Patty Canedo is a chef in Palm Beach. She writes frequently about her kitchen exploits in this column, Half-Baked.
As I often find myself lingering somewhere between the normal world and the restaurant world, I feel a sense of obligation to bring certain things to light for the civilian (nonindustry) population. Thus, "Restaurant Etiquette 101" is in session.
I'm often surprised that basic manners have gone the way of health insurance and home phones. Of course, we've evolved past the point of Mom's "elbows off the table" nonsense. Dining atrocities and culinary faux pas occur during every seating. A lot of people aren't purposely rude -- they're just oblivious. Read these thoughts from a chef's perspective and ask yourself -- are you guilty?
1) Addressing your server. We've all been mortified and annoyed by the guy who thinks he's funny routine. Classics like "I'm Blah Blah, I'll be your server." "I'm Annoying, I'll be your customer." You may not see the server rolling her eyes, because you are busy laughing at your own joke, but she is. The server is not the one you want to take out the day's frustration on. After years of listening to servers gripe at the end of shifts, I'll offer this tip -- always be polite and even-tempered, and try to ask for everything your table may need all at once. After all, they have a bunch of tables -- not just yours.
2) Designing your own menu. Switching up sides and small substitutions is no big thing. But if you go so far as to choose a sauce from one dish, a cooking style from another, and basically create your own menu, it brings the line to a halt. If you aren't in the mood for pasta, why order the spaghetti and meatballs? Rather have mahi instead of salmon? Why order the salmon entrée? If you are feeling culinarily creative, you always have a standing reservation in your own kitchen.
3) Your diet = your problem. Egg-white omelet, no problem. Side salad instead of fries, great! What many people don't realize is that much of your food is prepped before you even ask the question, "Where should we go to eat?" So the no-salts, no-butter, no-this or -that requests can be quite challenging, annoying, or plain old impossible to honor during the rush.
4) Splitting and changing specials. Why is this a no-no, you ask. When a special is created, the chef takes every aspect into account, from flavors to plating. This is what makes it a special, the chef's skill and love that go into it. If you attempt to commit this atrocity, don't be surprised if the chef suggests you order something else.
5) Proper attire is required! As a guest and chef, this is a personal pet peeve. I realize we are in beach-bum paradise, but leave the flip-flops, hats, and the not-so-cover-ups on the beach.
6) Digital equipment at the table. Sometimes this can't be avoided -- the Nintendo DS to keep Junior still, a 911 call from work, or whatever. God blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) us with this technology and had the foresight to give us "vibrate" and "silent" options. So exercise that option for the consideration of others. It's not impolite to excuse yourself from the table to take that call.
7) Rush, rush, rush! If you have just minutes, don't attempt to cram a sit-down meal into that time constraint. Although restaurants turn over their lunch tables with a quickness, the food still needs to be cooked, and there is still a whole dining room full of people who were sitting ahead of you. If you absolutely want the full dining experience on a drive-through timetable, order appropriately: i.e., salads, sandwiches, and soups.
8) Service industry is not to be confused with "servant." Don't ask for everything under the sun and then get upset when your server is not quick to the snap of your finger. The fact is that you are one of many guests dining in that restaurant that evening, and being a paying customer entitles you to food, not indentured servants.
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9) Are you a stacker? In your effort to help the server clear the table you've piled your trash on top of your plate, placed it on top of another plate with food, and placed a cup of dirty silverware on top of the pile. So now the server has to balance the leaning tower back to the dish pit and sort out the mess. Jenga is played with blocks, not dishes.
10) You're entitled to your opinion. As the saying goes, it's hard to please all of the people all of the time; everyone has a quibble about something or other. Just know this: I've worked under some extremely talented chefs whose restaurants have closed. I've worked under, let's just say, not-so-talented chefs who still fill every table every night. There are a lot of factors that drive this beast of an industry; the food is not even the first on the list.