What restaurants do wrong, all the time: a list, to help owners and managers
August 01, 2014
Over the course of my adult life, I've spent an inordinate amount of time at restaurants. A couple of times it has even been enjoyable. But it feels like I've seen more places run horribly than run well. Owners, managers and servers have been making the same mistakes for so long it's clear they are not paying attention to what people complain about at all.
Because I'm a helpful sort, I've taken it upon myself to compile a list, with peace and love of course, of things that servers, managers, and owners of restaurants are doing wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. I should note that to my mind, service issues are management issues, and management issues are owner issues. The buck stops with the guy who is taking the financial risk. And too often that person doesn't care or know any better. To that end, this entire list could be directed toward owners. But, I've broken down into the functional areas for ease of review.
Owners and managers, maybe this list will help you. Or not. I do know that putting this together sure made me feel better.
Readers may disagree with some or all of these issues. As always, if you do, keep it to yourself, because I don't care what you think.
- Learn how to serve wine. Present the bottle for approval. That process of presenting/tasting isn't so the customer can say “oooooo, that's so yummy.” It's so the customer can determine if the wine is corked or turned in any way. The same applies for the 2nd bottle, even if it's the same wine. Oh, and customers, try to understand this as well.
- On that second bottle, ask if the guests want new glasses. I often do because glasses can take on off-flavors and aromas during the course of a meal.
- Don't automatically bring an ice bucket. They are big, wet, and messy, and largely unnecessary. Of course ask if the guest wants one.
- When you hand us the menus, please note right then and there if the restaurant is out of anything. I don't enjoy planning out a multi-course meal with drinks only to find out that black sea bass is 86'd.
- Don't clear plates until everyone at the table is done. My God that's Service 101.
- Please place the check in a neutral zone on the table. Don't hand it to me, and don't assume you know who's paying.
- If it's the type of place where there's a tablecloth on the table, you had better not take my dirty fork from my appetizer plate and place it on the table as if I forgot to do it. Take the utensils and bring clean replacements.
- When I ask for the menus, I mean “give me all of the fucking menus.” Menus are those things that list the items that you want to sell to me. I look at these lists and agree to exchange my money for these products based on what I see. If I don't know what your products are then I cannot enter into the agreement wherein I'm receiving your products in exchange for my money. “The menus” means just that: all of them. Cocktails, beer, wine, wine-by-the-glass, food, specials, whatever it is you have.
Issues with the Kitchen
- If your beef is USDA Prime, then go right ahead and say that. Use the proper nomenclature: USDA Prime. It's an actual thing. But definitely don't suggest your meats are USDA Prime by throwing around vague phrases like "prime cuts."
- If tomatoes aren't in season, feel free to not use them. They are unexceptional, and just drive up your food costs, and my costs.
- If you serve bread, make sure it's exceptional. I don't need you to bake it on premises. That doesn't impress me. What impresses me is good bread from a good purveyor. There are plenty of them around.
- Enough with the boring, token, farm-raised salmon dish.
- Truffle oil. Just stop already. It's twenty friggin fourteen, not 1998, and this dreadful stuff has no place on or near my food.
- Super cold butter? Why? If you're looking for a place to keep the butter where it won't be rock hard let me suggest THE KITCHEN.
- Why are most tuna dishes “Asian” with “noodles.” Let's see some creativity here, please.
- Anyone with any sense doesn't care which purveyor supplies your meat. Don't care if it's Buckhead, don't care if it's LaFrieda. I do, however, care if your product is good. Can ya just focus on that instead of this meaningless marketing game that you engage in?
- And enough of the “kobe” hamburger and hot dog BS. If you know anything you know “kobe” is meaningless with respect to hot dogs and burgers. “Wagyu,” you're on notice, too.
Issues with the Bar
- Rose's Lime juice. I don't really have to explain this to you, do I? Have a bottle on hand for those who want a Gimlet. Otherwise don't touch it.
- If your cocktail list boasts “fresh lime juice,” it had better be just that: the juice of a lime. If you put Rose's lime juice or any sort of shit sour mix in a drink that notes “fresh lime juice” I will send it back, and then leave. Stop ruining perfectly fine liquor. Have some respect for crying out loud.
- Offering 5 whites by the glass with four of them being new world oaky Chardonnay shows an extreme lack of understanding of wine. Don't look foolish. Put a Riesling or Chenin Blanc or fucking hell put anything else but oaky new world Chardonnay on the list.
- Is it too much to ask to have an interesting beer list? You have noticed the explosion of craft beers, yes? Please note that Anheuser-Busch's Shock Top and the all of the other faux-craft beers do not qualify as interesting.
- Putting some flavored spirits and sweet juice in a cocktail glass does not make a “martini.” A martini is a specific type of cocktail, not a sickly sweet colored concoction with fake apple and chocolate flavors. Just call them “cocktails” if you must make them at all. And certainly don't call them “martini's” with an apostrophe.
- Merely carrying any tequila that's not 100% blue agave is offensive. 100% agave tequilas aren't out of reach or hard to find. There are plenty of inexpensive, quality products that aren't mixtos. Mixtos should only be served to college kids, not discerning adults. When you serve Jose Cuervo Gold, you're sending a clear message to people like me that you don't want people like me spending much time at your restaurant. You probably want to reconsider that.
