The inspiration for this post is a recent dining experience where I could smell the bathroom air freshener from our table in the dining room. The scent was so strong that I could taste it in my mouth when we walked outside after the meal. This post is also inspired by our favorite restaurants who make us feel at ease and serve great meals time and again.
In no particular order, here are 12 things restaurants do that I love and hate:
I wrote a similar post about grocery stores in 2015.
Things I HATE:
- Air freshener smells: I do NOT want to smell bathroom air freshener anywhere except for the bathroom. Ever. Under any circumstance. There’s nothing grosser than trying to decide if you want to order a burger or chicken wings while you can smell a sickeningly fragrant air freshener. If your bathroom’s air freshener flowing into the dining area smells worse than your actual bathroom than I don’t want to eat here and need to leave.
- No salt on the tables. Please. Provide some salt on the tables. Your seasoning better be spot on if you’re going to withhold salt. Let me worry about my own blood pressure. Honestly, it really comes down to being very annoyed when the food’s bland. Once I wrote a whole post dedicated to the topic.
- The expensive small plates thing: Is it just me or does it seem like every other new restaurant’s concept is “small plates?” They’re like smaller plates of food and cost the same amount as a big plate or require three to fill you up. I guess they’re perfect for sharing? That is, if you want to share that tiny portion of calamari.
- Upcharching to swap fries for chips: Burger and sandwich-heavy restaurants that upcharge customers for swapping potato chips for french fries drive me nuts. NO ONE WANTS YOUR CHIPS. Especially when you bagged, broken potato chips accompany an expensive burger. I never go to a restaurant because I want to eat boring, mass-produced, plain potato chips. If I wanted chips, I’d walk to the gas station down the street and buy my own bag. Somehow, a burger with chips that can be uncharged for fries feels almost worse than a $10+ burger that doesn’t come with anything else at all. I would rather that a restaurant writes the extra $2 into the cost and includes fries.
- Bad, overpriced signature cocktails: For a while, I became so disgusted by bad, pricey signature cocktails that I stopped ordering them all together. I’ve spent way too much money on disappointing drinks. The menu titles and descriptions always sounds so magical. But, about half the times, they’re too sour or sweet and I wished I had just ordered a martini or Manhattan. Other times, signature cocktails are too weak to give me a buzz. I’m a lightweight and if I order a $12 cocktail, I should always feel a buzz. I’ve started branching out again and have found some successes, but often stick with the classics. Restaurants whose signature cocktails blew me away: Bellecour in Wayzata & The Rabbit Hole in Minneapolis.
This is the single, worst, most expensive drink I have ever ordered. A $17 sweet, weak monstrosity in a mason jar. This celebrity chef’s restaurant recently closed in NYC.
- Greasy, sticky menus and condiment dispensers: At the restaurants I worked at, I frequently wiped down all of the napkin dispensers, laminated menus, and condiment dispensers. There was no way someone was going to write a bad Yelp review calling us out for dirty ketchup bottles on my watch. I’m completely fine with my own filth, but strangers’ filth freaks me out. Before I eat, I do not want to get a stranger’s saliva residue, hand grease, and food residue on my hands.
Things I LOVE:
- Unpretentious “Come as you are” vibe: We don’t like dressing up in our free time. We dress up every day for work. When we’re ready to kick back and relax over a great meal, we want to wear comfortable clothes like our favorite t-shirts and stretchy pants. On other occasions, we were out and about when we stopped for a meal and randomly found ourselves in a restaurant fancier than we expected. With maybe one exception, upscale restaurants we’ve wandered into made us feel at ease when even we were kind of self-conscious about our attire. I can’t imagine a restaurant I want to visit less than one with an enforceable dress code. Sorry, but I don’t care how good the food is. Our favorite restaurants make us feel at ease.
- Good non-alcoholic cocktails: There are so many reasons why people don’t want to order alcoholic beverages. I really appreciate restaurants that have added cocktails to their cocktail menu. I remember feeling delighted by a sparkling fruit lemonades the bartenders created at Mezzaluna in Fargo, ND. And the last two distilleries. At Vikre in Duluth, MN I enjoyed a refreshing, complex beet drink. At Du Nord, the bartender offered to make most any cocktail NA.
- Good ranch: I’m a side-of-ranch gal. It’s the upper Midwest. There’s a lot of us side-of-ranch people; enough to warrant good ranch. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I will judge you harshly if you serve bad ranch. Good ranch is as simple as mixing up one of those Hidden Valley packets with mayo and buttermilk. Sure, you can make it completely from scratch. But the difference between packet ranch and the cheap jarred stuff is remarkable. The fact that you are serving good ranch makes me feel like you care about the small details. We ranch dressing lovers appreciate you! Fun fact: Jake actually hates ranch.
- Websites with easy-to-find hours, phone numbers, and prices: It just makes it all the easier to visit you! Prices let us know if you’re fitting our budget at the moment and make ordering take-out a smooth process with no surprises.
- Consistency: I have so much respect for the restaurants that serve good food year after year. For example, take Broder’s Cocina Italiana. The decade that we’ve been visiting them is just a blip on their timeline, as they opened in 1982. We’ve ordered countless Eggplant Special pizzas from them (among our many other favorite dishes) and they are perfect EVERY SINGLE TIME. Each time we order one of our favorite dishes, it’s as delicious and consistent as the ones before. The same goes for our other favorites like pho at Quang (open since 1989), Jucy Lucys at The Nook (founded in 1938), beef tartare at 112 Eatery (open since 2005) and everything at Cafe Latte (open since 1984).
- Welcome snacks: Complimentary welcome snacks like chips and salsa or bread and butter are certainly not something I feel diners are entitled to. They sure are fun, though.
*In the featured photo at the top of the post: A recent, fantastic meal from one of our favorite Minneapolis restaurants, 112 Eatery.
Feel free to share your thoughts on this list below. Am I missing anything or do you think any of the items are completely off base?