Alan Richman‘s 30 commandments for making restaurants—and any dining-out experience—better are spot on. I’ve shared them with you below.
1. DON’T THREATEN US
If I’m coming at eight, I don’t want to hear, “We need the table back at ten.“ Actually, I don’t care what you want. I’ll tell you what I want: I want to be seated on time. I want warm rolls, right away. I want my drink order taken at 8:05, on the dot. I want my six-course tasting menu exquisitely timed. You want a mutual exchange of schedules, I’ll go for that. And don’t be sending any weedy 135-pound maître d’s around to throw us out. When I’m at my table, I’m in my house.
2. DON’T BANISH US TO THE BAR
The all-too-common phrase “Your table isn’t quite ready“ invariably means the customer is sent off grumbling to a packed bar. Restaurants that can’t honor reservations on time should offer some sort of consolation to inconvenienced guests, even if it’s nothing more than a complimentary glass of the not-very-good house wine. People don’t become customers the moment they’re seated. They’re customers as soon as they walk in the door.
3. SINCE I’M NOT BUYING YOU DINNER, I DON’T CARE WHAT YOUR FAVORITE DISH IS
I think waiters are good people. I really do. They’re hardworking, starving actors barely surviving on one meal a day—but I never listen when they recommend their so-called favorite dish, the warm fricassee of roasted root vegetables with black-truffle jus. The only jus they’ve ever tasted is the canned gravy they eat at home. It was a sad day in American dining when waiters decided their job was to give orders, not take them.
4. DON’T ASK “DO YOU KNOW HOW THE MENU WORKS?“
I’m there to eat, not take a class in Understanding Incomprehensible Cuisine. The only kind of menu that requires interpretation is a bad one. Here’s how a menu should read: Soup. Fish. Meat. Dessert. Here’s how it should work: I pick things out, I tell you what I want, you write that down, and then you bring the food to me. It can get a little trickier, but not so much that I need a microbiology professor as a dining companion.
5. BRING BACK THE DRESS CODE
I’m sick of putting on a jacket to go out to dinner and finding myself surrounded by velour tracksuits. At the very least, announce your lack of standards with a sign: we welcome slobs.
6. HOW ABOUT A WINE LIST FOR THE LITTLE LADY?
Why is it that the list always goes to the oldest, fattest guy at the table? Isn’t everyone entitled to a refreshing grape-based beverage of his or her choice? Not everybody will want a wine list, but every person should be offered one. If you think the cost of having so many lists is prohibitive, then toss out those leather-bound Gutenberg Bibles and start laser-printing them in your basement.
7. DON’T PLACE ME ON HOLD MORE THAN ONCE
Reservationists have mastered the art. “May I put you on hold?“ asks Chad, who punches the button before I can reply. I’ll put up with this once, but when Chad does it again, I hang up and never call back. Restaurants that continually have customers listening to Kenny G’s greatest hits should have a truthful recorded message: “We’re so self-important we don’t give a damn if you come to our restaurant, so we’re putting you on hold again and again, and if you even think of complaining, your name will go on our blacklist and you’ll be deprived forever of our $90 market menu consisting of stuff the chef got cheap.“
8. DON’T ASK FOR A CREDIT CARD UNTIL AFTER DESSERT
Restaurants have started demanding that customers guarantee reservations with credit cards. Don’t let them get away with it. Assure them you’ll show up. Promise you’ll call to reconfirm—thoughtful restaurants even provide special numbers for this service. Frankly, if restaurants want to start acting like hotel chains, they should offer similar perks, like frequent-diner upgrades. (“Ma’am, your pork loin tonight will now be prime rib—at no cost to you.“)
9. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE OUR INTELLIGENCE OR OUR MATH SKILLS
I once ordered the $3 cheese plate at a New York restaurant and got an ungarnished chunk of “cave-aged“ Gruyère so tiny I shook my head in despair. The waitress huffed, “It’s a full half ounce.“ Maybe the cheese was raised in a cave, but I wasn’t. Using my junior-high math skills, I calculated that the restaurant was selling the Gruyère for $96 a pound, the sort of markup that would make a Porsche dealer blush.
10. STOP SCAMMING US WITH SPECIALS
Nothing is more annoying than an off-the-menu côte de boeuf special for two, lovingly described by a captain, that appears on your check at a shocking $79.95. No, the price tag shouldn’t be announced tableside— that makes everybody feel cheap and creepy. The solution is to keep the price of specials in line with other menu items. Nobody should have to take out a loan to have the pasta of the day.
11. KNOCK OFF THE “DAY-BOAT“ ROUTINE
Like I really believe there’s an armada of fishing boats sailing off every morning at daybreak and returning at dusk, just so every restaurant in America can put day-boat halibut or day-boat cod on its menu.
12. THE “DIVER-SCALLOP“ SCAM IS EVEN WORSE
Here’s how that fairy tale goes: Up in Maine live thousands of lunatics in loincloths who dive off cliffs and plunge to the bottom of the ocean to gather up tasty dinner entrées. Has anybody ever seen one of these guys?
