Second Helpings

Share the Fantasy: When you eat out four or five times a week, like I do, it's only natural to fantasize about how you'd operate a restaurant.

Not that I'd ever consider such a move, not in a million years. It's grueling work, as well as financially perilous. But it seems to me that there are several consumer-friendly touches that all savvy restaurant owners should have the sense to use, no matter what kind of food they serve, and no matter what the price range. Here are my dozen restaurant commandments:

1. The rest room should be sparkling clean. Can anything suppress an appetite like a messy rest room--dirty floors, cigarette butts in the urinals, no toilet paper or paper towels?

2. Make sure the tables are big enough. I was recently part of a foursome seated at a table so small that we had to keep several shared platters up in the air, like jugglers. There was simply no space to set them down.

3. Make sure the chairs are comfy. Years ago, a New York quick-service chain had chairs specially designed to make your back hurt after 15 minutes. The result? High volume. But if I'm going to be dining for one or two hours, I want to be comfortable.

4. Replace used silverware. I don't want to use the same spoon for my soup and creme brulee, and I don't want to use the same fork for my appetizer and entree.

5. Make good coffee and espresso. It's astonishing how much bad coffee, and even worse espresso, there is in the Valley. This isn't rocket science--use good beans, and learn how to brew them correctly.

6. No television, no canned music. There's no pleasing everybody, anyway, so why try? In any case, television and Muzak aren't "atmosphere"; they're distractions.

7. If you have more than two specials, print them out. Who can remember the details of a five-minute recitation that even the server can't deliver without referring to her notes?

8. Please tell us how much the specials cost. When else do you buy something without knowing the price?

9. Turn on the lights. How do you know if it's too dark? If you can't read the menu without a flashlight, it's too dark. Believe it or not, several misguided Valley restaurants actually arm their servers with flashlights.

10. Teach the busers not to clear plates until everyone's finished. Otherwise, those still eating feel rushed, and the ones who've finished feel awkward.

11. Familiarize the staff with the menu. If a customer asks, "What's in the seafood stew?" the servers should know. If they don't, they should find out, pronto.

12. Don't screw up reservations. If people arrive on time, make sure they're promptly seated.

Squashed: While I've got my complaining juices flowing, let me weigh in against the annual summertime side-dish scourge: squash. Yellow squash and zucchini are plentiful, cheap and in season. But must they be on every main-dish platter? I'm all for using seasonal vegetables, but there are alternatives. Hey, chefs, how about sugar snap peas, wax beans, beets, fresh corn, tomatoes or okra?

--Howard Seftel
Suggestions? Write me at New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,


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