FOOD FOR THOUGHT: We Can’t Table the Emotion When it Comes To Restaurant Annoyances

A Short List of Things That Restaurants Ought Not

The Front Range has become a virtual Mecca for great places to eat and drink. And along the pilgrimage to find that perfect nutty ale or ripe tomato capprese salad, we have accumulated the things that happen far too often in far too many Colorado cafes bars, restaurants and eateries. Here’s a short list of some of the biggest and most frequent offenders. Feel free to add your own.

Outlets, please

In January 2013, I was living alone in Salamanca, Spain. It was a fun, odd time. I spent most of the month watching a lot of Netflix, wandering around the post-Christmas “rebajas” sales, tutoring some English, drinking, and pretending to study at the local university library, Libreros. The thing was you could never really “leave” the library. You physically could, but a small part of you had to remain, always, or risk losing one of the few hundred coveted seats that were always — always, always — taken by the school’s 30,000-some students.

I’m reminded of that horrible chore — bribing friends to save a seat in an effort to steal five minutes in the rest room — whenever I stumble into several choice coffee shops in Denver, those special java holes that don’t find it necessary to add power strips or extra outlets for my generation’s every-growing suite of electronic devices. Getting one of those coveted three-pronged providers of power is akin to finding a “Make America Great Again” hat in Boulder. It’s tough — real tough.

I get that new-era coffee shops are supposed to be these social watering holes where people can speak and chat and sip $5 cups of espresso. But here’s the thing: If you’re going to add seating, make sure you put in a proportional number of outlets. Because we could never, ever be bothered to actually do work at our $1,000-per-month apartments. That would be absurd.

— Quincy Snowdon

Cook troublemaker

No call for it

When it comes to dining, most people complain about the service. The waiter was rude, the waitress didn’t give me the correct change, the hostess didn’t accommodate us with an extra booth for our skis, etc. What has always irked me about eating out though isn’t the service — it’s other customers. People, when you’re eating in a public venue, please get off your cellphone. I don’t want to hear about your dog’s bowel obstruction while I’m working on a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. And while I’m sure whatever your girlfriend’s cousin’s nephew’s roommate is saying is hilarious, your grating horse whinny is making it difficult for me to hear the person next to me. Got a call you absolutely have to take? Take it outside.

— Susan Gonzalez

First, feed the animals

I fondly remember those nights when I had idle time and disposable income and a long wait at a restaurant just meant more time to get sauced — and if it was a date, even better. But now I’m a husband and a dad to a 4-year-old, and each trip to a restaurant has become a carefully planned mission not unlike something out of “Oceans 11.” One false move, and the whole plan goes to crap. It’s the reason my family mostly eats out at soup and salad bars: there’s no wait time, the kid can eat whatever she wants, and when we’re ready to leave, we leave.

But my biggest beef with restaurants isn’t even about the wait to be seated or served — we’re parents, we can kill time. It’s with how the food is finally delivered, like when the server brings all but one person’s food out. And while it’s always awkward waiting for one last dish to arrive — the fidgeting and wondering ‘Can I start eating now?’ — with a child, it’s downright dangerous. After all, patience isn’t a 4-year-old’s finest virtue and, while I have a good kid, do you really wanna test that? Besides, I know those chicken nuggets have been sitting under a heat lamp since we walked in the door. Plate ‘em already!

— Jeremy Johnson

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The Lost Generation

I knew this was going to happen. The newest generation of restaurant servers spent their growing years going to restaurants and cafes being waited on by people who didn’t have a clue about table service and even the basics. So nobody even knows anymore that a server or a busboy should never, ever ask if you want more water. Just pour the damned water if the glass is half full or less. And don’t top off water glasses every 90 seconds. It’s not a contest. It’s dinner. And never, ever ask a diner, “are you done?” It’s not only bad English, it forces people to explain to you why they want to eat their garnish or snag the last of the tatter tots off their kid’s plate. Ask people one thing only, “May I take the plate?” That’s it. Don’t be reachin’ for it until your customer answers. And for godssake, don’t ever, ever pick up a plate that has a fork or knife on it and pause and say something lame like, “do you want to keep your fork?” Is there a shortage? Do I have a choice? Take the plate away. If it’s a salad or an app, notice whether the customer left silverware there. Bring back fresh ones. Shhhh. Just, shhhhhh. Do it right and some kid who’ll be waiting on you some day will learn from this and save the human race.

— Dave Perry

The sneeze guard limbo

The Smithsonian tells us a man named Johnny Garneau registered for a patent for the original sneeze guard — a “covered food serving table — in 1959, for his buffet-style restaurants on the East Coast. Having some of form of them has since become a law.

But Garneau would be shocked at how far some restaurants have taken it these days. Several sneeze guards require a limbo-like maneuver to reach something you really want in the back. At my last trip to an unnamed salad bar, I managed to scoop a spoonful of garbanzo beans from the cup in the back corner, only to spill them into about five other cups as I tried to get them onto my plate. It happened again with the dressing. Oops. Sorry, not sorry.

Not to mention, the up-close and personal view of all the smudges and drool marks left behind by the people in front of you and, shudder to think, actual, honest-to-God mucus residue from sneezes and coughs. It’s enough to ruin an appetite.

— Courtney Oakes

Party of one… Plus?

Few things are as frustrating when dining out as a restaurant that won’t put your name on the list for a table unless the whole party is there. I understand seating a partial party could mean it takes longer to turn a table over.

