Houstonians love food. Dining out is one of our favorite pastimes, and we embrace it like it's the official sport of Houston. We are a city of "foodies," and thanks to us, the restaurant industry is thriving.
Unfortunately, this insane love of food has also spawned a culture of restaurant monsters -- people who make dining out less of an enjoyable diversion and more of a nightmare. If you've eaten out at a restaurant recently, you've probably met all of them, and we're sorry you had to go through that. We're here to commiserate.
The Slave to Technology She goes out to a nice meal with friends, and as soon as she sits down, her cell phone appears on the table, screen up, as if by magic. Is she a national politician expecting an important call from the president about the state of world affairs? Is she a world-renowned surgeon waiting for a transplantable organ? Is she a journalist anticipating a call about the scoop of a lifetime? It turns out she's not. She's just eager for a distraction. And she must know the precise moment that the hot guy from the bar texts her back. And then, as if to further emphasize how boring of a lunch date you are, she'll answer the phone when it rings and talk loudly, oblivious to the fact that you're sitting there silently waiting for her to finish. But she can't be bothered with that. She needs the whole restaurant to know how important and popular she is. "What am I doing now? Oh, nothing, just out with some people. It's not important." And then you start plotting how to "accidentally" spill your iced tea on the table, which may or may not ruin any electronics in its wake. KAITLIN STEINBERG
The Single-Category Expert He suggested the steakhouse because it's his favorite restaurant. He doesn't need to look at the wine list. He already knows his three favorite Cabernet Sauvignons without looking at the menu and even knows where the vineyards are located. (Napa, of course.) He can tell you what part of the cow the steak comes from and why beef from some breeds is more desirable than others. It's a luxurious meal and you want to return the favor. Would he like to come to your favorite restaurant, a nice mom-and-pop Indian restaurant just around the corner from your place?
"I'm not really into Indian," he says. "Have you ever had it before?" you inquire. "No," he replies curtly. "Thai?" "No, I've heard that's really spicy. I don't like spicy." "Okay, how about Vietnamese?" "Listen, I'm just not into weird shit like you."
And that's when you realize that not only will you never dine with this person again, you aren't associating with him at all in the future. This isn't a food problem. It's a person problem. PHAEDRA COOK
The Food Name-Dropper So you're out to dinner with a few friends and there is always that one "well-traveled" individual who seems to compare every single dish she orders or even you order to something she has had in Paris, Milan, Athens, Florence, Barcelona, etc. But it doesn't end at a simple "This tastes like the dish I had while studying abroad in Paris." No, the trip down memory lane continues as she babbles on about how the food in said country is a million times better than this food. "I will never forget the fresh, soft, homemade lasagna with a creamy béchamel sauce that we ate after we rode horses through the Tuscany countryside. If only this lasagna tasted as good as the one made by Andrea Accordi at his Michelin star restaurant, Villa La Vedetta in Florence, Italy." Okay, it's great that you're a cultured individual and that you have a love for delicious food. I am sure that that dish was excellent, but seriously, don't make everyone jealous and annoyed at your culinary experiences by whining about the "lesser-quality" food in America. MOLLY DUNN
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The Laissez-Faire Parent of the Hyperactive Roaming Toddler I like little kids, especially chubby, bald toddlers who are just begging to be nicknamed "Porkchop" regardless of gender. You know what I don't like? Obtuse parents who let these otherwise adorable youngsters run amok and caterwaul to their hearts' content in upscale restaurants. What's that -- you don't believe in "attachment parenting"? Well, Mommy, make a friggin' exception when you're dining in public and attach yourself to your errant offspring. Now, I understand children of a certain age can't be expected to sit still and shut up while the sommelier rattles off his pinot recommendations. If that's the case, leave them at home with a baby-sitter/trusted family member/neighbor. I want to relax and enjoy my duck confit in the absence of infantile shrieking and the waitstaff wants to successfully transport plates of hot food without having to dodge roaming rugrats. And your kid? I'm willing to bet s/he wants to be home eating mac and cheese and building a couch fort. Leave him at home and everybody wins. Even you, I promise. JOANNA O'LEARY
The Unnecessary Educator He knows everything about everything on the menu, no matter where you eat, because he always has to be the one to educate his friends about current food trends and the story behind the restaurant. Sometimes his contributions are interesting and add to the meal, but mostly you just wish he'd stop talking. You could certainly do without him filling you in on what he feels is the moral injustice of foie gras right after you order a pâté de foie gras on your salad. You could also do without his lecture on the origin of the word "pâté" and his recounting of his summer in France when he learned that you should only really call a dish pâté if it meets certain criteria. By the time he strikes up a conversation with the waiter on the very obvious difference between a tie with a Windsor knot and a tie with a half Windsor knot, you're more than ready for the check. Perhaps you could take this time to educate him on the glory of silence by shoving that beautiful piece of organic chocolate cake (the beans are from Boliva, he tells you) down his freaking throat. KAITLIN STEINBERG
