News & Features

An Open Letter to Restaurants

January 21 2013 - 1:00 PM

Dear Restaurants:

Let me start by saying that I fully understand and appreciate that operating a business like yours is difficult, especially in a down economy. I also understand that anyone can have a bad day. Additionally, I am 42 years old, which precludes me from caring (translate: having the time/inclination) to share specific opinions about any of you on Yelp. Many of you provide me with wonderful food on a regular basis, and for that I am always grateful.

However, some of you have picked up some habits that prevent me from wanting to return to your establishments. Which is a shame, because this isn’t about food quality. If your food is bad, I can’t help you. This is Chicago. Get it right, or get gone. We have a lot of fantastic options at every price point and in every style/format/ethnicity, so if you can’t figure out how to deliver delicious, you are on your own. This is about the experience of eating in your establishment. For what it is worth, my top five pet peeves:

1) Turn the music down and the lights up.

How loud you blast The Ramones in your kitchen is up to you. Rock out to your heart’s content. But if I wanted my eardrums to bleed I’d head for the Double Door. I’m likely sitting across the table from someone I’d actually like to have a conversation with and don’t want to end up hoarse for three days. If you have taken even a modicum of care with what you put on the plate, I’d like to see what it is I’m eating. I hate that stupid “you eat with your eyes first” adage almost as much as I hate the phrase “flavor profile” or the trend to call everything on the planet “curated.” But I don’t want to have to squint at my menu, peer through the dim to find my pork chop or wonder if my pot de crème is chocolate or vanilla.

2) Don’t clear plates until everyone has finished.

I do not care whether you are high-end fine dining or a casual neighborhood joint, this is, without a doubt, the height of rudeness. If you are a fast eater, getting your plate whisked away while everyone else is only halfway through their meal makes you feel self-conscious and piggy. And it means that if your dining partners want to share a nibble of something, you don’t have a vessel or utensils in front of you to facilitate their generosity.

If you are a slow eater, watching everyone else’s plates disappear around you makes you feel like you need to speed up, or simply abandon half of your meal uneaten so that you don’t feel like you are keeping your dining partners from their next course. It has become so pervasive that I find myself adding a bonus 5% to the tip anywhere my server asks “Is everyone done?” before clearing.

3) List food preparations on your menu.

Duck/licorice/arugula/sardine/fingerling/leek could be the best thing I will ever put in my mouth. Or it could taste like barnyard compost dunked in Jaegermeister. Only Grant Achatz is Grant Achatz, and he isn’t a la carte for a reason. For the rest of you, it is precocious and stupid. Seventy four percent of people* choose entrees based on the sides that come with the protein. When you pretentiously give us a list of ingredients and expect we should Karnak them into a delicious dish in our minds, you just look like you care more about the graphic design of the menu than the content of your plates. Your waitstaff hates you for making them deliver long-winded explication a million times a night. Your guests hate listening to the explanations over and over, including overhearing it all over again at the nearby tables.

Isn’t this what menus are for? Please note: I’m not delighted with those of you who go too far in the other direction either. I don’t care if my “Carpaccio of Line-Caught Sustainable Patagonian Toothfish” is “Snuggled up to conflict free Oregon Muscat grape compote with hand-harvested Manuka Honey lightly whipped during a full moon by Samoan Tribal Elders” and “Fanned counter-clockwise atop a pilaf of Kyoto Cherry Blossom Scented Amish Millet.” This to me is just as egregious as fish/grape/honey/millet. In case you are keeping track.

4) Get. Comfortable. Chairs.

Forget what your cousin the interior designer suggests and take someone with you to test seating options who is 220 lbs or more. You are in the Midwest. We are a hearty generous abundant people. You can give me amazing food, but if I have to surgically remove your delicate ethereal twig of a chair from my ample ass at the end of the meal, I’m not only not going to linger for dessert and another cocktail and coffee, I’m taking you off my list.

5) Get the wine right. 

Most of you are serving your whites too cold and your reds too warm. Just FYI.

Yours in Good Taste,


*at least in my mind and based on my poll of my immediate family