Category Archives: In restaurants

Restaurant off pissers: I bet you don’t like them either.

I use a couple of LinkedIn forums, generally unsuccessfully, to find the people I  need. One of them is called “Cutting Edge Chefs”, and while I doubt that any really cutting edge chefs have time to fool around in the forums, I like to hope.

Recently the moderator posted a list of things he really dislikes  in restaurants, which included cold butter on warm bread,  food presented better than it tastes and pizza with the cheese untouched by heat because it is covered with tomato sauce.

Never having suffered the cheese issue – San Franciscan chefs are pretty OCD about pizza – I agree entirely with his fourth peeve:  Tiny dark menu fonts on dark backgrounds  in dimly lit dining rooms. I toasted my rods in an act of defiance to  nature on the slopes of St Moritz in my twenties, so even blazing black on white is a challenge for me even with 20/20 vision, and I note for quite a few others. . He states correctly that servers seem amused but rarely helpful when he scrounges for a light source..which puts the concept of “hospitality”, as the industry is wont to call itself, in question. (Tip:  There’s a flashlight app for most smart phones.)

Pump primed, I responded with my least favorite restaurant issues. Of course you want to know what they are, so here’s the list.

Crusty, crumbly bread without a bread plate because “We are Mediterranean and that’s how we do it.” At lunch with a reviewer once we made such a mess of our table cloth that we simply gathered it up in a bundle and handed it to the passing server. Of course we had had three drinks while they got the food out, so our inhibitions were a little weak.
Servers who cannot stay away from the table during interesting conversations. (Like the discussion of a Hollywood Star’s planned restaurant with the Director of Operations). We had to call the manager to detain her.
Servers with visible belly button rings at eye level.
Anyone near me or my food who has gone to great lengths to deform their bodies, especially their ear lobes with extending rings. Thoroughly unappetizing, that.
Servers who ask “Is everything all right” (If everything is not all right, ones options are either lying or causing a scene – thanks for putting me on the spot) or worse: “Are we having a fabulous breakfast?” (At possibly the worst breakfast I have ever had at Campton Place..being with a client I could make the desired anatomical alterations on the man..sometimes restraint is hard. Note to servers: “Do you need anything” will suffice.
Figuring that my dinner is going to come to about $80 and walking out with a $120 bill due to added charges and fees. (San Francisco only).
Servers who insist on sharing their opinion. They are SERVERS, not ADVISORS. Would someone please tell them to wait until their surely valuable thoughts on the day boat scallops or the halibut are requested?
“You guys”..I am not a guy. Can someone teach the serving class that they don’t need to add a title to their greeting? A simple “Good Evening. Welcome to John’s Croissants and Offal Joint” Would do just fine.
“Good Evening, young lady”. Oh, vomit. How absolutely insulting and bleeping patronizing and slimy. Most women are smart enough to know you don’t think they are young. In fact, you have just said in effect, “You look old.”
“Would you like your change back?” No, Bubba. I always give 50% tips.
Servers who think I give a damn about their names. Really I don’t. I will forget them the moment they leave the table, and I am smart enough to figure out on my own that they will be my server tonight, as opposed, say, to my dentist.
Not seating my 75 year old dining partner until I find a parking place, even though we have a reservation, and the room empty with two tops.
Wine stewards who tell you that your wine is not in at the moment and suggest another, failing to mention that the price is double.
Bistro highchairs. Who ever got the brainfahrt that people like to perch at lunch? I left my high chair behind at two and a half years and haven’t looked back. I find feet on the ground comforting.
Common tables, where the host(ess) will seat you, even though there are empty booths: These are fine when you are alone but they stink for business lunches or trysts, not that I engage in many of the latter.
Din. You know what I mean.
Bars without purse hooks. Come on, guys. They’re cheap and make friends. If you have any class at all, you also provide some place for purses at the table. Gary Danko brings a little bag stool. You don’t want bags on the tables. Women put them on the floor in the bathroom. Enough said.
Mirrors reminding me that it’s time for another peel. Well over half the dining population do not want to see themselves in the mirror while they chew. New York has figured it out and angles the mirrors down so that you see the table, not your face. Good one. (New York also has purse hooks all over the place and usually a women’s restroom and a 00 restroom, so women don’t have to wait in line. New York has it figured out.)
The usual sustainability clichés. I expect chefs at the restaurants I patronize to use quality ingredients. It’s their job. That almost always means local, sustainable, organic, blah blah blah food. I don’t want an ecological sermon when I go to eat.
Menus with recipes and food provenance instead of short descriptions. I don’t give a rat’s rear who nurtured my nutrients. I get that at the farmers market. You know your farmer? Nice. Most likely so do I, but we are not going to chat about it at the table, as I want to enjoy my friends.
Being seated at a crappy table when I am single, which I try not to be.
The bum’s rush. You want me to go without dessert? Have I been that obnoxious, or are you just short of china, so you need every plate the moment the diner has stepped down the pace to the occasional nibble?
Having to wait an hour for the check. Ditto menu. Ditto main dish.
Feeling the urge to identify myself when everything is beyond tolerance, or even thinking, “obviously they don’t know who I am”, as they shouldn’t HAVE to know who you are. (I never do..but urge control detracts from the experience)
Snotty Gen XY hostesses. Where in the world were they raised? My Little Pony caves? Hello Kitty Land?
Hipster Restaurants (are you listening, St Francis Fountain?) who make it painfully clear that I am not hip (true that) and really should not be there. And listen, dudes, the fact that you are all hairy around the face and dressed like Paul Bunyan out looking for Babe doesn’t help a lot.  Something about bushy men in flannel with knit caps doesn’t exactly scream “clean” to me.
Restaurants trying to be cute with Gimmicks. Any Gimmicks.
Desserts purchased wholesale.  Anything that comes cold because the flash oven didn’t completely defrost it. Hell, if you can’t afford a pastry chef take a note from Giallina and  and serve great ice cream.
Pastry chefs hell bent on making dessert taste and smell like bath products.
Receptionists who think you are out-of-towners and try to give you the 10:00 seating or the 5:00 seating, because they know they can sell the middle seatings easily.
Dinner next to a bachelorette party.Restaurants should know to consign them to sound proof rooms.
“How are WE tonight? Are we here for dinner?” I don’t know about you, sistah, but I am hunky dorey and I came to get my shoes shined. Please bring the lackey.

