The National Post's Sarah Boesveld on the modern dining experience:
In more and more restaurants these days, the customer is not always right. With patrons’ expectations reaching ever higher, while their manners can descend to new depths, a rising number of service staff are willing to make their displeasure known. A small French café has even gone so far to reportedly charge customers more for coffee if they order it without please-and-thank-yous attached. A group of anonymous chefs out of Montreal run a Twitter feed called The Punisher, tweeting real quotes from real customers like “No wine for me please, I just had my hair done.”
At the same time, diners complain about aloof staff who don’t know their stuff and restaurateurs who set ground rules such as no cellphones and no amateur food photography that cause some would-be guests to bristle. It all culminates in a more fraught restaurant experience than in generations past, observers say. There’s a tension at the table, and both server and diner are finding themselves bracing for an imminent breach of social contract.
“A lot of chefs have had their fill. A lot of customers have had their fill,” said Lesley Chesterman, restaurant critic at the Montreal Gazette. “We all seemed to have hit that ‘I’m mad as hell and not taking it anymore’ point somewhere along the line.”
Late last month, the Gazette published a top 20 list of complaints waiters have about guests — everything from the lady who claims to be gluten intolerant and then asks for more croutons, to the guy whose party bails but insists on dining alone in a booth that seats six....
We now find ourselves in an egalitarian society in which servers won’t stand for anything less than basic respect. And just as customers use websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor to praise or condemn a restaurant and its service, wait staff and proprietors take their grievances to social media, with many-a-bad-tip-revenge story going viral.
Steve Dublanica likens bad patron behaviour to people road raging in the privacy of their cars — it’s the ‘alone in a crowd’ affect, but without realizing your response has an impact on others.
“I think human nature has remained unchanged,” said the New York City-area author of the book and blog Waiter Rant. “I think what has happened is that waiter’s ability to hit back has increased over the past number of years.”
It’s affected the service environment, for sure, he said, careful to emphasize that most waiters realize it is their job to provide good service and a pleasant experience...
“‘The customer is always right’ is kind of a crazy concept in my mind,” said Brendan Bankowski, owner and operator of TASTE restaurant in Calgary. “I think that the customer is often wrong. It’s a good idea to have that as a starting point, but as we like to say around here ‘The customer will always be heard.’”
It’s weird as a proprietor to have to say “I’m so sorry,” if a customer says the meal that they just happen to not like was made improperly, he said. Diners should know about the restaurant before they sit down..
And how often does Canadian celebrity chef Vikram Vij hear complaints about his no-reservations policy?
“It happens about three times a day,” said the owner of Vij’s and Rangoli restaurants in Vancouver... He also doesn’t have high chairs for children because he is trying to create a calm, sophisticated dining environment.
One of the best things [etiquette author] Anna Post has ever seen, when it comes to restaurant rules, is a little sign posted in some places that says “Unattended children will be given an espresso and a kitten” — a humorous laying down of the law. She finds rules like no cellphones to be totally acceptable, but these expectations of diners need to be conveyed politely, without the attitude that can cause patrons to bristle.
Gloria Czomko had no idea she was breaking a rule when she and her partner sat next to each other at a Napa Valley restaurant in California rather than across the table from one another. She was shocked when the manager told one of them to move, as they were “offending people.”
“When our dessert came, we asked the waiter ‘Is it OK to share?’” said the Toronto-based founder of food tour company Foodies on Foot. They found it funny, after the fact, but also arbitrary...
[Monica Narula, a public relations professional, reflected recently on her experience in a Toronto establishment where she ate what she deemed] an “overpriced, too-small noodle meal for $18,” and left the hyped-up restaurant sufficiently underwhelmed.
“I wonder if I would have felt as though that food tasted better,” she said, “if I had received more pleasant, or at the very least friendly, service.”