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JBloggs

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[COLOR= rgb(0, 0, 0)]By LESLIE BRENNER / The Dallas Morning News
lbrenner@dallasnews.com[/COLOR]

As a seasoned diner, you've been through it all.
You've listened, dumbfounded, as the opinionated fantasist held forth. She's the server who tells you her favorite dish – never mind that she hasn't had the opportunity to taste a single thing on the menu. You've fallen victim to the Champagne pusher, the maitre d' who offers you a glass of bubbly, with the implication that it's on the house. (It's not. It turns up on your bill at $18 per lovely flute.)
You've suffered the BFFW, the waiter who introduces himself, squats down next to you to tell you the specials and later in the meal jumps into the conversation because, hey, we're all friends.
Just as great service can turn a mediocre meal into a jolly good time, poor service can ruin an otherwise excellent dinner. Last month I put the question to readers of Eats, The Dallas Morning News' food blog: Which service mistakes bother you most?
And readers responded, passionately, in more than 90 comments describing an array of miscues that drive them crazy. The list paints an interesting picture of some of the biggest service issues facing Dallas restaurants.
Here's the good news: All the mistakes are easy to fix. In the interest of polishing up our dining act as Dallas steps into the national spotlight, let's take a walk through the problems (listed in order of how frequently readers mentioned them) and their fixes.
1. Servers with boundary issues
The miscues readers mentioned most often involve servers who have problems with boundaries in one way or another. "Servers interrupting my conversation, introducing themselves, chatting, constantly asking if we're 'OK,' " was the way one reader put it.
"I actually prefer professionally aloof to friendly," another chimed in.
Elisio Ruiz, a reader in Dallas, objected to being touched by a waiter. "I can't explain it," he wrote. "I am generally a warm and cordial person. But for some reason, I cringe when a server thinks it's OK to put his or her hand on my shoulder or my arm."
Sometimes the boundary being crossed is the plate, as the server describes the dish she's just placed before you, pointing to each component. "The closer the finger gets to the food, the more it bugs me," wrote one reader.
In fact, servers may be trained to touch customers. "There's some research that shows that it improves tips," says Alex Susskind, associate professor of food and beverage service management at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration. But that doesn't mean it's necessarily appropriate. "I don't consider it friendly," he says, "I consider it intrusive." In a casual or fast-casual restaurant, people have a higher level of tolerance, he says, but servers should be able to read the guest and guess at their comfort level.
The fix: One reader, a former server, suggested that it's up to the customer to voice preferences, such as whether he minds being touched. Susskind disagrees. "The server has to figure out what the guest wants," he stresses. In any case, he says: "Never interrupt a guest. There's nothing you have to do as a server that's more important than a guest's experience."
2. The AWOL waiter
Another constellation of annoyance concerns the waiter who does a disappearing act.
Sometimes he fails to materialize. The host or hostess shows you to your seat, and then – nothing. No one. If you're lucky, you already have a menu. But sometimes you're left stranded for five or 10 minutes before being greeted. Diners search the room futilely for the AWOL waiter when they're ready to order, when the steak's overcooked, when wine glasses are empty and the bottle's been set out of reach, when more bread is required.
The fix: This is a management issue. The manager needs to make sure the restaurant is properly staffed, that each server isn't responsible for too many tables. And he or she needs to be on the floor surveying the scene. If a table needs attention, the manager can make sure the server gets to it.
3. Mea culpa? Not!
The clumsy or inadequate handling of mistakes got under the skin of many readers: servers who don't know when a problem requires the attention of a manager, servers who don't apologize for mistakes they've made or who don't ask whether there was a problem when you left most of the food on your plate. "Don't make me ask for the manager after determining that the black speck in my wife's wine is moving on its own and is a live insect," commented Tom Mueller in Dallas.
The fix: It's the server's responsibility to make sure diners are enjoying the experience. Are they pushing the food around their plates? Find out what's wrong, beyond just asking generically, "How is everything tonight?" And then make it right. Not cooked properly? Take it back to the kitchen. Did the guests suffer crazy-long waits for their food? Comp a dessert or two. Not sure how to handle it? Get the manager.
4. Diner held hostage
Dinner has gone swimmingly, with great food and wonderful service. But now you can't get your check. You've been there, right? More than a few readers have.
The fix: "There are two things that management and staff have direct control over that will always help the guest's experience," says Susskind. "The beginning of the meal and the end of the meal. You can never get a guest seated too quickly, and you can never get a guest the check and get them closed out quick enough." Just do it.
