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A Picky Eater's Restaurant Checklist

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In the August issue of "Living," Martha shared her hotel checklist of the small details that make all the difference when she's deciding where to stay. Efficient room service, for example, is a heavenly treat (and please don't repeat the order!). We travel quite often together -- and share similar quirks and preferences -- so she got me thinking about little things that make a difference when dining out.

Whether you call me picky or just particular, here's my restaurant checklist:

1. Good Napkins
Soft, luxurious cloth signals that the meal ahead will be equally high quality. (Napkins that leave lint on what you're wearing drive me crazy.)

2. Easy Salt Access
Bring me a bowl of salt and I'll be your lifelong fan. I like liberal seasoning and when I get skimpy shakers, I always end up taking off the lid and turning the canister upside down (Alexis does the same thing).

3. Bar-to-Table Cocktails
When you start a drink at the bar and your table is suddenly ready, it's so nice when the server grabs your drink and automatically transfers it (along with the tab) to the table.

4. A Conversation-Worthy Soundtrack
Maybe this is a sign that I'm getting old. But if the music's too loud to hear one another, I miss so much of the pleasure of dining out.

5. No Hand-Washing Signs
I realize this is well-intentioned, but must people really be reminded to wash their hands? This always makes me think about cooks in the bathroom -- not an ideal image mid-meal!

6. One Glass at a Time
It's overwhelming when there are too many glasses on the table. Waiter, please start with just a water glass and then find out what I'm drinking!

7. Grown-Up Sized Dishes
Tables piled with tapas plates make me start to itch! Small dishes crowd space fast, and I like a little elbow room -- especially in often cramped and crowded New York restaurants.

What are your personal pet peeves when dining out? Please share!

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Comments (7)

  • The hand washing signs are usually required by most local healt departments. Us cooks have to pee too! ;)

  • Kevin, I so agree we you about loud music when dining out! Trying to have a conversation over blaring music makes the meal tortuous. Almost as bad are the odd looks too often received when asking to have the volume reduced just a tad! My biggest pet peeve is when tables are cleared in the most obnoxious fashion. As if hurrying makes for greater efficiency. Crashing sounds of dish against dish and flatware being dropped on top of it all, scraping sounds of chairs being pulled out, having to breathe the heavy vapors of whatever cleaning chemical they might be spraying about. Sometimes it feels like the paying customer is simply an afterthought anymore.

  • I drink a lot of water with my meal, so I really appreciate having a pitcher of ice water on the table or at least an attentive server at the ready to keep my water glass filled.

  • My biggest pet peeve: don't touch my fork! Once you've put utensils on the table, they're mine, buddy. If you have to clear my appetizer, take the fork too and give me a new clean fork. Don't pick it up off my plate and put the fork I just had in my mouth on the table with your hands. Yes, I realize you set the table to begin with and I'll assume your hands were clean, but the idea of you moving my mine and everybody else's in the place too-- well, ...ick! ( yes, I know. Lots of dining out grossness behind the scenes. I read Heat and Anthony Bourdain's tales. Just humor me, ok? Thanks...:)

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  • I totally agree with your list and would like to add one more. I'd like to preface it by saying, I raised two children, I've worked in restaurants of all levels, doing every job from busing tables to ownership, so I feel I have a good grasp of the industry. My pet peeve is children in restaurants they don't belong in. How do you know which ones kids don't belong in? Very easy, if they don't have a Children's Menu, they don't want to be cooking for your children. Get a sitter, enjoy the evening with your significant other and don't ruin the dining experience for the other guests. Trust me, they don't think your kids are cute.

  • The hand-washing signs are required by law in most states.
    May I please add how annoying it is to have the server clear diners' plates one at a time rather than waiting till everyone is finished eating? I find it very uncomfortable to have plates swooped away all around me leaving me (or others) to feel as though I am either inhaling my food or holding up everyone else. Please wait till we are all finished eating and then clear plates for the next course. I'm here to enjoy my companions' company and conversation, not to feel as if I must surrender my plate and utensils the moment I've taken my last bite because the kitchen has run out of clean dishes!

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