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The customer's not always right


The dining experience is a symbiotic relationship between restaurant and customer. On each side of this relationship, there is a whole world of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, of frustration and joy. A wonderful customer can make a waiter's night as much as a wonderful dining experience can make a customer's night. Horrible customers and horrible service both cause undue amounts of misery. In order to address this, I have decided to tackle both sides of the issue--bad service and bad customer behavior. Because restaurants are unfairly underrepresented in the media (critics get a shot at restaurants all the time), I have decided to start with the Top Ten Bad Habits of Awful Customers. After surveying area waiters, cooks, and owners, here in descending order are the things you should not do if you care for the sanity of your dining hosts. Next month I will tackle the top ten restaurant faux-pas.

10. Overtly tacky cheapness: Under this heading goes asking for enough lemon and sugar to make your own lemonade, ordering one cup of coffee between two people because you know you'll get free refills, asking for multiple refills on your free bread basket while taking up a table on Friday night and only ordering an appetizer (to share) get the idea.

9. Sitting at the table for a really long time after you're done when there are obviously people waiting: Come on now, that's just rude. Finish up your fifth refill of coffee at the bar, or move to the bar next door.

8. Making your waiter be the referee in your cutesy bill disputes: If it's that important to you that the meal be your treat when you have guests, excuse yourself at some point during the meal, find your waiter, and give them your card. Waiters do not enjoy being asked to take sides in the after dinner who's-gonna-pay argument. If you can't learn to be slick and get the bill paid without a scene, learn to accept your friends' hospitality with grace.

7. Name dropping: If you knew the chef that well, he'd be out there kissing your ass. More often than not, free food is the real agenda here, and that's kinda gross. If you want to impress the kitchen, bring them a six-pack of beer.

6. Making out at the table: I don't care if it's Valentine's Day. No one wants to see that.

5. Seriously finicky eaters: If your diet limitations are that severe, learn how to cook. In a busy kitchen, it is truly hard to make radical changes to the food.

4. Not showing up for your reservation or showing up really late and not calling: Many people believe that restaurants cause a stink over this out of pretension. Not so. Successful restaurant economics rely on delicate balances, the most important factor being customers in seats. Enough people don't show up for their reservations, the restaurant closes. Simple as that.

3. Treating your waiter like a dog: Do not whistle, yell or otherwise treat your waiter like an underling bound to jump and grovel. There is usually a way to get what you want, and this is usually not it.

2. Bad tippers: Many people are unaware that waiters survive exclusively on tips. The $2-3 they make an hour is almost always swallowed by taxes, so what you give is what they make. This is not to say that you should leave a huge tip every time. But your friendly waiters of the area would like you to take into consideration the amount of time you've spent, the amount of work they've done, and the quality of the service you've received. You should know that in fine dining restaurants, the waiters will not consider 15 percent a good tip. Whether you care or not is another story.

1. People who treat going out to eat as an excuse to find fault with as much as possible: There are some customers who seem to view dining out not as a pastime of pleasure, but as a way to vent their frustration at living mediocre lives. The service industry is the only place left where ordinary people get to be served by others, and it brings out the ugly side of some. These never-satisfied customers tend to commit as many of the above acts as possible, clearly enjoying every minute of their discontent. We've all had dining experiences that were bad from start to finish, but if everything stinks everywhere you go, maybe it's you who need to clean up your act.

Restaurant news

Anna Bishop is no longer the Thai chef at ShabaShabu . Bishop, who has earned a loyal following for her refreshing take on traditional Thai recipes, has made the move to the new Thai restaurant Champa Thai & Sushi in Briar Creek Commons at U.S. 70 and I-540.

Greensboro's A Taste of Thai has opened a Raleigh branch in Falls Center on Falls of Neuse Road. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily.

Blue Note's opening in Cary's Lockmere Pavilion has been pushed back until some time in March. The restaurant will feature live jazz, a patio overlooking the Lockmere golf course, and the cuisine of Pete Gibson (formerly of Bistro 607).

Mac's Tavern has opened in the old Coyote Cafe location at Village Square in Cary. Owned by Dennis Mahoney (former owner of Tir Na Nog in Raleigh), Mac's features pub fare and ten beers on tap. Thirteen televisions and ashtrays on every table give the place that authentic pub atmosphere. Look for outdoor seating and live music in the spring.

After 14 years, Cary's Fox and Hound in McGregor Village has closed.

Maxmillians will be featuring a different "Atkins Styled" dish each week. Call 465-2455 for reservations.

Watch for the opening of the Federal Lounge at 914 W. Main St., next door to the James Joyce. The new restaurant, which is a project of James Joyce's owner Fergus Bradley, will have a tapas-style menu. Mr. Bradley promises an especially cool look for the Lounge, with period '50s , '60's and '70s decor.

John Drury and Nondas Kalfas, the owners of Spartacus , have opened the Varsity Ale House in the old Damon's location off U.S. 15-501 at 3019 Auto Drive. The sports-themed restaurant serves pub-style food and features 24 beers on tap. Daily specials include a $2 draft special and $4.99 blue-plate lunch specials on weekdays. The restaurant will be open for lunch, dinner and late night, as well as brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Ted's Montana Grill, the chain owned by Ted Turner that features a menu full of bison, has opened a restaurant in the Renaissance Center behind Southpoint mall. The chain prides itself on being eco-friendly, with menus printed on recycled paper and no plastics used in its restaurants.

Biscuit King at Ninth and Green streets, family owned and operated for 30 years, is shutting its doors Feb. 27, as the Ninth Street North project expands across the street. (For Ben Riseling's story on the closing, go to But old-timers (and newcomers like Zema Marie Riseling) in search of hockey-puck sized biscuits need not despair--"King" Jerry has joined Mike Cole and his staff at Charlie's Neighborhood Bar & Grill up the street, where they'll be serving home-cooked breakfasts and biscuits (including chicken biscuits with or without "sweet sauce") from 6:30 to 10 a.m. And, they write: "Biscuit King would like to thank their families, faithful patrons, friends, Duke students, faculty and famous basketball players for many, many memories. By the way, FYI: The Queen retired, the Princess quit and the Pawn just ran away."

Chapel Hill
Crook's Corner has re-opened for brunch on Sundays, after a two-year hiatus. The restaurant stopped serving brunch because of the difficulty in finding staff willing to work the shift. Chapel Hillians who have missed the famous shrimp and grits and huge breakfast biscuits are grateful to those who stepped up to the plate to work. Call 929-7643 for reservations.

La Residence re-opened on Feb. 13 after a one-month closure for remodeling.

The Crossroads Bar at the Carolina Inn will feature live blues on Friday, March 5 from 7:30 to 10 p.m. The bar will have tapas, martinis and beer specials. Music will be provided by the Franklin Street Band.

Il Palio at the Sienna hotel will host live jazz nights on Friday, Feb. 27, and Friday, March 19, from 7 to 10:30. No cover charge. Also, the restaurant will be hosting wine dinners on Tuesday, March 2 and Sunday, March 7. For info, call 918-2545.

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