Restaurant Pet Peeves

Restaurant Pet Peeves: Sometimes they seem insignificant and sometimes they can flat out ruin your entire evening. Collected here is a list of 10 Restaurant Pet Peeves that drive guests bonkers.

Did you know that the word “Hospitality” is derived from the same root word as “Hospital” and “Restaurant” is a French word with lineage to the word “Restore”. Hospitality should be a restorative service, and there are certain basic tactics that your waitstaff could be doing right now to make your guests’ dining experience more than just a meal. These Pet Peeves show just how your waitstaff could be missing the opportunity to make your guests meal a positive experience:

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Starting a meal without a greeting is like starting an article without an introduction. It’s like skipping not only the foreplay, but skipping the date. I am immediately set off when waitstaff walk over and start with “Are you ready to order?” Yes, really, only those five words and no more. No exaggeration. And it happens more than I can count – even at high-end joints.

Why not just walk over and ask me to pay for my meal first? Why not just walk over and kick me in the shin? When did we forget that hospitality is about being welcoming? How can you be welcoming if you don’t extend a welcome? No matter how good the food is, it will never compensate for a poor start.

aaron allen restaurant consultant pet peeves

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Adding insult to the injury of not getting a greeting is to order an ice water and then get a disapproving repeat of your order from waitstaff expecting to score the check- builder of premium bottled water. Most restaurants worth their salt these days offer filtered water (and do it for free). Not only is bottled water bad for the environment, maybe I wanted to get something I knew would be cold so I ordered ice water rather than paying $7 for bottled water and then putting ice cubes made from that tap water I could have gotten for free to chill it.

Maybe I was saving that extra $7 to add to his tip. No more should someone feel insecure coming to a restaurant alone than he should feel insecure ordering tap water. If your tap water is so bad that only expensive bottled water is kosher, then you need not only new waitstaff but new plumbing.

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It’s so sweet when they ask, “Would you like lemon in your ice water (or tea or whatever)?” You reply: “Oh, no thanks.” Then, when you put your parched lips against the straw to suck your refreshing beverage, you taste lemon. But how could that be? You said no lemon. It’s because the server’s contaminated little mitts just touched the working end of your straw or the rim of your glass. If you taste lemon on your straw, there’s no telling what else is on that straw you can’t taste.

aaron allen restaurant consultant pet peeves touching top glass

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Would you like a refill?  “Yes,” you reply. Then, with lightning speed, just as you’re taking another big bite of those blazing hot chicken wings, the waitress speeds off with your glass. Rather than bring a fresh one (the restaurant is stocked with more than one glass per patron, you know?), she scurries off with yours, leaving you at the mercy of her return schedule. Oh, she just remembered, she forgot to get another set of blazing wings out to table 34. It’s not until you’re face first in the Coca-Cola from the table next door that she remembers to bring back your cup. Senseless. Since the waitress doesn’t have to wash the glasses she brings out, I can’t imagine for the life of me why they don’t just bring out a fresh one. At least leave me with the comfort of sucking on the ice cubes until you get back. Don’t take my only lifeline.

aaron allen restaurant consultant pet peeves taking glass table

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Someone I respect once told me the sign of good service is when you have everything you need but were never asked if you needed it. Powerful. I agree. A pet peeve is the over zealous waiter that thinks walking over and commanding the undivided attention of every member of the table and asking “is everything okay…(pause)…is there anything else I can get you?”, in a booming voice, is a measure of good service. It’s not. If your water is empty, you shouldn’t have to ask to have it refilled.


To me, this is like going on a cruise and having some over-helpful cruise director blast in to your room every three minutes with some on-air announcement. Silent service is golden. You don’t have to be loud to give good service – it’s just the opposite actually.

aaron allen restaurant consultant pet peeves interruptions

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Waitstaff, of which I used to be, get to hear some really interesting conversation. Unlike anyone else in the room, you get to butterfly around from table to table. No one gives a moment’s pause in the conversation, and you get to hear it all. But does that mean you are one of the dinner guests? Of course not. It drives me nuts when waitstaff feel that just because they are waiting on the table their opinion is valued and that  they have the same platform from which to speak. I have no doubt this person may have something very interesting to say and is an interesting person. But unless he or she is invited to the conversation, the stance of objective server is a must.

aaron allen restaurant consultant pet peeves master ceremonies

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This is a funny pet peeve. And it’s not even mine. When I was at the tender age of 15, I waited tables at the only restaurant in town that would hire 15-year-ld waiters. It was in the South. I made the mistake of welcoming a party to the restaurant and asking “Are you guys ready to order?” to a nice couple. The man gave a pause like he was holding back barely controllable anger. He said, “BOY, I want you to look at my wife. Does she look like a GUY to you?”