13. DON’T ASK “WHO GETS THE SOUP?“ WHILE I’M REGALING MY GUESTS
There isn’t a waiter alive who doesn’t believe the restaurant would close without him. He can’t possibly wait for me to finish my sentence before he interrupts. Most often his question is “Would you like fresh pepper on that?“ It takes restraint not to reply, “No, I’ll be having the stale pepper.“
14. DON’T ASK “IS EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT?“ UNLESS YOU WANT AN HONEST ANSWER
In a world filled with perfunctory gestures, this is the worst. When the restaurant owner comes by the table to ask this question, he wants us to tell him that his joint is unrivaled. Sure it is. The chef is putting canned pâté on the tournedos, and the carpeting hasn’t been replaced since 1973. And we’re supposed to assure him that everything is all right?
15. BAN THE BANQUETTE
What is this, the Last Supper? I hate sitting side by side with my friends (and their coats), all of us up against a sticky red Naugahyde cushion. Why is it that everybody hates the middle seat on an airplane but doesn’t mind banquette seating?
16. HAVE MERCY ON MY ASS
The part of the human body least valued by restaurants these days is the part that absorbs most of the burden of dining out. The big, soft, comfortable chair, once an expected benefit of a restaurant meal, is being replaced by industrial-level molded plastic. Quit buying furniture from junior-high-school-cafeteria supply houses.
17. ELIMINATE THE OMELET STATION
You’re on vacation, ready to splurge. That means the hotel’s $39.95 Sunday buffet brunch. There’s smoked salmon, sushi, crab claws, shrimp, and eggs Benedict. You head straight for the omelet station, where a guy who has never been to cooking school is making fluffy omelets with peppers, Bac-Os, and a grated-cheese product. Nice going. You’ve just filled up on a dish that costs $4.99 at Denny’s.
18. TAKE CARE OF THE COAT-CHECK GIRL
Restaurants have started to profit from the decades of goodwill and affection that (male) customers have for coat-check girls. They do this by paying her a (meager) salary and keeping the tips. Shades of Oliver Twist. So I always ask the coat-check girl if she’s permitted to keep her tips. If she tells me she isn’t, I never leave one.
19. SHOW US THE CHEF
If dinner for two is costing $200, you have every right to expect the chef to be at work. Restaurants where the famous celebrity chef has taken the night off should post a notice, similar to the ones seen in Broadway theaters: “The role of our highly publicized head chef will be played tonight by sous-chef Willie Norkin, who took one semester of home economics and can’t cook.“
20. GET OVER YOURSELF
What’s with hot restaurants stationing goons at their front doors? They’re always burly guys in bad suits and earpieces whispering into walkie-talkies, checking reservations. If the president is inside eating, it’s okay. And I’ll only believe that if I spot countersniper teams on surrounding rooftops.
21. BAN HOUSE WINE
No matter what beverage you request, it has to be better than the house wine. If two of you are having dinner, order the cheapest bottle on the list, even if you know you won’t finish it. And, please, whatever you do, don’t sniff the cork—you’ll learn nothing and only smudge your nose.
22. DON’T SERVE A DISH CREDITED TO THE CHEF’S MOTHER
Honestly, do you really think she’s at the stove? Maybe if you’re driving through Italy, you might find a sweet old lady chained to a chair in the kitchen, forced to make a few thousand agnolotti before lunch. This doesn’t happen in America. Any restaurant dish with the word Mama’s in it was cooked up by some ungrateful son who probably hasn’t called home in two and a half years.
23. EVEN WORSE IS A DISH INVENTED BY THE CHEF’S FATHER
Because dads can’t cook.
24. DON’T OVERFILL MY GLASS
I tremble with rage after I order a bottle of wine and the waiter fills every glass at my table to within a millimeter of the rim, then asks, “Would you like another bottle?“ It’s worse when the wine is white. Then it’s going to sit in the glass too long, getting warm.
25. DON’T KEEP THE BOTTLED WATER COMING
How many times have you looked at your bill and seen a charge of $27 for three bottles of water when you were certain you’d ordered only one?
26. GET A NEW JOKE
After dessert, the owner walks over, sees you’ve devoured the triple-fudge mocha torte, and quips, “Oh, I guess you didn’t like it.“ Yuk yuk. It was funny the first 700 times I heard it, but I started getting tired of that joke around 1987.
27. NO MORE HOT WHITE WINE
There’s a subversive secret society of sommeliers who want us to drink underchilled white wine. They come to the table with a bottle, almost always expensive Chardonnay, and say, “You don’t want me to put this on ice, do you?“ Actually, I do.
28. ENOUGH WITH THE FLORENTINE STEAKS
They’re tough in Florence. They’re worse here.
29. DON’T PUSH THE AUSTRIAN ZWEIGELT UNLESS YOU KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT IT
Wine lists are now packed with obscure bottles from all over the world. Listing a Portuguese Castelão is fine, as long as there’s a sommelier to ID it, but too many restaurants are leaving the job to waiters who have no clue. (By the way, both the Zweigelt and the Castelão are red.)
30. DON’T ASK ME “DO YOU WANT CHANGE?“
Of course I do. Every penny of it. Then I will thoughtfully and judiciously determine the amount of your tip, should I be inclined to leave one. You are not entitled to any of my money unless I say so. That also goes for my briefcase and my overcoat, if you’ve been eyeing them.
Read the original article on GQ here.
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