The Problems With Dining In Restaurants

Even though the economy is affecting restaurants, they're still crowded. From menu type that is too small to wobbly tables, dining in restaurants can be difficult.

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With prices for gas and food going up, eating out may become even more of a luxury. So when you're seated elbow to elbow with the diners at the next table, or the cleaning crew starts vacuuming before you've finished your coffee, you're not feeling the love. Weekend Edition food commentator Bonny Wolf has some pet peeves.

BONNY WOLF: The pepper thing can ruin my meal. The minute the salad arrives, so does someone holding a pepper mill the size of the Eiffel Tower. Would you like some freshly ground pepper? How would I know? I haven't tasted it yet.

I also have strong feelings about water. Still, sparkling, or heaven forbid, tap water. Tap water brands you as cheap and unsophisticated, but bottled water is marked up about 900 percent. If you get tap water, by the way, your glass may stay empty throughout the meal. Take one sip of bottled water or wine, and the glass is instantly refilled.

Liquids of any kind are dangerous because most restaurant tables wobble. Doesn't anyone ever wander through the dining room to check on table stability? Is that why restaurants still have matchbooks? And my eyesight isn't great, but really, can even 20-year-olds read six-point type on a menu in semi-darkness? That single votive candle drowning in its own wax doesn't shed much light.

I like to see the specials written down. My head is spinning by the time the waiter finishes the recitation. And I want to know the price. Otherwise, I could order the grass-fed beef from Niman Ranch with a pistu(ph) of organic vegetables from the Hudson Valley without knowing it costs $100.

Before waiters start ganging up on me, I know a lot of this is not your fault. You're just following orders. My own son is a waiter. I feel your pain. That having been said, I don't want to know your name. I didn't invite the waiter to dinner, so why do we need to be on a first name basis? Lately, though, instead of saying, hi, my name is Ralph, the waiter says, have you dined with us before? This is a trick question. If you say no, you're given a reading lesson. These small dishes at the front of the menu are often ordered before the entree, and so on. Menus are not that complicated. So now I always say, yes, I've dined with you before.

And I cringe every time a waiter calls me and my dining companions, you guys. It's especially jarring when my 97-year-old father is there. I just read a delightful book called "Waiter Rant" by an anonymous server who tells the other side of the story. Diners apparently are not the only ones with gripes. Twenty percent of the American dining public, he writes, are socially maladjusted psychopaths. I hope I'm not one of them.

HANSEN: Weekend Edition food commentator Bonny Wolf.

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