Issues with management
- Wearing gloves to handle food...and money! What an asinine practice. This goes for the fish monger as well as the guy making the sandwiches.
- Sandwich shops and coffee shops and other places that are dealing with single item checks, please round your prices to the dollar and don't charge me $8.04 for a sandwich or $3.05 for a coffee. It's a waste of your staff's time, it's a waste of my time, and it's annoying. No one likes coins. Giving customers things they don't want probably isn't a good business practice.
- Speaking of pennies, if your entree prices are above 12 dollars, don't bother trying to fool us with the 95 cent pricing scheme. We get it. We know that $22.95 is really $23. Capisce? By charging $22.95 you are cheapening the look of your menu and your operation on a whole.
- Your website should have your address and phone number on every page. Don't make click on “contact” or “map” or “about” or whatever your talentless web designer decided on in order to figure out where you are.
- Speaking of “contact,” do you really think anyone is going to fill out that ridiculous form on your website? Are you even looking at those responses? Holy shit. Shit-can those stupid forms, immediately.
- And if you're going to make me dig for hours, please make sure it's just one click deep and clearly noted as “hours.” That's a word with a very specific meaning. Language, you see, is a beautiful and useful thing, when used correctly.
- Speaking of hours, make it clear what menu you're serving on weekends during lunch hours. If you've determined that Saturday is yet another day that you should showcase your shitty brunch menu, that should be made clear.
- If you serve a burger on your lunch menu, yet don't have it on your brunch menu, you are beyond help.
- Speaking of brunch, enough with the shitty brunch menus altogether. But if you must serve brunch to keep afloat, just do it on Sundays. Many people work during the week and don't have a chance to get to your restaurant M-F and yet would like to actually try the food that you specialize in, perhaps on a Saturday afternoon. Unless you are aiming to be a Waffle House. Then by all means, remain shitty for 2 meals out of the 12 you offer per week.
- I don't want to download your menu. I want to view it in my browser. Yes, PDF is preferable to whatever unreadable and hard-to-navigate crap your web guy fucked you into.
- Blurry, amateurish pictures on your website? For real? Everyone has a camera in their pocket that is capable of taking a decent picture with just a little bit of patience and trial and error. Keep trying until you get it right. Here's a hint: light helps a lot.
- Your specials should be printed, with prices. If you cannot afford a printer and the time, you should consider another investment or line of work. If you cannot find a way to print the specials, recite them with prices. Don't make me guess. Or ask.
- Owners and managers, I like to feel like I'm being welcomed into your home, not your office. So don't use your bar as your office, even if business is slow. Take your paperwork somewhere else. I don't find much comfort in sipping a beer or eating a meal while someone is going though invoices and payroll a couple of stools away.
- Speaking of feeling welcomed, if you open at 11.30am, then be up and running at 11.30am. Have the music on. Have the TVs on. Have things in place. Seeing a runner filling up ice bins right in front of me makes me feel like more of a loser than I already do. If being up and running by opening time is a challenge, let me suggest having your staff come in a bit earlier.
- And music. Please, restaurants, have some background music. Your restaurant shouldn't feel like a wake. Hell, even wakes have music. And please make it good music. If you don't know what good music is, ask me.
- Stop with the flash and the music on your website. This isn't MySpace. The music I'm playing at my home when I load your page is no doubt more interesting, and I don't want to hear yours. Also, all of that fancy stuff tells me that you make poor business decisions and waste money. You can't run a good business with these crippling qualities, so when I see this glitz, I lose interest in trying your restaurant.
- When people call your restaurant to ask questions or make a reservation, make sure the person on the phone at least pretends that they are talking to someone that they like. A simple and enthusiastic “thank you!” and “see you soon!” goes a long way to build good will.
- If you're unable to answer your phone, your outgoing message should include your hours of operation, address, and information on how to make a reservation (hopefully online), in a clear and professional tone. It shouldn't say “leave us and message and we'll get back to you,” because quite frankly I don't think you will. And I want to leave you a message even less than I wanted to have to call you in the first place.
- Buy some napkins for your cocktails and wine glasses, not coasters. While the other-worldly suction ability of those free, distributor-provided “coasters” might not bother you, they don't make for a very pleasurable experience, as I have to peel them off of the bottom of my glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Again, this is your home...operate it as if it is.
- Stop with naming or describing your business as a “grille.” This word has nothing to do with food or cooking, unless you're cooking food on your car's engine. It doesn't make your restaurant seem more sophisticated. If fact, it does exactly the opposite.
- When you describe your restaurant as “New York City Style” or “Soho Chic,” you sound like a rube.
- Misspellings on menus? Are you serious? If your attention to detail is so poor that you can't identify typos even with the help of spell-check, a (free) tool that has been around for more than 2 decades, then I don't trust that you can run a restaurant. I mean, what else are you not noticing?
- Speaking of typos, if you don't know how to speak Italian, don't try to write Italian. “Paninis” isn't a thing. You just made that up. No need to add an 's' to a plural word to pluralize it, and there's sure as shit no need to add a possessive apostrophe: Pizzas is correct. Pizza's is stupid. Pizze is Italian. Pizze's is molto stupido.
- I don't care if your server calls us “guys,” as long as they are pleasant.
So what did I miss? Help these owners do their jobs better by sharing in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter.
And please excuse the typos and misspellings.