I said: “No sir. ”

“Well then, why in the hell would you ask what “YOU GUYS” want to order?” At the time, I thought this guy was a lunatic. Later, I came to realize that this is a major pet peeve for many, and it makes sense. I learned the hard way. Unless it’s all “guys,” don’t ask “Are you guys ready to order?”

aaron allen restaurant consultant pet peeves you guys

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The best service of any chain restaurant is found at Hillstone (formerly Houston’s). A quiet chain. It does several hundred million dollars per year in revenue, but not much fuss is made about it. Like its waitstaff, its corporate publicists “yield” to the food and remarkable service. Try it. Next time you go to a Hillstone, go to the bathroom and watch what happens. Even in the peak of the dinner shift, the waitstaff will yield. What a beautiful word in hospitality – “yield.” They yield to the guest. When you walk by, they stop….they pause…they smile, look you in the eye and graciously let you go first. Sure, they’re slammed (their restaurants pump out up to $8 million or more per year, so a Friday night shift is jamming), but they still put you first.

Your trip to the bathroom is more important than their rushing around. They’ll make the time up somewhere else, they think – in the kitchen…out of the guests sight…but certainly not at the expense of the guest. All too many restaurants have no clue of this remarkable and beautiful service technique. Instead, going to the bathroom is like navigating a city intersection at rush-hour. You leave the sanctity of your table and play a game of “Frogger” to bounce to and from the bathroom in between the hurried steps of waitstaff.

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It’s been a long day. You’ve made hundreds of decisions. People counted on you and you delivered. You spent every bit of mental energy you had. Now you just want to be taken care of.  Chicken, steak, scallops – you could eat any of those. They all sound good.  “What’s best?” you ask with a cracked smile, expecting you will get an exuberant response from a waiter in love with the chef’s orgasmic rendition of scallops.   “Oh….well….it depends on what you’re in the mood for….” the waiter mumbles, while his eyes jolt from table to table in an effort to telepathically refill drinks and collect tips at his other tables.

You’re frustrated. To be polite, you ask a few more qualifying questions while he scribbles doodles on his pad of paper. It shouldn’t be this way, though. He should have an opinion. He should give you insight. Yes, yes, I realize the scallops and Rib Eye are quite different dishes. I didn’t ask if they were as apple is to apple, I asked which one would you recommend! I could do either. Sell me on one and make me feel good about it. I’ll buy either. I asked you to more or less make the decision for me because I’ve made too many decisions today, and I want to follow your recommendation and feel good about doing so. Don’t say, “Depends on what you’re in the mood for.” Oh, wait, you just reminded me – I’m in the mood for another restaurant…one that makes me feel good and can read my mood, not ask me to spell it out.

aaron allen restaurant consultant pet peeves decisions

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Ever go to a restaurant and a puffy chest waiter comes over to tell you what “he” has on special tonight? “Tonight I have…” and “I can also do”…hmmm….so wait a minute….the owner is actually the waiter too?! Cool. When I hear “I” so much in a waiter’s pitch, I think about the sorry souls actually doing the work in the kitchen, pouring their heart into the dishes they make. A worried entrepreneur owner seeing to everything and making sure it’s just right; a dishwasher going through the grind hoping for a promotion to the cooking line. Unless the waiter owns the place, it should be tonight “WE” are featuring and “WE can also do.” It’s about a team of people. Unless this waiter owns the joint, cooks the food, washes the dishes, parks the cars, pays the taxes…unless he does all of that, I think it’s a slap in the face to everybody else on the team to say “I” to everything like he’s the center of it. Yeah, it’s because I’ve worked in the industry. But then again, so have millions upon millions of people. Show respect. Don’t take the credit. Share the credit. If it’s a killer special tonight, don’t say “tonight I have the most remarkable sea bass”. Instead, say “tonight our chef has come up with the most remarkable sea bass preparation and we have been recommending it to all of our guests”

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