I love eating in restaurants. Great food, great conversation, and no one has to do the dishes… what’s not to love? And I’m not a picky eater. So long as there’s no dead bugs in the food and the cutlery is clean, I am probably going to give the place a good review and tell my friends about it. That said, even when the food is delicious, there are a few things that will turn me off and make me think twice about returning. And none of them have anything to do with how things taste…
- Don’t make me overthink the menu
A good menu should be like a good resume – short and impressive. No menu should be longer the table it is placed on. It should not be necessary to flip the pages with your finger, and there should not be 10 minutes of silence while everyone struggles to read through the main course options.
- Don’t make me use the flashlight app on my iphone
A good rule of thumb (I think) is to match the lighting with the demographic. Family places need to keep it bright so that mom and dad can see where the food is landing and spit-clean ketchup off sweatshirts before the stains settle. Bistros that cater to the first-date crowd should go a little dimmer so that everybody looks pretty even if there are a few ill-concealed zits. And those La-Ti-Da spots with French names can get away with even less lighting because no one really understands half the items on the menu anyway – we’re mostly just pretending to read stuff. Chances are half the people at the table will order steak and the rest will take any kind of noodle with a cream sauce. Still, even in a place so fancy that they won’t even reveal prices on the menu, I think diners are owed enough light to be able to make out faces. There is a fine line between ‘romantic’ and ‘cave-like’.
- Don’t oversell (or over-price) the specials
If an unacceptable chunk of date-night time must be spent listening to the server describe a crazy gross sounding soup-of-the-day and a list of specials that all include at least one shellfish, it is a sure sign that the chef over-ordered mussels and has to clear them out before they start stinking up the place. These things happen. I know… just last week there was a sale on lean ground beef and my family wound up having sloppy joes on Monday, shepherd’s pie on Tuesday and burgers on Wednesday. But I didn’t insult them by trying to make these offerings seem “special”. In fact, I offered up some free oreos to make everybody feel better about the situation. So unless the place is going to give me a deal on that soup, I don’t want to hear about it.
- Stop scrimping on the butter
Four people at the table… four rolls… a single teaspoon of butter swirled into the shape of a flower. What the $%$$%! Nobody wants to be rude and take all the butter so everybody winds up eating dry bread. Worse yet, someone summons up the courage to ask for more butter and gets one more rosebud. Seriously ?!? What’s with the butter situation? I have been in five-star restaurants where you have to pretty much beg for butter. Why is this a thing?
- Fill the wine glasses
If you need to charge more for the wine, do it. But don’t bring a glass to my table with an inch of red wine sitting sad in the bottom of it. And don’t raise the level of the insult by bringing my husband’s artisan beer in some insanely full, foot-high receptacle. I am a grown-ass woman. Show some respect and give me a grown-ass glass of wine.
- Always oversell dessert
Here’s how it is… As a woman, I need to say no the first time I am offered dessert, especially when it is obvious that I have just consumed a trough full of caesar salad and a bucket of ravioli. But I WANT DESSERT. I want the server to bring me the dessert menu quietly, without my request, and I want that server to describe each sweet offering in a tone of voice that makes everyone in the place a little hot. Convince me – damn you!
Eating out is really only half about the food. The other half of what makes a good restaurant is more about the vibe. Make me comfortable, make me feel special, and give me enough light to see who I am eating with. Accomplish this and I absolutely promise that I will come back… because I don’t want to make dinner every night!