April 26, 2011
Restaurants and rudeness: The customer isn't always right

It wasn't that long ago. We were leaving Peet's Coffee on Fair Oaks Boulevard and, as we walked out, we held the door for a petite woman with short blond, spiky hair and a fake tan - and she proceeded to walk through without saying a word or touching the door. She's something special. Of course she is.

In that one moment, she had the chance to take the door, even symbolically, say something nice and make us feel good about this little exchange of kindnesses. Yet, we regretted holding the door and, later, talked about - fantasized about - letting the door go and making her spill her coffee all over her extra-tight gym attire. If I were the least bit spiritual, I might look inside and tell myself it is the simple act that matters, and that I cannot control what other people do. I'm glad I'm not that well adjusted.

There is something about that obliviousness at the door, seemingly so small, that really rubs people the wrong way, myself included. In honor of that loathsome, self-involved woman, I've compiled a short, non-scientific list of other rude behavior I see at restaurants (in no particular order):

1. Not saying "thank you." Sticking with the self-involved theme, I'm constantly amazed by how many people think that dining out means they should expect to be treated like rock stars. Recently, while dining at a little neighborhood bistro, I watched six folks at the table nearby have their food served by their waiter. They never stopped their conversation, never acknowledged him and, best of all, never said thank you. That is inexcusable behavior. It's very simple, when a server brings you something, you say, "thank you."

2. Hats. My rule on hats is simple: if the restaurant doesn't have a drive-through window, you shouldn't be wearing your baseball cap when you're eating inside. The nicer the restaurant, the dumber you look.

3. Bluetooth (blueteeth?): You're out on a date. It's Enotria, a fine dining restaurant and wine bar. Why are you wearing a Bluetooth hooked to your ear? Take it off, pay attention and check your voice mail when you hit the street.

4. Saving seats. Ugh! I hate this one, and it only happens at casual places where you order at the counter. Think Magpie for lunch, Jack's Urban Eats, La Bonne Soupe. I was recently in line for lunch at La Bonne Soupe. As many of you know, the line is notorious. 30-40 minutes. So, some knuckleheads walk in behind us, place their jackets on four empty chairs and then get in line. Are you serious? The place is tiny. You're going to hold those seats for 40 minutes. I see this at Jack's as well. Not only is this obnoxious, it's dumb. There are actually folks who study something called queuing theory. Lines don't work if you mess up the simple system. You get in line, wait your turn and find a seat after your order and pay. If you skip a step, you've just messed up a simple system that works. If you're the victim of this behavior, simply sit at the chair and start enjoying your meal. When the jacket owner finally gets there, hand him his jacket and suggest he not do that again. If you follow that with a smug scowl, that's up to you.

5. Snapping your fingers. OMG! You're out of bread! Waiters love it when you snap your fingers to let them know you'd really like them to drop everything they're doing and tend to your needs. Snap, snap! It's the international symbol of graciousness and sophistication. Give it a try and see how that works out for you.

6. Eating and talking. I'm horrified by any kind of poor manners, but this is one that constantly throws me for a loop: People who talk with their mouths full. French fries. Kung pao chicken. Spaghetti and meatballs. T-bone steak. It's just gross. The only thing worse is chewing with your mouth open when you're not even talking. That suggests a fundamental etiquette malfunction requiring some kind of major overhaul or boot camp. If you do this on a first date, you will not get a second date - unless, of course, you're committing this crime while your date is snapping his or her fingers to get more bread.

7. You're late. Showing up late doesn't affect anyone, right? How about everyone? If you're going to be late, you need to call the restaurant. Don't we all know people who are always late? It's not because they're busier than everyone else. It's because they have less respect for others, simple as that. Arriving more than 15 minutes late for a reservation at a busy restaurant can mean chaos for everyone and, like placing your coats on chairs to reserve a table, it screws up the simple wonder of a well-organized system.

I could go on. Can you add to this list? Let us know what customer behavior rubs you the wrong way.

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