10 things that annoy me in a restaurant

Over the course of my experiences in restaurants, I’ve come to identify a number of points that irritate me to no end, and in talking to various people I’ve come to realize that this is a fairly widespread feeling.

I could have called this article “10 things that ruin the customer experience in restaurants” but that would have been misleading as we’re only talking about my personal tastes here, but it seems shared enough to make an article that I think will remind many of experiences they’ve had.

Of course this takes into account my own habits, especially as regards the need to plan ahead for trips abroad, but even so I think many people have had to deal with the same things.

No website or unusable website

The best way to find out about a restaurant is to visit its website, where you’ll find information on opening hours, presentation, menu and prices.

I still come across restaurants that make do with a Facebook page as a site guide. It may be convenient and cheap for them, but it’s not a website.. The purpose of a Facebook page is to manage a community of people who know you, not to inform people who don’t know you.

If only there was a menu and a link to a booking form, but most of the time it’s missing.

So it’s impossible to get an idea of the property before you go.

No website in English

Another problem I encounter more often than you might think is the lack of English-language websites for foreigners.

So if Google can do an acceptable job of translating Swedish, I can tell you that it’s a lot less at ease with Vietnamese. In any case, customers will always be more reassured if they find a site that exists natively in a language they’re comfortable with, and given that it’s unrealistic to ask a restaurateur to offer a site in 10 languages, it’s safe to assume that their mother language and English are a good compromise.

To justify himself, one of them said “but I don’t have any foreign customers”, to which I replied “you certainly don’t do anything to get any”. When you’re in a city like Paris, and even outside the tourist areas, there’s a host of customers looking for affordable restaurants off the beaten track but wanting to know where they’re stepping.

Worse: sometimes these restaurants are highly rated on Trip Advisor (even though we all know the limitations of this site) but customers are then put off by not finding a site they understand to reassure themselves before booking.

No online booking

In 2023, I find it hard to understand that it isn’t possible to book online.

Firstly, because it’s faster and more convenient: 3 clicks and you’re set. And, once again, let’s not forget foreign customers who, even if they can read a website in English or perhaps French or Spanish, don’t feel confident enough to have a conversation on the phone in a language that isn’t their own.

And then there are those who, like us, plan long stays in advance. In this case, I don’t need to know if such and such a restaurant is available on such and such a date, but I do need to have in front of me the availability of all the restaurants I’ve identified. One may only be available on one date, another every day, so if I don’t know when I book, I may book the second and find that I have to cancel the first.

One may only be available on one date, another every day and so, if I don’t know when I book, I may book the second and find that, apart from cancelling, I have to write off the first.

Restaurants that don’t reply to emails

In the absence of a reservation module, some sites offer a form or a contact email address.

It’s better than nothing, but it puts off customers who are uncomfortable with a language that isn’t their own.

Then it’s good to reply to customers who write to you!

My experience is that 33% of my requests have gone unanswered.

Restricted reservations

On the face of it, booking online is simple, but some are very good at making it complicated.

Two recent examples come to my mind.

– Blocked foreign IP addresses: in other words, you can only book if you are in the destination country. Not so good for customers organizing their trip from abroad.

– Lottery seats. I’ve only had this one once, but it left a lasting impression. “We’re very successful, so instead of operating on a first-come, first-served basis, we organize a lottery for each service, and we draw lots for reservations to see who gets a table”. True story.

Reservations impossible or complicated for single people

I could have put this case in the previous section, but I think it should be treated separately.

You won’t see any site saying “we refuse singles”, but practically the site won’t take bookings for less than two people and, sometimes, mentions, “for single bookings call us or write to us”. We already know the answer (and I tried…request declined because “the restaurant is full” whereas a request for two via the reservation module was accepted).

I understand for a confidential restaurant with only a dozen or so tables, not for those with a normal-sized room.

I realized how important this subject was when I once heard an elderly lady, used to dining alone several times a week, complain that she had been refused entry to a brasserie because she was alone (at least the reason was clear). It deeply saddened her. And by talking about it around her, she realized that it was a fairly widespread practice.

