The traditional restaurant format of self-explanatory starters, main courses and desserts seems like a thing of the past. Now guests must navigate through lists of shared plates of varying sizes, sides and platters. And though it does seem important for a guest to know if he's ordering a salad made of one snap pea or a steak the size of a small country, the server spiel is often excessive and appears to be mostly an opportunity for restaurants to brag about themselves.
Whether their farmers market produce is the freshest, their chef’s technique the sharpest, their locally farmed pork the most sustainable or their backstory the coolest, restaurants find it necessary to over-explain everything to guests upon arrival. Wouldn't a simple “Do you have any questions about the menu?” do the trick? Moreover, most of the details explained ad nauseam at your table could be easily written out on the menu. After all, if we can read that …
Here are 10 of the most annoying things servers say to customers:
1. “Have you dined with us before?” Maybe we have. Maybe we haven’t. It's impossible to eat anywhere without being confronted by this patronizing question. Often some people at the table have, while others haven't, leaving most diners left to sit through the long-winded explainer they've already heard anyway. In any case, if you have something to say, just say it.
2. “Our chef goes to the farmers market!” We don’t care. OK, maybe we do. The food will taste better this way. But the menu already names the farms from which the lettuce was picked and the woods from which the mushrooms were foraged. We’ve gone to dinner to talk with our companions, not be talked at about how wonderfully sustainable your ingredients are.
3. “Our menu changes daily.” Congratulations! You use seasonal produce, just like any other respectable restaurant in Southern California. Frankly, it should be a given that ingredients are fresh and local. One could see how this might be worth noting to the occasional diner who returns in the middle of winter craving that wonderful heirloom tomato, basil and burrata salad she enjoyed last August. But why do the rest of us have to suffer through boring lectures because of a few duds? For the most part, we’re open to eating what’s on that menu any given day, so just bring in on! We’re hungry and there’s no need to explain.
4. “Our menu is shared plates. We encourage you to order three to four plates per person.” We always get full on half the recommended order size.
5. “Here's the dinner menu. On the back we have our cocktails and wines by the glass. Here are all of our wines by the bottle.” This particular script implies that guests have never seen a menu before and need to be told what the piece of paper they are holding is.
6. “No worries on tipping, it's already included in the price.” This is important to know at the end of the meal, when we're paying. Not at the beginning when we're hungry and need a drink five minutes ago.
7. “Our grill will impart a smoky flavor on your food.” Have restaurant patrons become so high-maintenance that front-of-house staff must describe the way food tastes before serving it, for fear they will complain about lack of warning? Chances are, if someone orders something from the grill, it's because they've eaten something grilled before and enjoyed that “smoky flavor.” Besides, in less than 20 minutes they will be experiencing that grill-y essence for themselves — no need for spoilers.
8. “Let me explain the [superior] way in which we prepare our food.” Again, we're about to eat it and decide, for ourselves, how wonderfully it was prepared. Can we please just order?
9. “We’re doing Northern Mexican, Sonoran-style cuisine.” Yep. We saw that on the internet. That's why we're here.
10. “Our chef trained in France and takes inspiration from his/her grandmother's cooking.” Every chef has a story. Honestly, they usually involve training with famous chefs throughout the world and a grandma with great recipes. As much as we want to know all about this stuff, there's a time and a place for it, like when we read their cookbook, personal memoir or a profile in the newspaper, not when we're just here to have dinner.