my Facebook page if you like.
1. Why can't you take our party of 9 (or 12 or 15) ?! We can sit at a few tables...
This one isn't obvious for people who don't know the industry, but this is a disaster waiting to happen for most restaurants. They want to be able to make you all happy, and at the same time, but if you're split among tables then that is virtually impossible. Think of what it would be like if you had separate groups in your dining room for Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, all waiting for you to cook and make drinks for them as they gave orders. Bar and kitchen orders can easily get prepared minutes apart and then before you know it each table is on its own timetable. That's not going to make for a fun birthday party, is it? When you have a large group (anything over 6 is considered large at a restaurant), call them before you set out down the road to start your evening if you didn't think of it before. Many places even have private rooms they can offer with just a bit of planning.
2. Why can't we sit on the patio?! We made a reservation.
This one is simple if you take a step back and think about it - you can't reserve the weather. How would you like it if the restaurant host told you that your reservation required you sit outside since that is what you booked, even if it was pouring rain or blowing wind? Unfortunately restaurants cannot afford to book one outside table and one inside table for each reservation, so the best you usually get is "first dibs" on patio tables if they are available. That being said, they won't likely give you the table for 10 if you are only 2 and that is the one open patio spot. If you're really stuck on being on the patio then plan to arrive at a less busy time (7 pm is not that time).
3. Why can't I be like Meg Ryan and order a customized dish?!
There are restaurants that will work to provide variations or substitutions on menu items, but they are either higher end places or they charge for all the changes. Go to a top notch restaurant and they might not even have a menu; they prepare what is in season or what fits their theme. If this is not your cup of tea, then your choice is easy: Don't visit this place. If you wanted Chinese food would you go to MacDonalds? Then don't expect your neighbourhood pub to be able to reconstruct their burger to your taste, or offer 10 different dishes so you can have anything you might like in one place. That would cost them much more to keep all that inventory and it would take more cooks to prepare all that stuff. Then you'd pay higher prices and maybe pay for parking because they would have to be in a higher traffic location. Every restaurant can't be everything for everyone. Enjoy the difference!
4. Why doesn't the menu say what's in the dishes?! How do I know what I can eat with my allergy?
Okay, another easy solution but it does require a leap of faith... engage the server to find out what works with any sensitivities or allergies. Call ahead if you are extremely concerned. And if I may, I'll interject my customer service self in here for a sec... Please, please let the restaurant team know how this worked out. If the server was helpful and knowledgeable (I hope) then thank them, and mention it in a comment card or to a manager if you see one. If they aren't helpful or can't get answers for you, mention that too so that the place can improve. They won't know what's missing if the customers don't tell them.
Another important point here is to gauge the place to any dietary restriction you might have. If you can't stand spicy food, then a place that advertises the number of hot dishes they offer might not be your best choice. If you're vegetarian, a BBQ joint isn't the best fit usually. Just sayin' :)
5. Why can't we do whatever we like?! We're paying to be here.
Let's just clarify first, you're paying for the experience of a meal, in space that has a certain ambience. So, the behaviour is in accordance with that space - certain things are acceptable in a sports bar that are not as welcome in a 5 star dining room. Just because you bring your kids (or friends) doesn't mean they get to wander around, scream or yell, write on the furniture with the crayons they were given, etc. Please be conscious of other diners and remember that you are in a public place where others want to enjoy a good time too. Perhaps the restaurant has a place they can store your stroller if it's a large one, so it doesn't block the aisle? If you have to take a phone call in a loud room, how about excusing yourself instead of adding to the noise? I know you're caught up in having a fun evening, but so is everyone else.
I know we all have our pet peeves. And we're all human, imperfect and likely to goof up on a regular basis. Let's make a deal - we all try to work on having a good time (if the parking spot is far away from the door, we'll try to remember not to bark at the hostess - it's not her fault). We all try to remember our manners (please and thank you work wonders, and putting your knife and fork together when you're done eating is a handy signal). Maybe it will spread beyond the dining room, and people will be polite and considerate on the road and in the office too! (we can always hope, right?)