Commentary: Five things I never want to hear in a restaurant

Diners and restaurateurs often don’t get along, and there is a lot of blame to go around on both sides for the frequent differences of opinion. While every restaurant loathes the nitpicky diner (and every diner loathes the grumpy waiter) there are still some policies and ideas that, I think, need to be done away with for good. Every diner has his pet peeve. Here are my five least favorite things to hear from the restaurant I’m visiting.

1. “I don’t know what’s good here.” – I don’t expect every waiter or server in a restaurant to know what’s good on the menu. It’s such a high-turnover job, especially in many of the types of places I visit. At the same time it’s frustrating when no one knows what the kitchen does well or, at least, what is most popular. It makes me wonder if anything is worth trying when the people who spend the most time around the food show no interest in it.
2. “We only cook it one way.” – Do you like your meat medium-rare or well-done? Often it seems restaurants want to pick for you. I’ve become increasingly aware a lot of places ask you how you like your meat cooked, but many still do not, especially for burgers. It’s frustrating, especially when the cook really affects how the dish tastes. I’ve had burgers ruined simply because they were overcooked, and I never would have ordered it so brown.
3. “It’s just a part-time job.” – This is one of those problems where you can never make a server happy. Career waiters and servers are always insulted to think you might be downplaying the legitimacy of their profession, while people just serving to make rent are insulted that you might be belittling them, too.

In the service industry where you often deal with obnoxious people, it’s easy to get upset about this stuff. And yes, rude, demanding or angry people really slow down the operation and ruin a good day. But a part-time job means you are working it part of the time – not that you are only partially invested in it. Please don’t use this as an excuse to under-perform in any way.

4. “I don’t care.” Once again, it’s frustrating to deal with customers sometimes. Especially the ones who want the whole restaurant to bend over backwards for them. Or the ones who are unnecessarily rude when you’re just trying to do your job. But don’t ever act like you don’t care for a customer’s opinions or wishes. Politely tell them why you can’t help them.

As much as you might not like it, your service isn’t just a cog in the machine. To the customer, it will make or break the whole experience. You don’t like having to fake a smile when you’re in a bad mood? Go do a job that doesn’t require people skills, there are plenty of them out there. The business of a restaurant exists just as much on people skills as it does on good food.
5. “They don’t appreciate what it is to be a chef.” – Admittedly I have only seen this in writings by chefs, never in person. At the same time, it is by far the worst to me, as it is a way to belittle people who don’t like a dish because they “don’t understand cooking.”

Just get over it. Chefs have a lot of legitimate reasons to hate customers. This is not one of them. You don’t appreciate what it is to be in my shoes, either. It’s completely irrelevant. Critics don’t need to be in your shoes, because customers could care less about the “artistry” of your food. If they want art, they will visit a museum. They come out for good food, and if your food is not good, that is all that matters.

What are your least favorite things to hear in a restaurant? Comment or email us at Check back in a few days for AFC’s “Five things I never want to hear from a customer.”

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