Things you never want to hear in a restaurant
September 13th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Whether it's no one at the host stand to greet you, overly perky waiters wearing vests with 'flair,' or a mixologist sneering from behind the bar at your libation of choice, there are serious red flags when you walk into a restaurant that the meal ahead is going to be nothing but bad news bears.

Sure, there are a few exceptions where the food speaks louder than the curmudgeonly waitstaff - but don't say Sean Elder, editor in chief of the digital food magazine Real Eats, didn't warn you.

Five Things You Never Want to Hear in a Restaurant: Sean Elder

1. “It depends on what you like.”
"When you ask the waiter for a recommendation, it shouldn’t be a matter for the UN Security Council. As our columnist Michelle Wildgen says, 'I don’t expect them to know my taste but I do expect them to know what the kitchen does well.'”

2. “We have two orders of the [blank] left; if you’re thinking of that I’ll put the order in now.”
"As in comedy, timing is everything. If it’s 9:30 on a Saturday night and the rack of lamb is flying out of the kitchen, okay: thanks for the heads up. Otherwise, as my wife says, 'Why didn’t you make more?' She, like a lot of people I talked to, don’t like the pressure and want to study the menu in a calm, relaxed state of mind."

3. “We’ll bring the dishes out of the kitchen as they’re ready.”
"Barbara Fairchild, our 'Appetite for Life' columnist, submits this as a sign that you are in the wrong place, my friend. While it is expected at certain Italian trattorie, where the kitchen is smaller than your table, that food might arrive as finished, most American restaurants have mastered the art of bringing you food in the order you want it. Rocket science it isn’t."

4. “We can’t turn the air conditioning/heat/music down because the chef likes it like that.”
"Unless you are in the den of some famous autocrat, and forewarned before you arrive that the restaurant doesn’t care about your pleasure, expect accommodations. My wife always brings a sweater in case the AC is arctic, but earplugs seem like a bridge (and chorus and verse) too far."

5. “What are we talking about here?”
"The heyday of the overly familiar waiter ('Hi, I’m Mitch and I’ll be your server') is past, thank god, but over-sharing, TMI-prone service still pops up and is a sign of bad management. I once had a waitress try and look at pictures of my kids that I was showing to a dinner companion - 'I love photos!' she squealed. Go get your attention on the stage already. Don’t break the fourth wall here in the restaurant."

Be sure to come back tomorrow for Sean's list of signs you're in the right restaurant. 'Til then, what sayings should we add to the menu of red flags? Let us know in the comments below.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Restaurants • Service • Think

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