Food writers dine out more often than most. In general, that’s wonderful — we wouldn’t have the job if we didn’t enjoy it.
One side effect is overexposure to front-of-house phrases or actions that just don’t make sense, or don’t jibe with the idea of “hospitality.” We’re not talking major faux pas here, but small quirks that easily grate after they’re experienced multiple times.
For example, every time a server asks me “Are you done working on that?” I bristle. (Internally, I’m thinking: Eating at a restaurant should not be referred to as work — it’s a leisure activity.)
Another that gets me is when a server says “This is going to be served with…” as they’re placing a plate on the table. (The use of future tense here has actually confused me at times, when I’ve wondered, “Is the chef about to come out and add something to the dish?”)
For amusement’s sake (and amusement’s sake only) I asked several of my Philadelphia-area colleagues to share their dining pet peeves. Here’s what they said.
Cred: Since 1998, LaBan has been the restaurant critic and drink columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he also contributes additional stories about restaurants, food and beverages. Follow on Twitter at @CraigLaBan.
- “Is everything wonderful?!” (Fishing for compliments, when sometimes the truth is quite the opposite.)
- “Do you want some change?” (Me, to myself: Yeah, how about all of it? Like I’m about to give a 30% tip after you played Minecraft on your phone behind the register all night.)
- “These royal trumpet mushrooms have been foraged just for us for today’s special pizza…” (Me: you mean foraged for you by the US Foods truck? Royal trumpets and king oysters are now mostly cultivated by farms like Phillips in Kennett Square…they are rarely sold wild. Only thing worse than romanticizing ingredients for the hard sell, is to do it with lies. Server, after checking back with kitchen, confessed he might have misheard about the mushrooms earlier in his shift.)
Cred: Klein is the editor and producer of Philly.com/food. For 22 years, he’s written the Table Talk column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he started in 1986. He also edits the Philadelphia edition of the Zagat Survey. Follow on Twitter at @phillyinsider.
- “Foodies” (I always imagine a wealthy, older couple who follow LaBan like sheep.)
- The suggestion to order something “for the table.” (I usually look at the table and ask blandly, “Table, would you like to try the arancini?”)
- Small plates that are “meant for sharing.” (Large plates can be shared. Not these thimble-size apps.)
Cred: After six years as food editor for the Philadelphia City Paper (where he still files movie reviews), Lazor went freelance in 2012. He writes a twice monthly column for the Philadelphia Daily News, and has contributed to Lucky Peach, Bon Appétit, Condé Nast Traveler, Food Republic, the Inquirer and Punch. Follow on Twitter at @drewlazor.
- “Do you know how our menu works?” (Yes, I do!)
Cred: In addition to being the co-owner of Green Aisle Grocery, Erace is a restaurant critic for the Philadelphia City Paper and the Courier-Post of Camden, and is also a freelance food and travel writer who’s contributed to Fortune, Details and Men’s Journal. Along with brother Andrew Erace, he’s the star of Great American Food Finds, debuting August 3 on the Food Network. Follow on Twitter at @adamerace.
- “My name is [name] and I’ll be taking care of you.” (Even the most earnest rendition makes a professional server sound like a gum-popping Goretti girl who works weekends at her dad’s Broad Street BYOB. You “take care” of a stray puppy or a baby found wandering down the Nile in a basket, not a paying customer at a restaurant. The straightforward “My name is [name] and I’ll be your server tonight” sounds a lot better.)
Cred: Now local editor for Zagat.com/philadelphia, Russock is also food editor for the City Paper, a position she’s held since 2012, and a freelance food writer. Past gigs include vetting thousands of recipes for Serious Eats, bartending in rural Sicily and running a French bistro in San Diego. Follow on Twitter at @carolinerussock.
- “Madam…” (Please don’t call me madam — for better or for worse, I am not the girl boss of an escort service.)
- “Have you dined with us before?” (Does it really matter? Unless you’re serving in a zero-gravity chamber or you start all of your meals with full-sized hot fudge sundaes in place of an amuse bouche [Ed note: someone get on this], there’s really no need to explain how the dining experience is going to work.)
- Being walked to the ladies room. (I get the gesture, but really, it creeps me out and makes me feel like a lost 7-year-old. This is a situation when a simple “Past the kitchen and to the left” will do just fine.)
Cred: Freedman is restaurant critic and beverage columnist for Philadelphia Weekly, Suburban Life Magazine, and Philadelphia Life Magazine and editor-at-large of Drink Me magazine. He’s also a contributing writer for John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet, Philadelphia Style and others, plus writes the blog The Food, Drink & Travel Report at fooddrinkandtravelreport.com. Follow on Twitter at @wineupdate.
- Using the royal “we” while addressing the table — in any context or phrase.
- Pronouncing a dish name or ingredients with a foreign accent when it’s not necessary.
Cred: Teel is a freelance food writer, recipe developer, and member of the front-of-house crew at Aldine restaurant. A 2015 Eddy Award winner, she’s a principal at Farm Market Media and a regular contributor to several publications including Serious Eats, Foobooz, Grid Magazine and Edible Philly. Follow on Twitter at @brotherly_grub.
- “My name is [blank] and I’ll be taking care of you tonight.” (Unless you’re going to make me a grilled cheese and rub my shoulders, you’re not really taking care of me. What this phrase communicates to me is: “I give the same rote speech to every single table.”)
- “The chef prepares [blank…]” (I’m sure some people are into the idea of “the chef” lovingly carrying a handful of sun-ripened tomatoes into the kitchen to make your single, exalted plate of spaghetti, but that’s not how restaurant kitchens work. Because, let’s be real, the chef might have come up with the idea, and plated the first few of them, but in all likelihood s/he had almost nothing to do with the preparation of the plate of food that is going to land in front of me. I know whose name is at the top of this menu. If it’s important to give credit, do it in a way that actually shares that credit with the prep cook who cleaned the octopus and made the sauce and the line cooks who showed up early to prep the mise en place.)
- “Can you tell me about [blank] dish?” “Oh yes, it’s delicious/yummy/tasty.” (I didn’t ask if *you* liked the dish, I asked you to tell me what it was like. Sure, sometimes guests ask about servers’ preferences, but not understanding the difference is just lazy. Tell me something besides the fact that you like it. Tell me about how it’s cooked. Is it rich or light? Are the ingredients special in any way? Give me a sense of why this dish has a place on the menu.)
Cred: For five years, Strauss has been editor in chief of The Town Dish, an online culinary publication that also encompasses nine publications focused on local Southeast Pennsylvania regions (the Main Line, West Chester, Phoenixville, etc.). She is also a dining editor and food critic of Main Line Today, a freelance food journalist and former contributing food and drink writer for City Paper. Follow on Twitter at @amy_strauss.
- “You ate that quickly!” / “You sure like to eat!” (No need for servers to comment on how quickly I inhale my food, even if it is true. Yes, this girl likes to eat.)
- Adding “with a twist” to a concept — e.g. “It’s new American, but with a twist.” ( Sure, sure, how *alternative* of you.)
- Anything grilled, roasted, braised, broiled, fried or cooked “to perfection.” (Is the dish really that perfect? Such a saying merely relays that the kitchen thinks the dish is great — but in what way?)