If the origins of the word “restaurant” have to do with “restoring” a guest to well-being, why is it that so often we guests feel intimidated, ill-served, even gouged in restaurants whose comfort, heat, and noise level resemble that of a Pittsburgh steel factory?
To be fair, some restaurateurs want to make us feel welcome. Others, however, want to make us feel fortunate just to be let in the revolving door, and they run the type of establishment that will always commit what I call the Seven Deadly Sins of the business:
1. Reservations, or “Hello, Don’t Even Ask”
A very trendy or popular restaurant may need an answering machine, but not one that says, “If you want a company directory, dial nine.” Even restaurants that aren't busy sometimes use recordings to suggest they are being inundated with requests for tables. If you do manage to get a human being on the phone, the greeting is not, “May I please ask you to hold for a moment?” but a barked “HOLD, PLEASE!” followed by a long wait listening to Kanye West.
Some appalling restaurants will deny you a table at any reasonable hour simply to imply they are fully booked for the night. Yet when you arrive, you find the room never fills up during the evening. The solution is either to ask them to call you by 3 P.M. if a table turns up, or — and this works more often than you think — just show up and see if they have a table. Cancellations occur at every restaurant every day.
2. Putting You in Your Place by Not Seating You
There are basically three kinds of hosts. The first is genial, well-mannered, and happy to see you, acknowledging your reservation and graciously showing you to your table. The second is the gorgeous young thing who will not seat you until your entire party is present. The solution here is to tell her you’d prefer to wait right smack at the hostess station and block people until she seats you. Believe me, they’ll find your table pronto. The third type is the swine host who believes it is his or her job to recognize friends of the house and celebrities and to treat everyone else as something the cat dragged in. The only solution is to leave and wait for him outside with a baseball bat.