The Menu Rewriter/Sender-Backer You know the one: He asks for all sorts of substitutions, wants everything on the side and doesn't have any qualms about sending back a dish he just didn't like, even when it was prepared properly. He doesn't expect to pay for it twice, of course. This person carries a sense of entitlement that confuses service professionals for personal servants. No matter if he's choosing a side for his entrée that comes off a station usually unaffiliated with that particular dish, potentially throwing off the rhythm of an entire kitchen. No matter that the guacamole is already made; he'll take his without onions, thank you very much. He'll demand the addition and removal of sauces and garnishes to fit his whims, he'll redesign whole swathes of the menu because he really doesn't care for crab, but the crab-cake salad sounds good; can't you do that with the portobello mushroom from the veggie burger, but instead of spring mix, can he have spinach? Then, when it comes out with the hot sauce that he ordered, expecting hot sauce but the milder one, he'll bat his eyelashes and hand the plate back to his server, forcing that person to repeat the Franken-dish again, while the kitchen staff grabs their knives and pitchforks. Don't do that. NICHOLAS HALL
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The Person Who Refuses to Leave the Loop I mean, obviously there isn't any culture outside the Loop anyway, right? Like, why leave when everything you need can be found within a five-mile radius of downtown? She'll tell you that she's never been to Chinatown, but she's pretty sure it's stupid, and anyway, there's a P.F. Chang's right inside the Loop! If you want local Chinese food, she'll say, there's always Auntie Chang's Dumpling House and Kam's Fine Chinese Restaurant. Oh yeah, and they both happen to be a convenient 15-minute drive from wherever you are! Alief? Bellaire? Spring? She's never heard of those, and they don't sound like the kind of places she'd want to go to eat anyway. Downtown is the epicenter of any big city, so why would anyone choose to stray too far away from there? What's that saying...nothing exciting ever happens in the suburbs? No, that's not it, but it's so true! She'll drag you to meal after meal inside the Loop, which is certainly home to tons of great restaurants, but she'll never agree to eat outside of 610. She will, however, make a "quick trip" to the Galleria for some new shoes in a heartbeat. KAITLIN STEINBERG
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The Bad Tipper I've been to many places where tipping isn't customary. China and Barcelona come to mind; the locals will think you're rich (and a prime target for being ripped off) or just dumb. In the States, though, tipping is customary, so it really gets my goat when I go out in a group, everyone puts in his "share" to pay the bill and somehow I'm left with a $100 deficit that I have to cover out of my own pocket because ten of you forgot to add tax and tip to what you owe. It drives me nuts if we get separate bills and I accidentally get a glimpse at the $5 tip you left on a $50 tab. (And if I catch it, I won't say anything, I'll just supplement it with some money of my own and make a mental note never to be seen in public with you again.) Don't brag to me about how you left a one-dollar tip for some poor server in an Asian restaurant because you used to be a server yourself and you found her service unacceptable. Or even worse, don't pick up the tab for your table as if you're some generous dude and "forget" to leave a tip for your group entirely. I can do without that type of generosity, and so can the restaurant. If you're confused about how much to tip, err on the generous side; don't be cheap. It's one of the least attractive things for any dining companion to display, and whether you know it or not, people will notice and you'll be forever known as "that" person, a.k.a. the bad tipper, the friend that no one needs and one of the worst kinds of diners on the planet. MAI PHAM
The Waiter Who Says Everything You Order Is His Favorite I've been to several restaurants where there is that one waiter who endorses everything your table orders. After you order the chicken dish, he or she responds, "OOOOH, that one is my favorite!" Then the next person at your table orders the pasta dish and the waiter says, "OOOOH, that one is my favorite! Excellent choice!" As the waiter takes each person's order, it's a broken-record response of, "That's my favorite!" Is everything on the menu your favorite? Or do you just not know how to respond to people when they order something? While this is annoying, it's also annoying when waiters can't tell you which dish to order. I usually can't decide between two dishes, so I like to ask the waiter which dish he or she would recommend. It's not going to offend anyone if you say, "I prefer this one over this one," so don't give me a neutral response because that doesn't help me whatsoever. Have an opinion, please. MOLLY DUNN
The Restaurant Critic We know you know who we are, but we still pretend to be sneaky. Oh me? I'm just here enjoying a leisurely meal with my two friends who happen to feel the need to discuss the menu with me before they order anything. Yeah, and we're just really hungry. That's why we ordered 15 different dishes. It's totally not that I have to taste them all or anything. Nope, I just love food. Taking notes? Of course not! I'm...um...texting. Yes, I'm texting. And I swear I'm not looking too hard at the decor or the wine list or mentally discussing the pros and cons of each dish while I'm eating. How does a 25-year-old afford all this expensive food? Uh, I'm an heiress. Right. Heiress. With a trust fund. Just for food. Oh, I'm sorry, was my judgmental stare interrupting your pleasant meal? I was really just thinking about my cat, that's all. (And, of course, how best to convey the complete and utter failure of this chicken breast to remotely resemble food while still maintaining an air of innocent naïveté so people will like me.) That's not annoying, is it? KAITLIN STEINBERG