Others are more cautious and tell you that the restaurant is full and everything is booked. Passing by in the middle of a service, you realize that this is not the case.

It’s a practice I find as discriminating as it is detestable, and I promise restaurateurs who won’t accept me alone that they won’t see me when I dine with two or more.

Some customers take offence at restaurants taking an imprint of their card at the time of reservation, but I find this practice totally normal.

Online booking has given rise to the no-show, the practice of not showing up at all, without even taking the time to call to cancel.

For the restaurateur, this can mean dozens of lost tables, so I totally understand why they would set up a cancellation policy and take out a guarantee.

But since then, I’ve seen restaurants that charge the full menu price at the time of booking! Not an imprint, not a deposit, the whole thing!

Of course you get your money back if you cancel on time, of course they have big cash needs (like everyone else…)…

Since most of these are gourmet restaurants that are booked well in advance, they have several weeks’ cash ahead of them. What’s more, since the menu is already paid for at the time of booking, the customer may be more inclined to splurge on the wine than if he’d had to pay for everything at once.

Frankly, I’m not a fan.

Room too dark or noisy

To put it simply, I like to see what’s on my plate and talk to the people I eat with.

But I get the impression that more and more restaurants are looking like nightclubs just to keep up with the times.

Minimalist lighting and very loud music (when I say noise, I’m not talking about customer conversations, which are part of the atmosphere of the place, even if in some countries this borders on a lack of savoir vivre).

Okay, I’m told it’s a concept, people are asking for it and I’m a has-been. But still…

Fake homemade

I like going to restaurants, but if it’s to eat reheated, assembled dishes that I could have made at home, I don’t see much point in it.

On the other hand, I’ve lost count of the number of times a dish (and often a dessert) advertised as “homemade” looks as if it has just come out of a tin can or an industrial production line.

The waiter’s embarrassed look when asked “are you sure it’s homemade” is often not misleading.

In France, we’re lucky: the ” homemade ” label is strictly regulated and controlled, even if this doesn’t prevent abuse.

On the other hand, abroad I often have the impression that it’s more a commercial argument, often misleading, than a real quality label.

The customer forgotten in the middle of service

There’s a lot to be said for service, but it’s often specific to a given property or situation, and it’s important not to make generalizations based on an unfortunate bad experience.

On the other hand, there’s a pattern I see quite often, and that’s totally forgetting about the customer at some point during the meal. Often after the main course, sometimes before the bill.

So I know some people complain about those who bring the bill too quickly to clear the table for you, but I’ve had more experience of the opposite.

My theory is that all attention is paid to customers who arrive and are in their “normal” meal cycle and that those who are almost finished and for whom there’s not much at stake (most of the service for them is finished, and there’s nothing left to sell them apart from a dessert and a coffee) are a little forgotten and in any case no longer a priority.

It’s a pity, because the last stages of the meal are the ones that the customer will ultimately keep in mind, and I can’t count the number of meals that have gone perfectly well but for which I ultimately have a bad memory because it took me 30 minutes to order a dessert or ask for the bill. In these cases, you can go from delighted to disappointed in 20 minutes without having had the slightest interaction with anyone.

Bottom line

Finally after writing this post I realize that few things are directly related to the service and the food but to what happens before and after the meal.

This suddenly inspires me to reflect on the fact that restaurateurs often have only a limited vision of the customer journey, which begins at the reception desk and ends at the end of the service.

Today, and particularly under the impact of new technologies, the customer journey has changed radically, and a large part of it has been dematerialized, without the restaurateur really seeing what’s going on, what irritants are encountered online, or how competitors are offering something more fluid or engaging.

In the end, many restaurateurs may see the customers that digital brings them, but not the ones they lose to a competitor.

What about you? Do you recognize yourself in these experiences? Did I forget something? Tell us in the comments.

Image : restaurant by Drazen Zigic via shutterstock

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrinhttp://www.duperrin.com
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.
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