Am I the Bad Diner?
From personal policies regarding shared plates to skipping dessert, a writer ruminates on his restaurant-related hang-ups
We can all rattle off the attributes of a good diner: they know the best restaurants, from the hotspot to the hole in the wall; they always get the Resy, and sometimes even the walk-in, too; can wax poetic about the bangers gracing the menu; ditto the wine list; share their dish without fail (“you haaaave to try this,” they implore you, thrusting a forkful of whatever you didn’t order your way); never squabble over an itemized bill or resort to long division when going Dutch, and so on and so forth.
I find these people annoying. Not overtly, not in a way that would ever cause me to say something, but their wonder and devotion and self-perceived discernment re: all things dining—somehow a mix of hubris and naivety—makes me want to roll my eyes and say, “calm down it’s just dinner.”
Maybe I’m a snob. Maybe I’m a cynic. But…I don’t think I am? I love going out to dinner, especially to good, vibe-y restaurants, and yet I’m just as happy hitting an Applebee’s or a Chili’s off the highway with my kids (yes, the irony considering where I work is not lost on me). I just don’t pride myself on my palate, and would never mistake myself for a gustatory connoisseur or oenophile. I’ve never sent a dish back to the kitchen, requested a dietary substitute, or down-dressed a waiter, and I’ve recently upgraded my tipping policy from 20 to 25 percent.
Still, I have strong (read: judge-y) opinions when it comes to certain aspects of dining out (yes, these pertain almost exclusively to things other people do), and recent conversations with coworkers have made me wonder if I am, in fact, a bad diner. You tell me.
1. I hate it when someone orders for the table
You know the move I’m talking about: the person (typically a guy, always a bloviator) holds up the menu with considerable confidence, discernment, and even magnanimity—just as he previously commandeered the wine list—and decides everyone would be in better hands if they just surrendered their decision-making to him. Of course some people like this, letting someone else take the reins, especially when the person prides themselves in their ability to “order well” (has society crumbled to such a degree that that’s really a thing to be commended for?). Me? I have no time for these dining despots. I more or less know what I like, even if I’ve never been to the place before, and while I’m always open to suggestions, ultimately I’d like to make my own choice. These are basic freedoms, man, and the moment we give them up it’s just one step closer to the Gulag.
2. "Let’s just get a bunch of plates and share everything”
What is this a buffet, only the portions are the exact opposite of the all you can eat variety? No thanks. Whoever unilaterally decides this for the table is the same type of megalomaniac who straight up orders for everyone. I can handle the menu fine by myself, narrow my decisions down, and ultimately select my dish, thank you very much, and when said dish arrives I’d like to enjoy it without your digits entering the frame and demanding your portion. This is dining, not musical chairs. Sure, sometimes you’ll get buyer’s remorse when you realize someone ordered better than you, but we’re all adults here and we live with our choices.
I once witnessed two colleagues split a bowl of chili during a work lunch. This anecdote should suffice to dissuade you from ever doing the same. Also, can we please stop infantilizing dining culture with silly names like the above abomination?
4. Would you please repeat the specials?
I get it, you zoned out while the server rattled off a few bonus features. It’s understandable—I do it all the time—but not forgivable to the degree where we have to again sit through listening to a roll call of meals not banging enough to permanently make it onto the menu. Please, order the burger you always get and let’s move on.
5. Hands off my wine, monsieur
I rarely reach for the wine list and—aside from an oaky chardonnay—will drink basically anything (who am I kidding, I’ll drink that, too). And in the embarrassing event where the server wants me to taste the wine, I’ll revert to an old trick taught to me by a cousin who works for a winery: a quick nose-in-glass sniff followed by a curt “that’ll do” nod, as if I know what the hell I’m talking about. But when it comes to the placement of the bottle, I want it on the table — not in an ice bucket, and certainly not around the corner where only our server can fetch it and mete it out at their leisure. If I can’t get my booze injected directly into my veins via IV, then I want it close at hand for refills.
6. “Mmmmmm” 🥴
It’s a roast chicken not an orgasm, keep your pants on and please stop trying to make eye contact with me while you apparently climax across the table. Also, let’s not discuss the food we are eating while we eat it, that’s as bad as talking about the weather.
7. Diners who address the Chef as “Chef”
Are you on the restaurant’s payroll and benefit package? Did you filet tonight’s Chilean sea bass? Is the “Chef” going to save your life or teach you macro economic theory? I didn’t think so. Please ditch the formalities.
8. Or refer to Anthony Bourdain as “Tony”
Yes, he revolutionized how we think about food, and we miss his brashly eloquent voice and lust for life. I’m sure you do, too, but please stop acting like you were on personal terms with the guy. You saw the tragic news on Twitter, you posted a picture and what I’m sure was an incredibly moving eulogy on Instagram, and five minutes later you moved on.
9. Small portions
This particularly pertains to pasta — the better the restaurant, the smaller the portion. Just a cherubic swirl of bucatini on an otherwise empty plate…are you kidding me? And you wonder why I frequent Applebee’s.
10. Doggy bags
If you couldn’t finish it fresh do you really think you’re going to enjoy the soggy leftovers tomorrow? Also, now we have to schlep this around with us for the rest of the evening. Come on, lose the plastic bag, I feel like dancing.
11. Those who say no thank you to dessert
What’s up with food enthusiasts always being anti dessert, as if enjoying a sweet treat is beneath them? These are the same people who always prattle on about opting for salty breakfasts over sweet breakfasts. Cool, you enjoy huevos rancheros, my guy. Like waffles and pancakes, is dessert too dainty and childish for them? Well, not for me, which means you can cool your jets while I crush this mille feuille (and please pass the milk).
There you have it. Glad to get everything out in the open — I feel seen 🙏. Please sound off with your judgements in the comments below before I’m fired for being such an uncouth curmudgeon.
Blackbird Labs, Inc.