The Hound gives us the bill, and now . . .
THE WORLD IS TALKING
Scott Joseph | Sentinel Restaurant Critic
August 17, 2007
Digg Del.icio.us Facebook Fark Google Newsvine Reddit Yahoo Print Reprints Post comment Text size: A recent article I wrote titled "Bill of (Diners') Rights" seems to have struck a nerve with readers. Or is that struck a chord? Opened old wounds? Whatever, the response to it has been impressive and, at times, vituperative.
If you missed the article, which was essentially a compendium of good service basics and common sense rules of civility for both diners and restaurant staffers, you can read it online at Orlando Sentinel.com/dining. You'll see a link to it in the upper-right-hand corner of the page.
Go ahead, read it; we'll wait.
Because of the magic of the Internet -- or perhaps because of some home-delivery drivers with outrageous territories -- the article has been widely read, and comments have come from as far away as New Zealand, Greece and Key Largo.
A good deal of them, predictably from beset customers, were supportive.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," wrote Donna Marie Lendvay, Orlando. "You have hit on at least three of my personal favorites (for which I have been told I am too fussy)."
Kathleen G. Moore, Orlando, wrote: "Thank you so much for your recent "Bill of [Diners'] Rights"! Perhaps this should be mailed to all restaurants. I've always believed that many of the items on the list are training issues and the owner/manager/chef needed to be informed about concerns of patrons."
"I hope you have started something," wrote Harry Lawrence, Winter Park. "It would be just too fine if restaurateurs were to adopt your suggestions as standards, and then advertise the fact."
A number of respondents wondered if the Sentinel's marketing department might publish a version for customers to hand out to the owners of the restaurants they visit. It's a good idea, and I'll suggest it to the marketing department, if I ever find out where it is.
But even those who praised the piece said it didn't go far enough and had some glaring omissions.
Several, including Ellen DiGiovanni, Heathrow, brought up the issue of overfamiliarity, and the invasion of personal space. "Please include the promise that the server will never kneel or squat at the edge of the table while taking my order." Or sit down at the table, as others mentioned. I don't know how I missed that one because it's a giant peeve of mine. Consider the BOR amended.
Not all the guest responses were an us-against-them issue. Several took umbrage not with the restaurant staff but with their fellow diners. Neil Tredray, Orlando, has proposed the following addition: "Any patron receiving, answering, or making a call on a cellular phone while dining at my establishment will be refused service/forcibly ejected from the premises."
And a surprising number have a problem with fellow diners who wear baseball caps, forward or backward, throughout the course of a meal. Woe to one of these ill-dressed guys who whips out a cell phone.
And by the way, the line item that garnered the most support was the use of the term "you guys" to address customers regardless of age or gender. Trust me on this one, kind servers, your guests overwhelmingly hate it.
Not all responses came from diners. A fair amount of e-mails were from restaurateurs and servers.
My favorite was from Patti Schmidt, a k a the Dessert Lady. Schmidt points to the other side of the coin. "As a sole owner of an eating establishment, I consider that I have a few rights, too," she writes in an e-mail. "I have worked very hard for what I have and have paid for it all with my own funds. When people treat my property or my staff with disrespect or in a cavalier manner, or allow their children to do so, I feel it is only right that I be allowed to react. At that point it stops being about them and becomes all about me. I reserve the right to fire customers."
Mike Egan, national president of the Restaurant Association of New Zealand, agrees. He included an article he wrote titled "The Professional Customer," which turns the tables on the diners and tells them how they are expected to act when they visit a restaurant.
Some servers, predictably, took umbrage with several of the points. One server said it was ridiculous to wait until everyone at the table was finished eating to remove the plates of those who finish earlier. She indicated there were possible health concerns. Well, yeah, if the plate sits there for more than two hours then by all means take it away.
This server said that "auctioning off food," that is, standing at the table with a plate and asking who at the table had ordered it, is part of the casual-dining experience. Sorry, I don't agree. That's an indication of a restaurant that doesn't know better, and fixing the problem costs nothing.
Another responded online: "Hi, I'm Scott Joseph. I'm a grumpy, jaded old restaurant critic and back in my day the customer was always right, despite the fact that some customers are often idiots with as much sense, respect, and intelligence as a 5 year old. I've eaten at so many restaurants that I apply my sometimes narrow and rambling 'Bill of Rights' to every establishment, big or small, fancy or not, to every dining situation in which I find myself, despite the fact that all the 'rights' don't apply in every situation because I'm grumpy and I have gas and I'm too posh for anything save the best." I'm almost certain the writer's real name is not Scott Joseph.
Still, we have reason to hope. Egan from New Zealand said that he had already used the Diner's Bill of Rights in a training seminar for servers in his restaurant. Carol Dillard said she would be using it to teach a restaurant-management class at Auburn University. And Alexandros A. Kalokairinos, general manager at the Lindos Bay in Greece, wrote for permission to use it at his resort.
But it will be an uphill struggle. One of the comments posted online said simply, "Get a life. This is far from complete and not worth reading." It was posted by someone known simply as "Chef."
If you wish to join in the conversation, make a suggestion or comment on what others are saying, you'll find a link for reader feedback at the Web address I mentioned above.
