10 things restaurants should do better.
Byline: Tom Sietsema The Washington Post
As a food critic, I eat almost all my meals away from home.
All that time spent in dining rooms other than my own has given me abundant pleasure, but also pause, as I encountered service and other bumps, most of which would have been easily avoided with a dash of consideration or forethought. So here are 10 resolutions restaurants can make in the still-young new year to express true, be-our-guest hospitality:
* Honor reservations, and dont make diners wait more than 15 or 20 minutes max for a confirmed time without offering them something that shows youre sorry they were inconvenienced. A gratis glass of wine at the bar is a good start, followed by an appetizer on the house if the wait is 30 minutes or longer. (Guests, in turn, should make every effort to be punctual and notify the restaurant of a delay of 10 minutes or more.)
* Be willing to seat incomplete parties if the first arrival is disinclined to wait in the bar and your hunch is the group will be whole within 10 minutes or so. Grandma will thank you.
* Bring up the lights. No one wants to eat under a klieg light, but some restaurants are so dark, diners are unable to read the menu or, worse, see the food the chefs have slaved over.
* Keep menu introductions brief. Think of them like story pitches from writers to editors: If they cant be explained in a few sentences, they need to be massaged until theyre clear, and shorter.
* Also, while Im a big believer in diners being proactive about what they cant or wont eat, and asking questions before ordering, descriptions of dishes should flag ingredients that set off alarm bells for significant numbers: pork, shellfish, nuts, gluten and accents such as cilantro.
* Learn to "read" guests. Some people love to know their waiters name or back stories and others prefer to focus on their companions. Its up to the servers to know the difference.
* Do not ask diners for accolades, as in, "Is everything delicious?" When the first course is served, wish everyone a good lunch or dinner and let them know youll be nearby if they need anything then make sure you pass by the table now and then. Also, do not comment on how much anyone has eaten, particularly if the plate is licked clean.
* Banish from your delivery the string of words "Are you finished working on that?" or similar phrases. Animals "work" on food. "May I take your plate?" falls easier on the ears.
* Treat restrooms as if your parents are coming over. Make sure theyre spotless.
* Keep your website accurate and up-to-date. At a minimum, an online presence should include an easy-to-find address, phone number, a list of dishes and prices. If its fall and youre promoting spring specialties, readers will think youre careless.
* Remember that little things are big things to a lot of diners. Im talking crumbs left by previous guests on chairs, banquettes and booths. If youre not sure who should get the check, leave it in the middle of the table. And when you return change, make certain its accurate, down to the last penny. Diners notice when you dont and tend to leave smaller tips in response.