Cringe-worthy Restaurant Moments

A survey of chefs, waitstaff, managers, and, yes, diners too

Paul Greenberg

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Photo by Jay Wennington on Unsplash

What makes you want to walk out of a restaurant? What makes you want to throw a patron out of your dining establishment?

On either side of the eating-out equation there are cringe-inducing phrases and behaviors that lately have been coming to mind. Any phrase which includes “do” when ordering is my particular trigger. As in “Yeah, I’ll do the pancakes.” Or the steak. Or the salmon.

I wrote about “doing pancakes” earlier this month and it elicited such a strong response that I decided to ask the many chefs, managers, waiters and diners I’ve come to know as a sometimes food-writer to give me their pet restaurant peeves.

“Can I take this away or are you folks still working?”

My intention isn’t to stoke dissent between server and served. Rather, I post here with the unrealistic hope that by listing many commonly hated things we hear and experience in restaurants we might perhaps purge dining out of the things everybody dislikes.

So then, here are a handful of standouts from the many responses I received. Please do feel free to add others to this page’s comments section. I’ll review and include additional ones if they are doozies.

  1. Unclear Tipping Protocol. Ever since the pandemic, tipping has been thrown into complete disarray. Whereas a tip was once a standard issue of 15 or 20% now there are often automatic gratuities added onto a bill. All well and good. EXCEPT that added gratuity can often be a smokescreen. One Los Angeles diner noted at a favorite spot where patrons were strongly encouraged to tip on top of the added gratuity. Meanwhile the waitstaff reported they never actually saw the automatic tip factored into their paychecks. Diners from abroad take issue with the whole damn thing. “I’m pissed,” wrote one foreigner in response to my query. “Pissed at the restaurant owner for not paying their staff properly. Pissed at the US government for not legislating meaningful minimum wage and universal healthcare for everyone, regardless of whether they are the chef or the busboy.”
  2. Unnecessary Noise. A while back my 80-something father-in-law politely requested…

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org