10 Most Annoying Things About Dining Out

We often wonder why anyone would decide to own a restaurant. Not only can profit margins be thin, they also rise and fall on whims. Hire an inept server? Customers at that table will never return.

It's a precarious business.

From the guest's point of view, however, there's no reason to reward a bad experience. We've all encountered an uninformed waiter fumbling through explanations of that night's specials, a manager who refused to correct some mistake, or watched staff members fawn over those at the next table while ignoring yours.

There are, of course, issues a restaurateur can't control--the vagaries of Dallas' alcohol laws, for instance, or that screaming baby at the next table. But of those they can, these are the most annoying:

10. Wait staff asking "How is everything" at all the wrong moments
You know they're just trying to be polite, just fulfilling an obligation set down by management. But they can also see that you've chomped down on close to half of that burger only moments earlier. With cheeks puffed out and eyes bulging, you're hoping to survive this bite without having to find out who in the dining room knows the Heimlich maneuver. That's when they descend, all chirpy and bright, to pop the question. Happens every time.

9. Superlatives
Some restaurants can't resist this gimmick. They print "best pizza in Dallas" on the menu, scribble "best apple pie in the northern hemisphere" on chalkboards or paint "world's best ever foie gras" on the window. Instinctively guests see this as a challenge--one the restaurant will have a hard time winning. It encourages diners to find fault rather than discover something great. And discovery is part of the fun, right?

8. The practice of seating people in clusters
It's a slow night. Only two other tables are occupied in a 1,000 square foot dining room--and the hostess plants you right between them. Yes, this is easier for the wait staff to handle, especially as the manager sent half the crew home. But this also robs the guests of some privacy. In a quiet space, voices carry. The practice, therefore, can make for an awkward dining experience.7. Restaurants not posting opening hours on the web site
That this happens--and frequently--is so damn absurd. Restaurants presumably create a web site to encourage people to visit. They make the effort to paste photos and upload the menu, so potential guests will get an idea of what's in store. Then they forget to tell you whether they open for lunch, what time the kitchen closes in the evening, whether you can visit on a Sunday...This is vital information.

6. Restaurants not keeping stated hours
Ran into this minor annoyance just last week. A glance online confirmed that a particular restaurant was open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday-Saturday. The same information was painted on their front door. One tug on the handle, however...Despite electronic and physical assurances, the place was locked up at 4:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. And they'd placed a barely visible sign behind the door that read "Open at 5 p.m." Changing your hours is fine. Just update the information.

5. By the glass wines at cocktail prices
In some instances, restaurants offer some rare and pricey vintage by the glass. We're not talking about those moments. Our concern here is with venues that put $10 or $12 tags on per glass pours from a $7 bottle. It's fine to make a profit (and $5-$7 a glass would generate one from a $7 bottle), not take advantage of customers.

4. Staff not bussing silverware between courses
Yes, most people use the same knife and fork throughout dinner when eating at home. When you dine out, however, you expect--or should expect--a different level of service. Far too often, however, wait staff leave used silverware on the table as they hustle off to bring out the next course. Knives streaked in butter, forks crusted with bits of cheese and spinach from the quesadilla--very appetizing.

3. Charging high corkage fees at BYOB-only restaurants
So, Mr./Ms. Restaurateur, you don't want to spring for a wine or liquor license and you want us to pay for your cheapskate ways? We understand the TABC is a royal pain. But anything more than a few bucks for the server's troubles seems unreasonable.

2. No reservation policies at popular restaurants
This annoyance is not so clear cut, mind you. Establishments benefit from the quicker turnover resulting from no reservation policies. And some people like the implied informality. On the other hand, when a restaurant is hot, guests piling into the place may have to wait two hours for a seat--in essence punishing those who plan ahead, those who have babysitters for a specific time frame, those hoping to catch a movie after dinner...Fortunately, most such restaurants will give a projected waiting time to people who call in advance.

1. Restaurants encouraging valet parking
In some locations, valet parking is the only option. But the most annoying feature of all is when asphalt-loads of parking space surrounds a restaurants, but the crew cordons most of it off for valet use--leaving the most distant slots to patrons who prefer to save a little cash (or who don't carry cash, as is often the case nowadays). In a perfect world, outlying spots would be reserved for valet parking. Is there anything more pathetic than watching a guy walk twelve paces to your car then paying him a fiver for the effort of pulling it around?

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Dave Faries
Contact: Dave Faries