5. The hard-sell
Whether it's a server overselling the side dishes to the point that you wind up with a table full of food you can't eat, or suggesting a wine that's twice the price of the one the restaurant has run out of, readers resent the hard-sell. "I never return to a restaurant when, after dinner, I feel like I have been victimized by a huckster," wrote one. Still, part of servers' job is to sell the restaurants' dishes and wines. How to find a balance?
The fix: Servers should suggest side dishes or wines they honestly think will enhance the guests' meal. Don't push the side order of roast potatoes if French fries come with the main course. If a diner asks about a $50 bottle of wine, and you have an even better one for $40, suggest that; the diner will appreciate it and may well leave a more generous tip. The corollary is knowing the menu and wine list. If you can describe the way something is cooked and make it sound as good as it probably is, or know the relative bargains on the wine list, that's a much easier sell.
6. The pace flub
Diners don't like to feel rushed, nor do they want to have to wait too long between courses. Even if the server nails the beginning and end of the meal (getting customers seated quickly, making sure they have a drink, getting them the check as soon as the customer's ready for it), pacing the meal in between those two endpoints is much trickier.
The fix: Servers should watch their tables and try to estimate when diners will be finished with a course to know when to fire the next one. Kristin Kinowski, a server at Salum, says that four or five minutes before diners are finished with their appetizers, she'll tell the kitchen to fire the main course. How does she know? She watches the tables closely. "That's why you see us pacing around the floor," she says. "Watching closely is key to providing good service in general."
7. Uh-oh, it's Mr. Unclean
A number of readers objected to bussers or servers who sweep the floor while guests are dining, who wipe the table with the same cloth used to wipe the chair, who generally disregard hygiene or noisily drop dirty dishes into bins within diners' earshot. One reader is bugged "when the waiter is clearing the plates and tries to make it into a logic puzzle by seeing how they can stack the plates and mush all the remaining food together so that they can take it all away in one trip. Disgusting."
The fix: Offending bussers and servers, clean up your act.
8. Tip shenanigans
"Do you need change?" This is a question that irked a number of readers. The server who rounds up change from a cash tip in his own favor, or who brings the change in big bills in the effort to land a bigger tip also fared poorly.
The fix: Bring the change, bub, even if you're not sure it's necessary. If some smaller bills are needed for the diner to leave a 20 percent tip, then by all means, include some smaller bills.
9. The plate escape
"I cannot stand it when a server begins removing plates before everyone at the table has finished the course," wrote Liz Ginsberg, a reader in Dallas. "The person still eating feels rushed, and the person whose plate is cleared before everyone else feels like they ate too fast." I have to say that those are my sentiments exactly, and they were echoed by a number of readers. But Jerri Joles in Richardson commented: "It bothers me when they don't pre-bus or remove some of the dirty, used plates, bowls, etc. from the table. They clutter the table and are unappetizing-looking." So who's right?
As it turns out, it depends on the type of restaurant and on the specific policy of the management. "Some restaurants allow servers to clear plates before everyone's done," explains Susskind, and it's usually the casual spots. In more upscale establishments, he says, "The standard is you don't clear till everyone's done."
And what about in-between places? "There is no one convention," he says. "It's up to the feel they want to have in the restaurant."
But how confusing for customers! And how disturbing to the diner who finds one or the other objectionable.
The fix: At Ellerbe Fine Foods in Fort Worth, a server came up with a smart solution. "Normally I don't clear plates until everyone has finished," she said, when one of my dining companions had finished his soup. "But perhaps you'd like me to take this now?" Problem solved, though it was a mouthful for a busy server.
10. The wine squeeze
A server pours the wine all around the table, overfilling the glasses, and comes up empty before getting to the last guest. "Another bottle?" he asks perkily. It may or may not be an honest mistake, but it's a mistake nonetheless, and in any case it can leave the diner feeling had. Of course, you have to spring for that second bottle.
The fix: This one's easy. "You've got to do the math," says Michael Flynn, wine and beverage director at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek. A bottle has 25.4 ounces, "so you do some quick division. You have to make sure you're pouring the same amount in everyone's glass, no matter how small that portion may be." And if it's just three diners, and you're on the second round of pours? If someone hasn't been sipping, don't top off their glass.
Turns out it's just like most other points of service. "You have to keep an eye on them," says Flynn. "It's actually being involved in service, in serving people as they need it."
 