Scott Joseph can be reached at email@example.com
Bill of (diners') rights
Scott Joseph holds these truths to be self-evident -- but thinks restaurateurs and customers could use a reminder
Scott Joseph | Sentinel Restaurant Critic
August 5, 2007
Digg Del.icio.us Facebook Fark Google Newsvine Reddit Yahoo Print Reprints Post comment Text size: When Jet Blue had its meltdown in customer service last winter, the company's CEO tried to smooth things over by drawing up a passengers' bill of rights, a treatise listing the just claims and recommended remedies should the problems ever happen again.
It occurred to me there is no diners' bill of rights, and one is sorely needed. So, if I were a restaurant owner, these are the things you could expect from my place of business. Feel free to share this list with the restaurateur of your choice.
You have the right to a pleasant and relaxing dinner.
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You also have the right to a speedy dinner. If you plan to catch a movie or have theater tickets, please tell the server before ordering. He or she can alert the kitchen to your schedule and advise if certain items will take longer than others.
You have the right to relax following your meal. The check will not be delivered to the table until you request it.
No one will ever refer to you as "you guys."
In relation to your right to relax and enjoy your meal, you may also expect an environment free of children running about or being unruly. My managers will ask parents to keep such children under control.
You have a right to bring your children to my restaurant, to educate them on the pleasures of dining out as a family and to teach the manners that are expected of them.
You will never be asked if you're "still working on that?" If you find eating our food work, then we have done something wrong. If you're joining us as part of your celebration of a special occasion, we're honored that you selected us. However, if it's a birthday, my staff has been instructed not to sing "Happy Birthday" so as not to disturb your fellow diners.
When you call my restaurant to make a reservation, you will be greeted warmly and promptly, and every attempt to will be made to honor your preferred date and time.
You have the right to be seated promptly, but please understand that the scheduling of tables is not an exact science and is subject to the vagaries and whims of previous diners (see "right to relax following your meal").
If you are made to wait in the lounge for a table to become available, you have the right to transfer your bar tab to your table.
The server will not read the menu for you, nor will he or she offer a list of his or her favorite dishes unless a guest asks. The servers are instructed not to congratulate you on your "good choice" each time you order an entree.
No one will ever bring food to the table and ask who ordered each item. It's our job to know which guest ordered each entree, even if the food is brought to the table by someone other than your server.
Someone other than your server might bring your food to your table because it is our policy not to allow hot food to linger in the window just because the assigned waiter isn't there to deliver it.
If there is a delay in your order, someone will explain the reason for the delay honestly. Your server will not tell you the cook made a mistake, and the manager will not tell you the server is having a bad night. We will make every effort to correct the problem as quickly as possible.
If it takes longer than 30 minutes for your appetizer, or if you wait that long between courses, the tardy item will be taken off your bill.
If you stop any staff member going by your table and ask for something, you'll never be told "I'll get your waiter." The person you ask will see to your request promptly; everyone on my staff is working for you.
Your waiter will check back with you after you have had a chance to taste your food.
If something is not right with your food, please tell the server who checks back with you after it has been served. We need to know if the food is overcooked or undercooked, or if it is not hot enough. We'd also like to know if the dish is just something you don't like, or it wasn't what you thought it would be. If any of these problems exist, the dish will be removed, and you may either request the same dish be done to your liking, or you may ask for something else. Either way, your request will go to the front of the line and be done as quickly as possible. The server will offer to keep your companions' food warm while the mistake is being corrected. It is important that you let someone know you're dissatisfied right now, tonight. If you wait until tomorrow to call and complain, there is nothing I or my managers can do to make tonight more pleasant.
You have the right to make special requests, and the chef and other cooks will do everything they can to honor them. But keep in mind that our menu was designed with specific ingredients and cooking methods in mind, and to be more efficient as a restaurant, certain things are prepared in advance, so some requests may not be possible.
All my staff are empowered to correct a problem. Once the situation is corrected, a manager will stop by to ask if you are satisfied. There will always be a manager on hand in the dining room.
No one will ever say "no problem" in response to a request or your thanks. They will say "my pleasure" or "you're welcome." You're welcome.
It is considered improper to remove the plate of one person while others are still eating. Doing so can make the others feel rushed and uncomfortable. Therefore, all my staff are instructed not to remove plates until everyone has finished. If you feel you really need to have your plate removed before your companions have completed their meals, you may certainly make that request.
You have the right to privacy. Servers and assistants sometimes can't help overhearing conversations, but no one will ever offer a comment or anecdote.
I have purchased plenty of flatware for my restaurant. Therefore, no one will ever ask you to "hang on" to your fork or knife following a course so that it can be reused for the next course. Clean flatware will be automatically offered.
You have the right to inspect the kitchen and see a copy of my most recent health-inspection report.
You have the right to tip as you see fit. If you feel the service was not worthy of the customary 15 percent to 20 percent, please let me know so that we can bring the service up to your accepted level of standards.
This is a business, and I'm in it to make money. The food here costs more than it would if you were to make it yourself at home because there are costs associated with operating a business that are factored into the price of each dish. But I pledge that my overall markup will be fair and reasonable. Otherwise, everything else here is just talk.