But if it’s cold out and someone drops their partner at the door and then finds a parking spot, why wouldn’t the hostess at least put the party’s name on the list when one person walks in? Do they take some weird pleasure in having people awkwardly wander around the host station and stare at the staff for an extra few minutes while they wait for a table? Plus, why in the world would you want a customer’s first contact with your restaurant to be a negative one?

— Brandon Johansson

Allergic to work

Here’s a little slice of fried gold for you: Epinephrine Auto-Injectors are painful. But not in the way you’re probably thinking. Much more than the little prick that comes with the leading end of an EpiPen®, the resulting financial pain can be brutal. My girlfriend has a habit of going through several of the little devils every calendar year due to a debilitating tree nut allergy, as well as a general intolerance to an array of other, assorted foodstuffs. Allergic reactions happen. But they could happen a lot less with the help of the service industry, a field that is, slowly but surely, getting on Team Please-Don’t-Make-Me-Have-To-Call-An-Ambulance. All it takes is a quick check with whomever is slinging plates/pouring glasses in the back of the house. It’s usually not hard, but for whatever reason, that short trip to the kitchen seems to really irk some of the world’s waitstaff, particularly those man-bunned individuals.

It was the lack of one of those quick journeys, following multiple *polite* requests to the back of the house, that caused my most recent trip to the hospital. Sure, it may be one more thing to do for a couple that doesn’t overtly look like they tip well, but at the end of the shift, I’d desperately hope it’s worth someone’s life, if not the $500 deductible that comes with every dose of energy stuffed into a little plastic tube.

— Quincy Snowdon

A seat for two

Winter is an ordeal in Colorado, and not just because of slushy sidewalks and icy stairs. Most people have at least three layers to remove, a hat, a scarf, gloves — the fluff adds up. When it’s below zero outside, it makes absolute sense that everyone walks around layered like a cold weather lasagna. And most people have the courtesy to drape their attire on the back of their chairs or condense the wool mass into a ball and shove it in their bag when they sit down to dine. However, there’s always those people that put their removed puffery onto the stool next to them or another chair. And while this is perfectly acceptable when a restaurant or bar isn’t busy, it’s annoying at peak dining hours when people are standing room only while your $400 North Face jacket and scarf occupy a perfectly good extra seat. Put it on your lap, shove it in your bucket-sized purse, place it somewhere that isn’t an extra chair the table of six occupying a table for five could use. It’s not that hard, folks.

— Susan Gonzalez

Too hot to handle

Is taking kids out to eat a new thing? Because some places struggle with the concept, as if they hadn’t really thought it through yet.

For instance, time and time again, we have to ask our server for a “to-go” set up — a plastic fork, basically — because, you know, kids have tiny hands and mouths and restaurant forks are always huge (the quicker to stuff your face with, I presume). Are you saying my kid has man hands?  But even more irritating, and potentially harmful to kiddos, is a general lack of awareness about the target customer. Kudos to, say, Starbucks, who when crafting their $4 kid’s hot chocolate have the good sense to warm it instead if making it nuclear. If you badly scald my kid’s tongue, you can expect an appropriate verbal lashing from me.

— Jeremy Johnson

Chef with knifes arms crossed

Something to wine about

People who drink wine are not the stupidest people on the planet, so don’t treat them that way, and don’t think you’re getting away with something as a restaurant owner or manager. You’re not. Everybody knows that you can get a magnum of Chateau Swill for about $8. If that’s your house wine and you’re charging people $10 for a lean pour of that stuff, then you’re an idiot. You don’t have to be a bean counter or a restaurant owner to understand that bottled booze makes your business margins workable. But here’s the thing. Wine makes every dinner better. And better wine makes ever better dinner even better. If you’re going to charge me $10 for a glass of Sutter Home Cabernet, I’m gonna pass. And I’m going to eat my cannoli with a beer. And I’m going to be resentful. And I’m probably going to go to your competitor where I can at least get a pretty good Sangiovese for my $10. Wise up. You can step on a bottle of wine twice and still make out like a bandit. Try it.

— Dave Perry

Hot plates

On the subject of buffets or serve-it-yourself venues, how about those toasty warm plates they provide for you? To me, there’s nothing wrong with holding a room temperature plate in your hands as you pick and choose your meal, but I do enjoy it when they have a little bit of warmth to them.

What is not appreciated is when those plates come out straight from the industrial-grade dishwasher at 150 degrees Fahrenheit and fuse with your hands the second you touch them.

If this particular place doesn’t have a place to put a tray, then you have to play hot potato with your plate, which coincidentally may or may not have actual hot potatoes on them. Seems like an accident waiting to happen.

— Courtney Oakes

Hope you like water

Oh, so you say the restaurant has a kids’ menu. Wonderful. Along with that mac and cheese, I’d like a glass of milk for my tot. “Sorry,” the so-obviously-kidless waiter tells me, “no milk.” Alright then, what are the juice options? “No juice.”

Well then, I have news for you restaurant folks out there: If you don’t offer milk or juice, you don’t really have a kids’ menu. Full stop.  Plus, your lack of milk makes me seriously question how exactly you manage to cook. Milk is a staple — every restaurant should have it.  Next time I run into this I’m just going to order my kid a Red Bull and let her run wild. She’s your problem, now.

— Brandon Johansson