JBloggs

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Again with an Australia VS USA comment from me - American's often visit Australia and get tee'd off when plates are NOT removed when they are done eating. Often saying things like "I am finished, I do not want to stare at a dirty plate!"
In Australia - contrary to the beer swiggling bare foot impression many have currently - there is a dining etiquette that states you do not remove the plates until the entire party is finished dining. But here is America we want our plates removed when we are finished eating.
So I battle with both, some can be the slowest eater in the entire world and you all sit there staring at the person eating forever. I would like my plate taken out of my way so I can chat. :)
 

Morticia

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Clearing plates- when tables are small, get the dirty dishes out of there. If the diner has stacked all of the dishes up for you, you're too late. I try not to clear too soon, but the tables are small and often guests are spreading out maps, etc. I don't say, 'Are you still working on that?' I ask, 'May I clear this for you?'
No change needed- I always state there is no change needed/or change is needed when the server comes to collect the payment.
Never interrupt- disagree. If I don't ask if you want juice, coffee, etc, then you don't get it. But I definitely get that some guests are peeved I interrupted them.
Pacing- if guests don't eat their first course when it's served, they end up with the main course getting there before they're ready. I can't go back and tell hubs to pull that order off the griddle just because they decide to check their email or talk on the phone when they should be eating!
Stacking dishes- oops. I DO try to get all the dishes off the table at once, but not when the guests are still there. If they are still sitting, I only clear what is in easy reach. (We had our table 'swept' the other night when I went out with friends. That was neat, literally and figuratively!)
 

seashanty

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that is interesting. i don't like it when i'm eating with someone and their plate is removed and i'm still eating. i feel like i'm the only one eating. even though they finished, it's weird ....
 

JBloggs

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that is interesting. i don't like it when i'm eating with someone and their plate is removed and i'm still eating. i feel like i'm the only one eating. even though they finished, it's weird .....
We have a guest who is eating here every morning this week when everyone else is gone from the table. 8 people done, she talks so much and doesn't just eat. So I have been removing them one by one and she is still yaking.
 

Don Draper

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I try to gauge when to step in and clear the plate...I hate to interrupt anyone's conversation. But with 12 seats and up to 22 to eat, if they're talking a bunch I clear to try to prompt them to get up.
 

sharpe

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Dining with friends or family is a pleasure to be enjoyed not just for the food but for the conversation. Removing plates as each person finishes destroys that atmosphere and reduces it to just eating. Why go to all the trouble of creating a beautiful dining room with gorgeous food, if you're going to hurry everyone through their meal like they're eating at a third rate truck stop?
 

Don Draper

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Dining with friends or family is a pleasure to be enjoyed not just for the food but for the conversation. Removing plates as each person finishes destroys that atmosphere and reduces it to just eating. Why go to all the trouble of creating a beautiful dining room with gorgeous food, if you're going to hurry everyone through their meal like they're eating at a third rate truck stop?.
sharpe said:
Dining with friends or family is a pleasure to be enjoyed not just for the food but for the conversation. Removing plates as each person finishes destroys that atmosphere and reduces it to just eating. Why go to all the trouble of creating a beautiful dining room with gorgeous food, if you're going to hurry everyone through their meal like they're eating at a third rate truck stop?
I am much more able to enjoy the conversation once the dirty plate is removed. This does not make me feel hurried.
 

sharpe

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Dining with friends or family is a pleasure to be enjoyed not just for the food but for the conversation. Removing plates as each person finishes destroys that atmosphere and reduces it to just eating. Why go to all the trouble of creating a beautiful dining room with gorgeous food, if you're going to hurry everyone through their meal like they're eating at a third rate truck stop?.
sharpe said:
Dining with friends or family is a pleasure to be enjoyed not just for the food but for the conversation. Removing plates as each person finishes destroys that atmosphere and reduces it to just eating. Why go to all the trouble of creating a beautiful dining room with gorgeous food, if you're going to hurry everyone through their meal like they're eating at a third rate truck stop?
I am much more able to enjoy the conversation once the dirty plate is removed. This does not make me feel hurried.
.
No, you wouldn't feel hurried. It's the diners who are still eating that feel so.
If it spoils the enjoyment of just one member of your party, is it worth it to have the plates whisked briskly out of sight? I always remember a lunch with my father who I hadn't seen in two years due to the vast distances separating us. We were having a lovely chat when the waitress swooped down and removed everyone's plate except mine. This made me feel like I was lagging behind and totally spoiled the moment. My stepmother said, "Please don't hurry." but she was dismayed as well and I ended up just asking the waitress to clear my half eaten lunch.
 

