24, 2003 — Ever
since taking over this column in December 2001, I've had to take
a different approach to the dining out experience.
I no longer simply enjoy a meal; I have to think about what
exactly makes the meal enjoyable. Details that used to go
unnoticed now get jotted in my notepad.
So when my editor suggested I come up with a column detailing
my dining pet peeves, I knew I could cull a list easily.
Longtime readers will probably peg me as a complainer about
cigarette smoke in a restaurant, as I've carped about it more
than once in these pages. But if a restaurant clearly states
that it has a smoking section
— and then does its best to keep that
section segregated from the nonsmoking section
— I don't bat an eye.
Disruptive children? Considered a common annoyance for many
diners, but not me. Hey, I was once a disruptive child myself,
so I don't give it a second thought if an unhappy toddler is
making his or her displeasure known to everyone in the room.
The things that get to me about dining out usually boil down
to common sense.
• I like to think I'm one of the best customers out
there. I always say please and thank you. I smile and ask how
the server is after I am asked, and I rarely tip less than 20
percent. Treat others as you would like to be treated works well
If a server is surly
— a rare occurrence in area eateries,
but it does happen from time to time
— I'm immediately inclined to be less
But my frustration doesn't show itself in bad manners; it's
more evident in a paltry gratuity. I would never skip the tip
entirely, but I'd be a lot more likely to leave only 10 percent
if the service was unsatisfactory.
• Aside from the obvious irritations
— unhelpful, inattentive, or rude wait
— most of my pet peeves have to do with
the surroundings in a restaurant. If music's too loud and I
can't hold a conversation comfortably, I'll be less likely to
• I also feel uncomfortable when tables are
positioned so closely together that you can't help but overhear
your neighbors' intimate conversations. More times than I care
to remember, I've had to divert my inadvertent stare at servers'
derrieres while they wedge themselves between tightly arranged
tables to take an order.
• Speaking of tables: Why, oh why can't restaurants
do a periodic check on the state of theirs? Everywhere I go
these days I seem to get seated at the wobbliest table in the
room. If my husband leans on the table just right, I lose an
inch out of my water glass.
• This leads to another quite popular peeve: empty
water glasses. Nothing makes me happier when eating out with a
group of friends than when the server brings a carafe of water
and leaves it at the table. I'd much rather serve myself than go
— and never more so than when I'm eating
• It can be the littlest detail that puts a damper
on dinner: butter that's too cold and hard to spread on a cold
roll, for instance.
• Sadly, subpar service is often unavoidable. Some
restaurants seem to be purposely understaffed, which forces only
one or two harried servers to hurriedly serve a roomful of
hungry diners. My sympathies always lie with the server in that
situation and my tip reflects it. But too often I don't return
out of frustration with the way the restaurant is managed.
• Sometimes the things that get under my skin while
eating out have nothing to do with the establishment or its
staff. When other patrons stop to talk with someone sitting at
the table next to me for more than a few minutes, but don't sit
down, I find myself feeling towered over and impatient for them
to move on.
• Please don't make me wait too long between the end
of dessert and the arrival of the bill. On the other hand, I
don't want to see the bill arrive with my entree, so I feel
• One of my biggest pet peeves of late? Hearing that
one of my favorite restaurants has closed. Orchard Street
Brewery is one recent example of culinary heartbreak. Thank
goodness it is still brewing some of the best beer in the
To give you some idea how seriously I take this problem: I'm
still sighing over the demise of the short-lived boZak
— and they've been gone for about two
The good news? So many of the restaurants I enjoy in Whatcom
County are innocent of perpetuating any of these pet peeves.
Week after week I'm reminded that this is a terrific place to
eat, full of interesting restaurants, inventive chefs and line
cooks and helpful, attentive servers.