All this, of course, makes great service even better appreciated. Like, for instance, Perbacco. I think Umberto Gibin is San Francisco’s Danny Meyer, but we have a lot of restaurants where the owner manages the floor masterfully.

The puzzling part of this, or perhaps not, is that one is expected to pay an extra 20% for the aggravation, when it is aggravation. I suspect a lot of it is servers trying too hard to be seen and remembered in order to get you to pony up more. And you will. If they were compensated for their work like other Food and Beverage professionals, without the pressure to sell up and use frantic sycophancy, more of us would probably enjoy ourselves more eating out.
I love to eat out. I love restaurants. I love chefs and dinners with friends, who won’t come to my hillside hovel, so I do eat out a bit. I just don’t look forward to it as much as I perhaps should.

Damn, that was fun. Definitely Therapeutic.

Please add your own peeves or disagree. The only impediment to signing up/in is a captcha system which requires math skills from 1 – 20. I know you are up for that.

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Dining Single – Single Diners

When I put my only child on a plane to adulthood about twenty years ago, my sense of freedom and relief of having brought him up successfully, alive, healthy, well educated and free of a criminal record or addiction was so overwhelming, that I decided to go celebrate – alone – just with my sense of power. I chose Stars Café, Jeremiah Tower’s casual one off restaurant, which was exciting without being oppressing. It was early, and when I walked in, it was empty. A girl of barely drinking age  chatting up someone on the phone didn’t turn around when I entered the empty restaurant, so I pulled up a chair at a corner table.

After chatting a bit further, the girl turned around and hissed: You can’t sit there. Single diners have to sit at the bar along the wall by the door.  Chic and probably a lot of fun when the restaurant was packed the deserted stretch of zinc (I think) was less than inviting. I would have felt like pole sticking up out of the ground. I said no.  She scowled but said I could sit upstairs. I agreed with relief, and she directed me what I remember as 14 inch table on the landing at the top of the stairs, in direct traffic. It was the dunce seat, or looked that way.

Picturing myself trying to make myself invisible by curling into an ever smaller ball as each new arriving party came straight at my lonesome profile as they topped the stairs,  I declined. She refused to do anything else. Feeling neither powerful, successful nor free, just alone and out of place, I left.   The restaurant was still empty. I think I cried a little.

I  mentioned it to a friend,  Joyce Goldstein, the owner of Square One, another great restaurant which changed San Francisco’s dining forever. “You have to tell Jeremiah,” she said. “He has to know.”  I hadn’t met Jeremiah yet,  having just taken over the family food business, and I wasn’t very positively inclined toward him, but I followed her advice. A fabulously horrified and charming letter arrived nearly the next day. “By Return,” as they say. I have loved the man ever since.