Don Draper

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Dining with friends or family is a pleasure to be enjoyed not just for the food but for the conversation. Removing plates as each person finishes destroys that atmosphere and reduces it to just eating. Why go to all the trouble of creating a beautiful dining room with gorgeous food, if you're going to hurry everyone through their meal like they're eating at a third rate truck stop?.
sharpe said:
Dining with friends or family is a pleasure to be enjoyed not just for the food but for the conversation. Removing plates as each person finishes destroys that atmosphere and reduces it to just eating. Why go to all the trouble of creating a beautiful dining room with gorgeous food, if you're going to hurry everyone through their meal like they're eating at a third rate truck stop?
I am much more able to enjoy the conversation once the dirty plate is removed. This does not make me feel hurried.
.
No, you wouldn't feel hurried. It's the diners who are still eating that feel so.
If it spoils the enjoyment of just one member of your party, is it worth it to have the plates whisked briskly out of sight? I always remember a lunch with my father who I hadn't seen in two years due to the vast distances separating us. We were having a lovely chat when the waitress swooped down and removed everyone's plate except mine. This made me feel like I was lagging behind and totally spoiled the moment. My stepmother said, "Please don't hurry." but she was dismayed as well and I ended up just asking the waitress to clear my half eaten lunch.
.
With a large group you have to accommodate the majority. Slow eaters (I am one of them!) are used to being the last ones finished.
 

JBloggs

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Dining with friends or family is a pleasure to be enjoyed not just for the food but for the conversation. Removing plates as each person finishes destroys that atmosphere and reduces it to just eating. Why go to all the trouble of creating a beautiful dining room with gorgeous food, if you're going to hurry everyone through their meal like they're eating at a third rate truck stop?.
sharpe said:
Dining with friends or family is a pleasure to be enjoyed not just for the food but for the conversation. Removing plates as each person finishes destroys that atmosphere and reduces it to just eating. Why go to all the trouble of creating a beautiful dining room with gorgeous food, if you're going to hurry everyone through their meal like they're eating at a third rate truck stop?
I am much more able to enjoy the conversation once the dirty plate is removed. This does not make me feel hurried.
.
No, you wouldn't feel hurried. It's the diners who are still eating that feel so.
If it spoils the enjoyment of just one member of your party, is it worth it to have the plates whisked briskly out of sight? I always remember a lunch with my father who I hadn't seen in two years due to the vast distances separating us. We were having a lovely chat when the waitress swooped down and removed everyone's plate except mine. This made me feel like I was lagging behind and totally spoiled the moment. My stepmother said, "Please don't hurry." but she was dismayed as well and I ended up just asking the waitress to clear my half eaten lunch.
.
sharpe said:
No, you wouldn't feel hurried. It's the diners who are still eating that feel so.
If it spoils the enjoyment of just one member of your party, is it worth it to have the plates whisked briskly out of sight? I always remember a lunch with my father who I hadn't seen in two years due to the vast distances separating us. We were having a lovely chat when the waitress swooped down and removed everyone's plate except mine. This made me feel like I was lagging behind and totally spoiled the moment. My stepmother said, "Please don't hurry." but she was dismayed as well and I ended up just asking the waitress to clear my half eaten lunch.
I agree as I have said, then everyone is staring at this last person eat. But in our case here with 8 people at the table and just one person lagging way way behind each and every day, the command decision was to remove everyone else's plates for their enjoyment, so they could place their coffee cups before them or road maps etc. So I will say it depends on the size of the party. a table of four is a diff situation. I believe in waiting for the last to finish. My mil used to take over an hour to chew her food, no kidding. It was excruciating. She was the better eater, but drove us all nuts.
 

egoodell

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Again with an Australia VS USA comment from me - American's often visit Australia and get tee'd off when plates are NOT removed when they are done eating. Often saying things like "I am finished, I do not want to stare at a dirty plate!"
In Australia - contrary to the beer swiggling bare foot impression many have currently - there is a dining etiquette that states you do not remove the plates until the entire party is finished dining. But here is America we want our plates removed when we are finished eating.
So I battle with both, some can be the slowest eater in the entire world and you all sit there staring at the person eating forever. I would like my plate taken out of my way so I can chat. :).
My DH has managed restaurants here in the US for over 20 years. In fine dining here you do not remove plates until all are finished eating. Period.
But when I'm in a B&B and I have to turn the table twice, I don't see any problems with removing plates if someone is yakking and not eating.
RIki
 

Morticia

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Dining with friends or family is a pleasure to be enjoyed not just for the food but for the conversation. Removing plates as each person finishes destroys that atmosphere and reduces it to just eating. Why go to all the trouble of creating a beautiful dining room with gorgeous food, if you're going to hurry everyone through their meal like they're eating at a third rate truck stop?.
sharpe said:
Dining with friends or family is a pleasure to be enjoyed not just for the food but for the conversation. Removing plates as each person finishes destroys that atmosphere and reduces it to just eating. Why go to all the trouble of creating a beautiful dining room with gorgeous food, if you're going to hurry everyone through their meal like they're eating at a third rate truck stop?
Because they have to move out so the next herd can get in to eat. We've had guests who have decided that they own the table they commandeered at 7 AM and no amount of gracious plate-clearing has budged them. They leave when breakfast is over, not THEIR breakfast, the entire breakfast time. And they don't care if another guest had to wait 30 minutes to eat because they wouldn't vacate. Don't worry about the guests, they take care of themselves!
 

