Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Restaurant don'ts

As a chef that has cooked in some upscale restaurants, there are a few things we absolutely hate.  As soon as a perky server comes bounding through the kitchen door with a list of requests our evenings begin to deteriorate.  You may find your culinary needs cute and quirky, we find them downright offensive.  Remember how Sally ordered her lunch in "When Harry Met Sally?" Yeah, not cute or funny.  This is for finer dining establishments for the most part, at Applebys you can do what you want.  Here we go.

1. Do not under any circumstances bring your own sauces, salad dressings, or condiments of any kind into a nice restaurant.  I don't care if you don't have any taste buds left and that bottle of "Smack my Ass and Call me Sally" hot sauce is the only thing that will allow you to taste your Coq au vin, I don't want to see it or hear about it.  If you feel that eating our caramelized pear and Vidalia onion vinaigrette will mess up your "points" and you have your trusty bottle of low fat ranch dressing standing by, don't be surprised if you're wearing your ranch on your head.  This is fine dining, trust me, with all the butter that's in your food at these places that bottle of low fat whatever is like a fly on an elephant.  Just enjoy it, and don't eat like that every day.

2. Restaurants specialize in certain cuisines.  Don't go into an Italian restaurant that specializes in fresh pasta and tell the waiter that you are allergic to all glutens.  If you then begin to complain when your choices are limited please know.  WE DON'T CARE if you decide never to eat at our restaurant again.  Please don't!  In fact you can go and tell your "Non Gluten Eaters Unite" support group what service you got at that pasta restaurant you went to and maybe they won't darken our doorstep either.  If you can't have gluten, simply go to a steakhouse.  There, problem solved.  The only problem you might have is a crouton or two you can pick off of your salad. (Believe it or not this has happened to me on many occasions, and I've always wondered how people who seem to be intelligent enough to drive, dress themselves, and comb their own hair can have such a lack of common sense.)  If you are only at the pasta place because you are part of a group that doesn't care about your dietary needs, seek other friends!  If you are allergic to even the smell of shellfish, WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN A SEAFOOD RESTAURANT?!  If you are a militant vegan don't come into my French inspired bistro and sneer at my port wine glazed veal sweetbreads!  Better yet stay home and cook for yourself.

3. DO NOT ORDER THE DINNER SPECIAL AND THEN ASK FOR SUBSTITUTIONS!  A good chef designs, or agonizes over what he's going to make for a dinner special for a long time.  It is his passion.  He pours his soul and creativity into the process.  When you ask to not add this, or add that instead, you are basically telling the chef you are a better cook than he or she is, and you think his food isn't worth a crap.  (Chefs have egos.)  When these requests come back to the kitchen I've actually seen a chef throw a fry pan against the wall and crack the tile.  A mexican chef I know called a customer "porco dio" which means pig of god.  Remember, chefs serve, but they are not servants.  They have feelings.  Also, if a chef balances his flavors well, the substitution or removal of an item will throw off the whole flavor profile of a dish.  He made it the way he did for a reason, there's a good chance that the subtraction of an item will cause a dish to frankly, not taste well.  I have seen many a customer re-design a dish and not like the way it tasted.  Then they have the gaul to complain.  If this is you, make sure you leave in a group and don't pass by the kitchen back door on the way to your car.  If you don't think you like the way a dinner special sounds, don't order it and save everyone the pain.

4.  Your friends are not impressed by you if you treat your server like a sub-human.  Don't snap at your server, don't call them "honey", don't talk to them like you are a teacher and they are a kindergardener.  Don't run your server.  If you need a series of items, ask for them all at once, and not one at a time just to "make them work for their tip."  Trust me, they work.  As a server in a fine dining restaurant I wore a pedometer for a few evenings.  I averaged 25,000 steps per night.  If you take each step and figure each one is about 3 feet I walked almost 5 miles per night, on tiled floors in uncomfortable black shoes carrying trays.  Two hours after the restaurant closes, the wait staff is still there folding napkins, cleaning, sweeping, mopping. Many career servers require foot surgery in later years.  It is back breaking manual labor and deserves your respect.  I can't tell you how many guests returned after their party had left to give me an extra tip because their host was a jerk. 

5.  Have an open mind and heart when you go out to eat.  Dine with a spirit of enjoyment, and anticipate the best from your experience.  Yes, I've eaten a few bad meals, even more mediocre ones, but the good ones have far outweighed the bad.  Yes, you'll have a few lousy meals as a diner.  Don't throw a tantrum about it, just don't go back.  Usually the bad places will fail sooner or later.


  1. Good points all.

    I'd add "Read the menu before you order. Don't try to send the Steak au poivre back because you don't like pepper."

  2. Funny, and a very good point. This is assuming that the customer can read.