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Don’t give them what you think they need; give them what they want

What gets up my nose in restaurants. Some things to think about.

This time I’d like to give vent to things that irritate me in restaurants — in the hope that a bit of general feedback from someone who probably dines out more often than most could help you restaurateurs out there get it right. Besides, I’m a grumpy old man now and need to get some things off my chest.

Waiters with no sensitivity

At the top of my list are waiters who interrupt at the table just as you are about to deliver the punch line to your best joke. It seems to always happen to me. You’re on a roll and you have your guests eating out of the palm of your hand after a dazzling display of verbal dexterity. Just as you are about to tie it all together and send them into fits of hysteria, your over-enthusiastic waiter sprints up and interjects with a breathless ‘Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Rowland. The specials of the evening are . . .’ And he proceeds to babble off the details of half a dozen complex dishes with furtive glances at a piece of paper discretely palmed in his hand. He thinks we’re here just for the food. No one remembers anything other than the first and last dish.

Some waiters have no sensitivity toward their customers.

Menus you can't read or understand

Many menus don't match the market age group you cater to.

So he’s blown your best story, so with good grace you move on, picking-up the menu with practiced nonchalance. ‘Oh, no! Jeeeeesus, I can’t read this’ you inwardly scream as it dawns on you that the menu has been designed in broad daylight in 8 point type by a twenty five year old with 20/20 vision. It’s so, so hard to appear cool while you’re fumbling for your reading glasses, or have to take the menu to the well-lit toilet to read it. Looking around, you note that the majority of the clientele in the place are ‘suits’ over 45 and they all have their reading glasses on. Let’s make it difficult for people to spend; let’s make the menu like the fine print on a contract and then we’ll turn all the lights down low.

To compound our problems the Chef, or someone who should know better, has grabbed their copy of Larousse and come-up with every obscure culinary description for the dish they can muster. So we not only have to battle with the tiny print, at the same time we have to decipher pigeon French or some obscure culinary language and try to decipher what it is that we are considering ordering. Don’t get me started on this topic; I’ve been in the industry for 40 years and I still regularly see menu descriptions I haven’t got a clue about. If it doesn’t communicate it won’t sell — got it?

Wine lists full of wines that need to be aged

It is a magnificent wine, but needs to be aged or it is 'green' and immature.

Then we get to the wine list, only to find that we’ve got a who’s who list of all the biggies at eye watering, unconscionable prices, and due to extreme youth, most displaying palate burning lack of togetherness. What’s the point of putting a current release St Henri or Eileen Hardy on your list at stupid prices when they need 10 years cellaring to start to drink well? You baulk at these choices and ask the sommelier for help and with a straight face he recommends a NZ Pinot with a 450% mark-up. Arrrghhh.

‘Thank God, here comes the food’, you say to yourself as you see your waiter weaving his way toward your table with an armload of entrée dishes. With practiced finesse he gently places a plate with

6c worth of calamari and a lettuce leaf in front of you. A furtive glance at the other entrees confirms your worst fear — you’re the host and you’ve just paid $78 for $2 worth of food. Damn, gotcha!

Menu items that don't meet your expectations

It might be art, but it isn't good value at $19.

‘At least I’ll get a feed when the main course comes’, you rationalise to yourself (more the fool you). When it finally comes, everyone else has got a dish with a decent portion, but you cop the nouvelle cuisine serve with a thin, business card sized piece of main ingredient and a further smattering of inconsequential greenery in a complex, but not perception-enhancing sauce. Meanwhile, the lady with the magnificent cleavage opposite is tucking into a 600gm dinosaur sirloin with great relish. She 

doesn’t need the food; you do. The chef hasn’t placed all his dishes together on one table and asked the all important question: ‘If I received any one of these dishes at my table would I be disappointed?’ Food appears on a table in context with other dishes, not as a single dish.

The giant wooden dildo

At this point my old nemesis Rowland skips in once more with a huge wooden dildo. ‘Would you like some cracked pepper?’ he solicits. ‘No, thank you’, you reply, wishing to be in full control of the seasoning of your own dish. Why, oh why do they still do this? Is it some hidden desire to cling to the traditions of the past? Must we have some obligatory reminder of the days of table cooking and guerdon trolleys? The irony for me is that a lot of the places that do this have gone to great pains to present their restaurant and the staff as cutting edge gastronomy. Rowland has better things to do, seeing he is presiding over a section of 40 odd diners.

Some people see it as 'theatre' - I see it as a relic of the past.

Killing sales with free bread

Done with main course we wait for the obligatory sales sortie with the dessert menu. Here it comes . . . ‘Would you like to have a look at our desserts?’ ‘No thank you’, we chorus. We would have but we all filled-up on the eight thick slices of warm sourdough that was deposited — gratis — on our table at the start of the proceedings. Let’s fill ‘em up for free and then try to sell them a dessert. Where’s the sense in that?

Now; how well have they done and what do we tip?

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