JBloggs

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Again with an Australia VS USA comment from me - American's often visit Australia and get tee'd off when plates are NOT removed when they are done eating. Often saying things like "I am finished, I do not want to stare at a dirty plate!"
In Australia - contrary to the beer swiggling bare foot impression many have currently - there is a dining etiquette that states you do not remove the plates until the entire party is finished dining. But here is America we want our plates removed when we are finished eating.
So I battle with both, some can be the slowest eater in the entire world and you all sit there staring at the person eating forever. I would like my plate taken out of my way so I can chat. :).
My DH has managed restaurants here in the US for over 20 years. In fine dining here you do not remove plates until all are finished eating. Period.
But when I'm in a B&B and I have to turn the table twice, I don't see any problems with removing plates if someone is yakking and not eating.
RIki
.
Everyone is having coffee and talking after their meal and she is still eating. I couldn't let all those dirty plates stay for an extra 30 minutes, just can't do it. But the conversation is good all round so it is not a big deal.
 

wendydk

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I think this is one of those things that we worry about far more than guests do.
 

gillumhouse

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that is interesting. i don't like it when i'm eating with someone and their plate is removed and i'm still eating. i feel like i'm the only one eating. even though they finished, it's weird .....
We have a guest who is eating here every morning this week when everyone else is gone from the table. 8 people done, she talks so much and doesn't just eat. So I have been removing them one by one and she is still yaking.
.
Guilty as charged. I have a tendancy to get involved in the converstaion and forget to eat - it is impolite to talk with food in your mouth. Yes, I do need to learn to shut up and eat!
 

SecondAct

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I agree with Riki. In fine dining, you never remove the plates until all are finished. However, in the B&B environment, I think this requires a little bit of "use your judgment." I would leave the plates for what I think is an acceptable amount of time (not cutting into other guests' time or my own) and then would probably say something like, "There's no rush here, please take your time; I'm just going to get some of these empties out of the way."
 

JBloggs

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We ate at Ruby Tuesday last night. I ordered a small steak and the salad bar. The steak arrived and plopped down in front of me and i had to holler out to the server "May I please have some steak sauce" to which she never returned. As I sat there waiting, not trying to cause trouble and be a bad diner, finally DH got up and went for some for me, as everyone else had finished.
The waitress showed up afterward and was sure to refill our waters as we were leaving.
Like I say, let them fight for the jobs, honestly most service really stinks these days. Not very often do you find decent service. We have a waiter at our local on the corner which i ask for if I go there. We have been ignored there as well, one time the waitress was having a knock down drag out with her boyfriend the cook. Lovely isn't it.
 

gillumhouse

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We ate at Ruby Tuesday last night. I ordered a small steak and the salad bar. The steak arrived and plopped down in front of me and i had to holler out to the server "May I please have some steak sauce" to which she never returned. As I sat there waiting, not trying to cause trouble and be a bad diner, finally DH got up and went for some for me, as everyone else had finished.
The waitress showed up afterward and was sure to refill our waters as we were leaving.
Like I say, let them fight for the jobs, honestly most service really stinks these days. Not very often do you find decent service. We have a waiter at our local on the corner which i ask for if I go there. We have been ignored there as well, one time the waitress was having a knock down drag out with her boyfriend the cook. Lovely isn't it..
Yesterday, Socks & her DH & ds 2x5 took us to lunch on their way to vacation. We had an AWESOME waitress. We were there for 2 hours and were apologizing for being there so long (and the service was more awesome as time went on) and she said please take your time - I am off in a short time and if you are here they cannot seat anyone else. She was a joy. Brought more soup and after saying to Socks that if you ask for a soup and find you cannot finish it, I can bring you a to go. Socks told her DH to order another soup - and he ate it! So the waitress brought another. She also brough her a to go for the salad. They left with a bag of to go and she would not be cooking supper last night. MY DH was so impressed with her that even though Socks said she had added tip, HE left her more! My DH used to think $2 was a big tip for a dinner of us and the "animals" (I always sneaked more to it).
 
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