It was one of my early practical lessons in restaurant reality: Employers set policy, employees screw it up. Jeremiah’s policies, like Jeremiah, were gracious. The hostess was a snot. I’ve seen it enough times since, and so have you, but it rarely bothers me as much as it did that evening, probably because when it happens I am not alone.

Except today:  Thanks to the negligence of a neighbor’s irresponsible contractor my house has no walls, ceilings, or floors. I don’t have a dining room or a dining room table. I can’t have friends over for dinner, and I am not getting out a lot. It’s my birthday.

I hate birthdays. My  current mindset is somewhere between perpetual funk and junk yard dog mean, so I attempted an attitude tune up by getting out and playing hooky from work with nice scenery and lunch after the last contractor of the day told me how many thousand dollars more the upgrades would cost than my insurance pays.

Since I had something to deliver to the beach, I chose a restaurant with a heart stopping view of today’s breathtakingly blue ocean.  I entered the expansive, barely populated dining room at about 11:30 and asked to be seated by the window. The hostess warbled sweetly, “I have difficulty seating singles at the window.”   “But today,”  I snarled,  “you can, because it’s my birthday, you are empty, I am in a crappy mood, and I know the owners.” (I do, and they are wonderful people and exceptional restaurateurs,  but I am profoundly ashamed of saying it – How rude..) She did. I wrote the owner.

It’s been a while since I have felt uncomfortable eating alone, so  I am surprised that these thing still happen. Looking back I realize, though, that since the Stars Cafe event, I have avoided it. I’ll even take a sandwich to a hotel room and mope, rather than risking  the single diner slap in the face.  I also wonder if the fact that I am a woman no longer young played a part – A young man was sitting at a deuce at the window. Perhaps  he made the decision easier for the hostess by slipping her a tip, but then, most of the view tables were in fact four tops with small tables away from the windows, so perhaps she was thinking of the larger tips expected from a happily drinking group of four. or just logistics, if a rush occurred. It’s a nice place for lunch (or dinner or brunch).

When I left there were still window tables available.

There was a while when the press spoke about single business diners and single women in restaurants a lot. No longer. Perhaps it’s time to open a dialogue, or at least a monologue on the matter, so here are a few points in favor of seating the single diner in the prime locations.

1)      It’s a nice thing to do. The group of four are not going to be spending most of their time looking out the window or enjoying the dining room choreographies.  They will be laughing and chatting. The single diner will appreciate whatever you have to offer more.

2)      I, at least, feel exposed eating alone. I suspect it’s not just me. Looking out a window or sitting against a wall helps  for some reason.

3)      If the ambiance is a view, then a single diner is going to have to look past four or six people to see it. The group of four or six will be closer and have to look past only one, who probably won’t be blocking it much..

4)      You don’t know who that single diner is/you don’t know who  you are pissing off. You don’t know how many friends they might bring back with them.  They may be regulars (I had been at this restaurant many times).

5)      Singles tend to eat faster. You will have the table back soon enough.

6)       First come, first serve.

7)       It’s good Karma.

8)       Not treating single diners the same way you treat groups is discrimination. It’s not illegal, but it poses a few ethical questions.

7)      You do not raise the suspicion that you want your snotty palm crossed with green.

8)       People with a higher pique and lacking a blog are likely to vent against the restaurant rather than the practice both with their friends and on YELP. (I don’t). (Ever).

This incident made me feel rotten. That’s not world shaking – there are tragedies enough and a lesser table in a restaurant is at the worst a minor disappointment – but it made me feel bad about myself and who I am and how I am. It brought out what is unfortunately not the worst in me – the friend card – and it made me regret that. What I anticipated as a pleasant interlude became depressing. I really didn’t enjoy the hamburger.  Of course it’s my own fault – I should have left, but in my defense I was hungry. It made me not want to eat out alone, and I won’t for quite a while now.

I am sure that some best policy indicates that numbers rule and individuals need only to be adequately accommodated. The policy is wrong. If only limited seating for groups remains in a restaurant is empty, of course the staff needs to organize diners by group size, but If a restaurant is empty and does not have a full set of reservations, there is no excuse for seating singles in Siberia. The restaurant industry sails under the “hospitality” flag, and the person greeting the guest is a “host” or “hostess”, all of which would suggest being hospitable. Discriminatory seating is anything but.

The logistics question is fair, but what prevents a highly profitable, large restaurant with a view from placing two tops which can be adapted to groups of two, four or more at view positions? My guess is that the policy or practice is at worst an oversight by the management, and, as I said, it’s the job of the hostess to screw up what owners intend well. It’s too bad under any circumstances. I was really looking forward to it, It was my only birthday present.

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