The Starkside

Restaurant Pet Peeves

“Are youse guys ready to order?” These were the first words my friends and I heard after we were seated at our table for a recent lunch. Perhaps I’m being overly demanding but I actually prefer to be greeted by my server before we get down to business. A simple “hello” will suffice. A smile and a “Welcome to (name of restaurant)” puts me over the top. So when you combine the absence of a greeting with a grammatically incorrect inquiry, you can imagine that no one at the table, including me, was happy. You had to be there to hear the discontent expressed by the females to the inclusive term “guys.”  One actually chastised the waitress, “I don’t know who you’re talking to when you call us guys but you’re certainly not talking to me!”  Reasonable alternatives might be, “Good afternoon, how are you all doing?” or “How are you folks doing today?”  You can probably think of a lot more.

Some of my friends don’t like to have their dishes placed before them with servers who expose bare arms. One gentleman, who used to have his own establishment, prefers freshly ironed sleeves at wrist length but that’s a bit much for me. And I believe the informality of the server’s attire can vary with the atmosphere and theme of the restaurant.

Bare arms pale in comparison to a server’s heavily tattooed arm. I’m all for self- expression; for example I don’t mind facial hair if the server is well groomed. You can see from the accompanying photo that I sport a short beard myself.  I understand that tattoos and piercings are often used to make a personal statement.  However, when an extended arm places my entrée in front of me, if that arm is heavily tattooed, it looks unwashed to me, and detracts from my overall experience. I feel the same way when a waiter or waitress announces the specials wearing a tongue or nose ring or most other facial rings.

Speaking of specials: I really don’t like it when my server describes them without mentioning the price. Sometimes, the only thing “special” is the “special” price which is higher than most, if not all, of the ordinary menu items. I appreciate – no, I insist on – the opportunity to evaluate all the descriptions and prices of menu items, along with the specials, before making a considered decision. I’m sympathetic to college students on a date who feel uncomfortable asking the price. And at most business dinners, the host and the guest may consider it awkward to ask the price. Some of my friends are too intimidated to ask the price – I think they’re concerned that they’ll be perceived as being cheap. When the bill arrives and I have to summon the server to inquire about the unexpectedly high-priced special, I often get a song and dance. For example, “Well sir, the duck had to be imported from West Guinea on a special refrigerated aircraft and she was one of the last females of a nearly extinct species.” Or, “That particular steak came from a cow raised in Kobe, Japan. The cow was over 15-years-old and had been fed, all of her life, on a rare blend of organic grasses.”

I can’t imagine everyone in a restaurant all enjoying the same radio station at the same time. And I abhor listening to commercials while I’m dining. Imagine eating an entrée that costs more than $20 while listening to someone yelling he’s the “used car king” as recently happened to me. If a restaurant has a sound system installed, let the management eschew the radio and play CDs appropriate to the ambience of the restaurant.  I particularly like the appropriate ethnic music in an ethnic restaurant. Immerse me in the total experience please, and don’t put the volume up so high that it interferes with our conversation.

I think we should all remove baseball caps when we sit down at the table?  I think it shows respect to the other diners.

And how about we all agree that we can survive without our cell phones during a meal.  (I do understand if a loved one is in an emergency situation and you want to be apprised of the progress very quickly. If you’re going to put your phone on the table, maybe a quick mention that you’re sorry but you’re expecting an important call.)  The overall point: Let’s enjoy our dining companions or simply take in the ambience of the restaurant that we’ve chosen.

There are, of course, other things that tend to irritate me when dining out but I think I’ll stop here to let you tell me, in the comments, if these resonate with you or, perhaps you have some that I haven’t mentioned.  I hope you’ll share your thoughts.


Henry Stark has been a food and wine columnist, writer, and restaurant reviewer for the Ithaca Journal, the Ithaca Times, and The Good Life magazine. A teacher, advocate, and enthusiast, Henry shares his always well-considered—sometimes contrarian—views in inimitable style, opening the door to a robust conversation with fellow members.
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