Surly won't cut it

Reviewer shares her pet peeves

Stacee Sledge

Apr 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 for me.

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 friendly.

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 staff 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 return.

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 without and never more so than when I'm eating something spicy.

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 rushed.

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 region.

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 years.

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.

The Fine Print: I dine on my own dime. The opinions herein are mine alone, not The Bellingham Herald's. Agree? Disagree? Please drop me a line at StaceeSledge@hotmail.com.

 

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