Dining Out

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My top 10 Dining Out pet peeves

Dining out as often as I do, I can’t help but be a bit jaded.

Over the years, there are several things that drive me crazy. Call them my pet peeves, or call me a whiny, picky diva.

But here are the latest 10 things I hate about restaurants:

1. Have a website

Look, I’m not asking you to hire an expert design team to structure a site with steaming videos, 3-D slideshows or whatever else is the latest in online imagery; just give me the basics. Twitter and Facebook are perfect places to put together a simple page with your hours and menu. In this day and age, failure to have an online presence costs you potential customers whether you believe it or not.

2. Take credit cards

I know there is cost involved with each swipe of the plastic, but it is time for all restaurants to face that most people don’t carry cash anymore. Heck, one local gift store (Stoner’s) isn’t even taking cash anymore.

And what is more costly; paying the monthly fees or having potential customers head elsewhere? Plus, customers can’t return – much less become regulars – if they never eat at your restaurant the first time because they don’t have cash on them.

3. Dessert dilemma

Where have all the pastry chefs gone? Why doesn’t anyone make desserts from scratch anymore?

The majority of restaurants I visit, even in the fine-dining realm, offer pre-made, often frozen desserts, and many of them are the exact same desserts that are just differently named.

Chocolate Confusion, Chocolate Explosion, Chocolate Ambrosia, Chocolate Extreme Madness, Chocolate Mousse Cake, Quadruple Chocolate Mousse Pie, Tuxedo Mousse Cake and Chocolate Seduction – all of those names have appeared in my reviews describing a mousse and/or fudge dessert with dark, light and white layers on a cookie crust.

I also am not impressed by the New York or turtle cheesecake you yank from the freezer.

4. ‘Best in town’

Don’t tell me you have the city’s best tenderloin, pizza or sausage roll unless you have something to back it up. You may think it is the best, but the folks down the street think theirs is better. If a culinary expert has proclaimed it best or it came out on top of a reputable survey, by all means, call it the best, but be sure to tell me who called it that.

5. Hold off on that bill

I know it is important for restaurants to turn tables during their busiest hours, but don’t set the bill on my table as you serve my entrée. Not only does this make me feel underappreciated, it makes ordering dessert – something I am sure the owners don’t mind getting the extra cash for – a hassle.

6. Fads

I appreciate restaurant fads so long as they don’t wear out their welcome. Right now, Asian-fusion is all the rage with noodle joints popping up all over, and that is cool. But don’t expect me to be amazed by your noodle concoctions or funky dumplings five years from now.

Among the fads that have worn out their welcome:

•Sliders – Great idea when it started with prime rib or smoked pulled-pork versions at fine restaurants, but now everyone wants to do them, and most are subpar.

•Chocolate lava cake – When I had my first molten-centered, dark rich version of it 10 years ago, I thought I could never get tired of it. Wrong. Now I can buy them frozen and microwaveable at any supermarket; time to move on.

•Seared tuna – The sashimi-style dish with pickled ginger, wasabi and soy is healthful and darn tasty, but how about we try something new with the fatty, delicious fish.

7. Know the menu

Every restaurant owner I have ever known has always said it is hard to find good people to work for them, and even harder to keep the ones who are good. But I don’t care whether it’s the server’s first day, the person better at least know the basics. I don’t expect them to be able to dissect every dish or know every ingredient, but when I ask what the soup of the day is, the response shouldn’t be a blank stare, and I shouldn’t have to wait for the server to walk back to the kitchen to find out.

8. Be sensible about substitutes

My wife swears I can never just go to a restaurant and order exactly what is on the menu. There is always a “can I have a salad instead of a baked potato?” or a “could I have the loaded baked potato instead of rice?” But, hey, I should be able to do these things without an exorbitant charge.

I will never understand why I am asked to pay an extra dollar for soup instead of salad because the cost of making both is pennies per serving, so the restaurant is making plenty of profit either way. I am also not a big french-fry guy, so if I instead want a soup or salad – which is much healthier, something a lot of people are also after these days – I should be able to do so.

9. Bagged lettuce

Speaking of salads, nothing is worse than drab, dry lettuce from a bag.

A pretty basic salad of just iceberg, a few carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, a little cheese and croutons can be great if that lettuce is freshly cut and washed, but if the same mix comes from a bag and already has the carrots mixed in, it is terrible. I know a lot of places use the vile bagged stuff, but if you have to use it, at least take some time to give it a rinse and remove any odd-looking pieces that may be in there.

10. Be sustainable/in season

I realize that a lot of restaurants just are not going to go to local farms to get fresh produce, and I find it sad. Food supply companies dominate the restaurant landscape and, although I know they are a necessary resource, they should not be the only resource.

There are plenty of farms in the area with produce stands or that sell organic meats, so why not try making something creative with fresh apples or pumpkins, or incorporating some grass-fed beef on the menu? Being able to say something is local on the menu is always inviting to diners.

It perturbs me that most restaurants pay no attention to the seasons, and it downright ticks me off when they try to fool me into thinking they are. Don’t give me frozen strawberries in June or waxy hothouse tomatoes in August.

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net, and you can hear Ryan from 3 to 4 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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