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Do you have a pet peeve about restaurant customers? Have a tip for taking kids out? Send them to rduvall@jg.net or share them with Ryan via Twitter (@DiningOutDuVall). Your additions appear in a follow-up column.
Illustration by Gregg Bender | The Journal Gazette

Top 10 customer miscues

Hoarders to cheap tippers, reviewer pans fellow diners

Given I spend most of my time criticizing restaurants and sharing my various pet peeves about establishments, I thought it was time to turn the tables – pun intended.

So this week, I give you my top 10 pet peeves about us, the customers.

10. Lemon-aid

The ladies at a table behind me were splitting a salad and asked for waters. They arrived with fresh lemon slices on the rim. Before the waiter could leave, one of them asked for extra lemons – a lot of them. A few minutes later, these ladies were dumping sugar packets in their glasses and squeezing the life out of the extra lemon wedges into the water.

I like lemon shake-ups, but I pay for mine at the festival. If you really must have fresh lemonade, fine, but make sure you at least offer to pay for the extra lemons or at least leave extra for your tip.

9. Hoarders

Much like the lemonade makers, restaurant hoarders will do all they can to get the most out of a night out.

It may be as simple as swiping sugar packets or, even worse, it may be asking for an extra basket of complimentary dinner rolls at the end of your meal only to stuff them all into a take-home box.

A co-worker who once worked for Cracker Barrel said she saw it all the time with syrup. Cracker Barrel is one of the only places offering natural maple syrup and it comes in tiny sealed bottles. But don’t take the extras because they can be reused if still sealed, and don’t ask for extras because you may ruin it for everyone if the practice gets too costly.

8. Where is it?

My father is guilty of this. He thinks every burger joint or diner should offer cheese fries. Not just any cheese fries, but specifically versions with cheese sauce.

If a place he thinks should have them doesn’t, he gets angry. And it’s silly. Don’t expect a place to have something on its menu – specific salad dressings are another good example – just because you think it should. It is not your restaurant.

7. Not like Mom’s

“I don’t like this meatloaf. It’s not how my mom/wife/grandma made it.”

If you want their version of whatever you ordered, maybe you should have stayed home.

I love meatloaf and one of my all-time favorite places serves it, but it is the only thing I don’t like there. Do I blame them for not having meatloaf I like? No. I just don’t order it.

6. High expectations

I get emails weekly from irate folks telling me how bad the service was at a place and that the manager never offered to take something off the bill or a free dessert.

I guess people consider me the restaurant police and I accept that. And, if you have bad service or an inedible meal served to you, I would expect any good manager or owner to make an effort to make amends.

But there is no law that says they can’t charge you and there is no rule that says they have to give you a free piece of cheesecake.

If they don’t, just don’t go back.

5. Belittlers

No matter how bad things get, don’t take it out on your server. Even if much of the fault was the server’s, ask to speak with a manager.

Nothing is worse than hearing someone berate and talk down to a server. Plus, honestly, that isn’t going to help your cause. Go to the top and be nice to these hard-working, underappreciated employees.

4. Hang up, stupid

So I am standing in line at my favorite coffee house when Ms. Important is trying to order her half-caff skinny cap, light on the foam, but she is also on the phone and can only get parts of her order out between laughs, “oh my gawds” and “hold on a secs.”

Even worse was the couple the other day at the booth behind me on the phone with the speaker function maxed out carrying on a conversation that everyone in the café couldn’t help but hear.

Unless you are Commissioner Gordon and your phone lights up red when the Batcave calls, you really should wait to answer it.

3. This ain’t Chuck E. Cheese’s

I have three children and all are under 10. I take them out with me often, and I believe every parent has the right to take their kids to any restaurant.

But if you take them out, make sure they don’t run amok. Any child is going to get antsy during a two-hour dinner, but there are ways to keep them from running around bothering others, playing under tables or screaming like banshees.

Here are my tips:

•Take them and teach them. Even if it’s just to McDonald’s every so often, get your kids used to eating out and the rules they need to follow when doing so.

•Bring your own crayons and coloring books. Many family-friendly places already have these, but have some on standby just in case.

•Make it a reward. Take them out enough that they have a favorite place and, even if it is that mouse-themed pizza joint, take them there occasionally to reward them for good behavior at other restaurants.

•Take ’em outside. Just like you would in church, if the kids won’t listen and act sane, take them to the parking lot and “convince” them they need to calm down or they won’t be eating that night. The other patrons will be glad you did.

2. You behave, too

Follow the lead you give your kids. Don’t act a fool. If it is you and seven of your best pals after a long day at work, don’t turn a nice restaurant into your after-work bar and whoop it up so much that you bother others.

Restaurants are great places for parties or reunions with old friends, and I would expect those groups to be a bit noisier than the norm. But consider the other folks eating in the restaurant and try to keep it to a level where they can at least carry on a conversation.

1. Gotta tip – period

A relative presented me with this riddle recently:

“My family goes to a restaurant and we all order salads and then another time we all order steaks, why do I have to tip more for the steaks than the salads when the waiter has to bring the same amount of plates to us each time?” he asked, citing that 15 percent to 20 percent (the going rate) was going to be much more for the more expensive steaks.

It was an interesting take, but my answer was simple: You just do.

Besides not berating servers, tip them properly. Never less than 15 percent and more than 20 percent if they do a real good job.

The only exception is if the server is solely to blame for the issues, but that is unlikely. If the food is cold, bad or arrives late, ask for a manager (see No. 5 again) but don’t jilt the poor server who was stuck in the middle when the cooks lagged.

I am also often asked about buffets, where there are no true servers. I don’t feel you have to give them the full percentage, but always leave a couple of bucks at the bare minimum. If you are a large party that makes a mess (i.e. kids), then leave a fiver.

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.