We're lucky that Auckland is full of amazing and diverse restaurants. From cheap-and-cheerful to high-end and from Ethiopian to Mexican, there's a dining venue to suit all bank balances and tastes. And overall the food, the service and the ambiance is usually great; sometimes it's even world-class.
But there's always room for improvement - and, invariably, it's the small things that bother us. Those seemingly insignificant details, which staff training manuals must fail to mention, are actually really crucial to seamless dining. Here are a few of my favourite gripes.
Wait-staff asking "How is your meal?"
If diners are deep in conversation and simultaneously appearing to relish the tucker then everything is clearly fine with the meal. Just leave the people alone. If they'd wanted to be interrupted they'd have stayed at home where the kids, the flatmates, the pets and the pesky neighbours can harass them. And, anyway, if something is actually wrong with the meal, and the diners are looking frantically around the restaurant for a wait-person to remedy the problem, you can virtually guarantee they'll all be studiously looking in the other direction.
Hiding the A-Certificate
Life's too short to eat at restaurants with lower hygiene standards than my own kitchen. For that reason we'll only eat at establishments with the highest rating. We've skipped out of restaurants prior to ordering because their certificate wasn't easy to find on the wall. Displaying this food grading certificate prominently is compulsory and I subscribe to the (unproven yet compelling) theory that if it isn't in an obvious place then it mustn't be an A.
Forcing drink on people
Many of us try to watch how much alcohol we drink - perhaps because we're driving, dieting or have a big day ahead. So I really like pouring my own wine at the table once I've downed the first glass. Constant surreptitious top-ups from the wait-staff while the diner is engrossed in conversation can be a recipe for disaster. For that reason I've become fond of ordering wine by the glass.
Bringing us a children's menu
If my nine-year-old is with me, it's because I'm trying to broaden her horizons, and give her the chance to enjoy different cuisines and food she wouldn't get at home. I always think it's important that she eats pretty much the same as we do. And, besides, if I wanted her to have fish and chips or chicken nuggets and chips or hotdog and chips I would have taken her to a fast-food joint rather than to your atmospheric boutique eatery.
Making us admit we want tap water
I've had a great idea. It would be marvellous if the very first question we answer in your fine establishment doesn't make us sound like unsophisticated cheapskates. Yes, tap water is fine so why don't you just pour it straight away without even asking. If we have a hankering for Antipodes, Evian or San Pellegrino I promise that our waiter or waitress will be the first to know.
Wait-staff who crouch, kneel or sit
I've encountered young wait-staff at casual eateries (okay, it was Lone Star) who decided to kneel on the floor resting their elbows on our table while they reeled off the specials. They might think it's friendly and familiar but, frankly, it's just plain weird. Yet not as strange as the waiter at Iguacu who once pulled up a chair from an unoccupied table and joined our bewildered party as he took our order.
Offering to bring two spoons
It was cute when wait-staff first began offering to bring more than one spoon if just a single dessert was ordered but then the 21st century arrived and it became annoying. Why must the person who orders the dessert feel obliged to share it with a dining companion? And, as someone who doesn't order pudding, I can assure you that if I knew someone well enough to share a dish with him I wouldn't hesitate to wrestle the spoon off him if it became necessary.
Tableside rose sellers
I haven't seen this since about the 1980s but, gosh, it was awful. You'd be enjoying a quiet meal at a restaurant when a roving flower seller would work the tables hawking roses or perhaps carnations. "Would you like to buy the lovely lady a rose," he'd ask. How do you answer that in the negative without looking like a curmudgeon? I cannot believe restaurants actually let these people in to spoil the mood.
What do you think about these gripes? Care to share some restaurant whinges of your own?