Diners Behaving Badly
We have all showed up at a restaurant, only to be told that it was full for the night. Except that half the tables were clearly empty from, presumably, no-shows. We’ve all sat next to that loud, large family which leaves us with no option but to yell so that our date can hear us. And most of us want to leave a restaurant as soon as we see that it is overrun with shrieking kids tripping up waiters between tables. Every city has its badly behaved diners, and everyone eating at the restaurant suffers them. Last June in New York City, a father smashed a wine bottle over another diner’s head when he was requested to quiet his howling baby, or to take her outside. In Vancouver, the owners of Boneta, a popular French wine bar, spoke of a celebrity who coated the walls of the washroom with what should have been flushed down the pot. I spoke to restaurateurs, chefs, managers and waiters who shared with me a list of the most common bad behaviours among diners in Mumbai. (A lot of the people we spoke to didn’t want to be named, and we’ve respected their request.)
There is a certain variety of people who reserve tables at four or five places a night and then decide which one to grace on a last-minute whim. Except, they don’t bother to cancel their other table bookings. “In Bandra, this is very common,” said the manager of two fine dining cafes. “We call them 15 minutes after the reservation time has lapsed, and they say, ‘Oh sorry, we’re not coming/we’ve decided to go elsewhere’.” Nikhil Chib, chef and owner of Busaba in Colaba and Lower Parel, said that one solution is to ask people for a credit card number at the time of reservation and tell them that they will be charged a certain amount for no-shows.
Loud and Proud Of It
Chib once asked a very loud family at a table to pipe down because he was expecting employees of a certain bank to show up. They agreed. When the bankers showed up, they got pretty drunk and within minutes, were even louder than the family had been before. Few restaurants in Mumbai are designed with materials that absorb sound. What this means is that if there is one loud group (and somehow almost every mid-level restaurant has at least one every night), then everyone around them must speak even louder to make themselves heard. By the end of it—because that one group that wants to make sure that everyone in the restaurant knows about their fabulous life—the noise ricocheting off the restaurant’s walls makes Saki Naka seem like a zen paradise.
It Takes A Village
Sometimes, parents assume that it also takes a restaurant to raise a child. A waiter at a Parel restaurant told us that at every meal, there are some parents who leave their kids to run around the place. “Kids keep coming up to our open dessert trolley and poke their fingers into the pastries,” he said. “The other day, a couple was having a quiet date with a couple of glasses of wine at the back of the restaurant, and a child from another table went over and started bothering them. We normally can’t tell the parents anything, but if they go up to people at other tables, then we ask them to bring the child back.” Waiters and restaurateurs spoke about kids getting their fingers stuck in the restaurant door, attempting the 100-metre dash between tables, and generally treating the room like a playground. However, most staff said they don’t mind having children in their restaurants. The problem is the parents, who don’t know how to respect the people around them. Giovanni Federico of Don Giovanni has had one diner plop a baby on the dinner table and change his soiled nappy while the rest of the diners around them were still eating.
Everyone I spoke with said that Mumbai diners have become a lot more polite over the years. According to a chef who has moved from one fine-dining Colaba property to another in Bandra, the days of “snapping fingers and making the sort of sucking-kissing sounds that auto drivers make” are behind us. But we still have a long way to go. V. N. Prabhu, the owner of New Sardar restaurant at Kalachowkie, said that one customer had a verbal and physical scuffle with a server because he didn’t get ketchup with his sandwich. “In Mumbai we’re all under stress, everyone wants to get things done fast,” said Prabhu. “And then there are those people who think they have the right to look down upon people.” The server may not spit in our dish, may not delay our dishes on purpose, or slam the flatware on the table. But to get the best service possible, considering all the circumstances (how busy the kitchen is, how new the server is, how many of the staff have taken the day off, etc), just be polite. We all go out to have a good meal, in good company. Unless you have been singularly treated badly, why be rude and destroy the moment? And if you do have good reason to complain, call the manager and politely explain why you are angry or upset. In most cases, if you are fair, they will try and compensate you. If that doesn’t work, fill in the feedback form that comes with the bill (or request one if it doesn’t), and name the server who didn’t do his job well. And if you still have the time and the energy, go to town with your rant on the many restaurant listings and reader review websites.
“I Know Your Boss, Boss.”
Managers and servers of stand alone fine-dining restaurants get to hear this a lot. “Yes, everybody says they know my boss really well,” said a manager who works for a pan-Indian restaurateur. “But then just after, they also ask me for his number, so that they can call him.” People drop the restaurateur’s or chef’s name for many reasons—to get better service, to get free dishes, to get a free meal even—and then sometimes, after they have had an argument with the waiter or manager, to threaten them. Chib said that people have tried to walk away from his restaurants without paying by telling the staff, “Don’t worry, I’ll speak with Nikhil.” He has now made it a policy to not offer discounts to people who know him, or say they know him. “It is a business deal. You come, you eat, you pay, you leave.”
Other strange things that I heard while speaking with restaurant staff:
• “I wonder how diners polish off a dish, and then say that it was terrible, and that we should take it off their bill. If you didn’t enjoy it, you should have told us during the first few bites. Why did you eat it all up?”
• “When it comes to paying for the plate count at private parties, people argue about the strangest things. Hosts will say, ‘But she ate only one bite, or he just came to say Hi to me at the end, so he barely ate’.”
• “One man dug his nose with the corner of the napkin, in full view of the diners around him.”
• “One lady who didn’t have a reservation refused to wait for a table. She said that she had a friend already waiting for her inside, so I let her go on. Later, as I was showing another group to their reserved table, I saw her sitting there by herself.”
• “We have decided to get clients to sign legal contracts that specify that if they get drunk, or ill-behaved during a private party, we have the right to evict them.”
• “Soap dispensers, chopstick holders…people steal all sorts of things. We have to be careful about what we keep on the table.”Tags: Busaba, Don Giovanni, Giovanni Federico, Nikhil Chib, Restaurants, The Tastemaker