Too Close Tables, Tepid Tap Water and Inattentive Service

The Good Food Guide publishes diners' pet peeves

Related Links

Vote in the Chiswick Restaurant Poll


Sign up for our free weekly newsletter

As any glance through The Good Food Guide 2011 will prove, we have come a long way from the apathetic dining of 60 years ago. However each edition of the Guide throws up a selection of complaints from both readers and inspectors, and it seems that poor service and hidden costs are a perennial problem. Here are some of our current inspectors’ pet peeves:

  • Exceedingly flash websites that conceal useful information such as location with a barrage of flash animation and ‘funky’ tunes.
  • Websites that fail to include pertinent information like their opening times and phone numbers.
  • Closely-packed tables in serried ranks: why do so many modern restaurants have lines of tables for two with about nine inches of space between them?
  • Serving tepid tap water.
  • Set menus that bear no resemblance to the fireworks of the à la carte – a good place makes the less expensive ingredients taste fabulous too.
  • And, of course, menus that turn out to be much less enticing than on the website.
  • Menus riddled with supplements applied to anything you’d actually want to eat.
  • Inattentive service once you arrive at the finishing stage. When you’re ready, the bill should be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.

Although website niggles are obviously a more recent problem, the Guide's founder, Raymond Postgate, would certainly have sympathised with current complaints about flashy websites that conceal more information than they give out. For Postgate, a recurring annoyance was overblown menus and wine lists that were more concerned with trying to impress than delivering good food. Canned music and canned food featured strongly on his hit list, as did whalemeat rissoles, luncheon meat and false cream, but fortunately these have disappeared from the pages of the Guide today.

Some bugbears fade away with the times, but some persist through the decades. Here is a list of ‘niggling, annoying practices which can spoil meals out’ from the 1984 Guide:

  • Being offered a selection of vegetables automatically. At a going rate of nearly £2 they beef up the bill considerably. Vegetables should be part of the main course price.
  • Waiters who insist on interrupting conversation
  • Dishes with names that are a nonsense. 'Sole Aunt Hilda' may please Aunt Hilda but it does not mean anything to anyone else.
  • The clichés of 1984 – mange-tout and duck with blackcurrant and Cassis. The latter is usually frozen and out of a bottle anyway.
  • Sorbets that pop up unannounced in the middle of a meal ‘to refresh the palate’. Usually they ruin a good wine and most people’s palates don’t need much refreshing after a light starter.
  • Tiny tables that are so cluttered with lamps, bread, glasses, ashtrays, flowers that you can’t see the person sitting opposite.
  • All restaurants that serve frozen, tinned or packet foods as if they were fresh.

So not only did 1984 bugbears such as charging for side dishes, close ranks of cluttered tables, and poor service not ‘vanish’ the next year, but they’re still annoying inspectors 26 years later!
However, as Raymond Postgate points out in the 1952-53 edition, ‘our duty is to complain; it is also to praise’. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that restaurateurs have their own complaints - chief among them people who don’t cancel a booking when they know they are not going to turn up.

The Good Food Guide 2011

April 12, 2011