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Restaurant commandments not ironclad

November 04, 2009

o If you like reading Tim Rowland, you'll love watching him. See what else Tim has to say

I was analyzing the New York Times for liberal bias when I stumbled upon a list of "One hundred things restaurant staffers should never do," which was part of a series on the art of running a small business.

It's not a bad list, but it needs some modification and accentuation based on my experience as a hard-core restaurant user over the years. For example:

1. Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting.

Here's my problem with that -- well, sum it up this way: Management at some establishments seems to believe that it's appropriate for the clerks to holler out as if they are at the bottom of a well and the customer is walking past with a rope.

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Really, a nod would be fine. If that. There's no need for a welcoming hallelujah chorus, just because you're running in to pick up some pork rinds.

5. Tables should be level without anyone asking. Fix it before guests are seated.

I don't know why this happens so often, but I have two theories. One is that the manufacturers of restaurant tables are a gang of bitter old coots who out of spite saw one leg to 31 inches while the rest are at 32. The other explanation is that it's a conspiracy on the part of the sugar industry, knowing that you will have to use four packets per visit just to shore up a table that's rocking so bad it would make Ahab seasick.

7. Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness.

I get this on some level. In a perfect world, maybe food would be brought by conveyor belt with no personal interaction whatsoever. But I don't mind knowing the server's name. And how else do you break the ice? Just walk up to a table and say, "What'll it be, pops?" A little personality on the part of the server is not a bad thing, unless it's the breathless, white-clad chick in the insurance commercials who seems to be a gushing, life-support system for lipstick.

34. Do not have a personal conversation with another server within earshot of customers.

No, no, no, no, no. Do not deprive us of private server conversations. Sometimes that's the only thing that makes a restaurant worthwhile. We want to know that the woman at table 25 thought that sweetbreads was a dessert. We want to overhear that the chef accidentally sprinkled cocaine on the berry melange instead of powdered sugar. We want to know what important person got stuck in his chair.

38. Do not call a guy a "dude."

39. Do not call a woman "lady."

Depends on the restaurant. Not at Maxim's, maybe, but that rule would have precluded this wonderful, overheard exchange:

"Waiter, this chicken has a broken leg."

"Look lady, you gonna eat it or dance with it?"

40. Never say, "Good choice," implying that other choices are bad.

I thought this was standard boilerplate at all restaurants, sort of like saying "OK" or "You got it."

I'm convinced I could walk into any restaurant in America and order cattle hooves with bits of rotting hay and fecal matter left under the toenails and the server would, by rote, bob her head and say "good choice."

Some restaurant experiences, even if bad, I wouldn't trade for the world.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under opinion@herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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