Pet peeves

Given that our dedicated and anonymous reviewing team spend a lot of time in restaurants, evaluating food and service – we all see different things every day. We see a lot of good things but we also see a lot of poor things. So I asked them what peeves them. What are the things that annoy guests when they dine out? What turns you off? Here is a short list of the top things that annoy our reviewers most…

By Jeremy Ryland


Every year, the Gault&Millau team of qualified restaurant reviewers evaluate over 1000 restaurants in Australia. We take the process of evaluating restaurants very seriously, as we understand the impact that scores and hat ratings can have on business. Our reviewers use the same strict standards as all our international counterparts, which have been well honed over five decades.  This framework allows us to benchmark Australia’s chefs and restaurants alongside the best in the world. 

Gault&Millau is an international organisation represented in over 22 countries. The scoring system we use is the same in every country – so a three-toque restaurant in Australia is of the same quality and standard as a three-toque restaurant in France, Germany or Japan. In Australia, we currently have 19 restaurants with four or more toques. This certainly puts these restaurants, and many others, onto the world stage. Something to celebrate.

Our focus is more on supporting restaurants, than criticising. And our aim is to lift the level of culinary standards and present it to the world.

Given that our team spends a lot of time in restaurants, evaluating food and service – we all see different things every day. We see a lot of good things but we also see a lot of poor things. So I asked them what peeves them. What are the things that annoy guests when they dine out? What turns you off? It is said that it is the little things that annoy most people – and often the things that are missing.


When expectations are low, that is, when food quality is low and service is limited such as at a fast food outlet or a cheap café, guests know that they will have the same experience every time. It may not be great but it is likely to be consistent and they are happy! Fast food has fewer issues with service than fine dining; in fact, perceived service levels can go up with “self-service”, because we don’t expect much.


However, when expectations are high, as in a premium restaurant, it is more difficult to satisfy and even the smallest of issues can be a big turn off. And some things are only noticeable when they are NOT available – efficient air-conditioning, good coffee, safe food and good service.




So what peeves our reviewers most… here is a list of the top 20 pet peeves:


·      No greeting: “Are you ready to order?” – with no other introduction. When did we forget that hospitality is about being welcoming? No matter how good the food is, it will never compensate for a poor start!


·      Having to ask for the food menu… expecting guests to order drinks before they know what they are eating.


·      Too much noise:  loud music makes people shout and then it’s hard to hear and talk. Dining out is social – people like to talk and not have to shout to be heard.


·      Poor lighting: we like to be able to read the menu and see the food – and today, many people like to take photos of their meals for Instagram and to show family and friends!


·      Arrogant staff with pretentious service: the waitperson who knows more than the guest, especially sommeliers. They may know more but their job is to advise and inform.


·      The phrase “not a problem”, along with “you guys...”: being too informal and disinterested is a big turn off.


·      Tables too close together: no privacy and staff leaning over you. And tables too close to windows/walls/pillars so there is no room to move.


·      Incorrect bills and credit card fees: who pays in cash anymore?


·      Bread: the lack of good bread and when available, removing it too early. Bread is a staple side dish used to sop up delicious sauces etc. Bread should be available throughout the meal.


·      No salt & pepper on the tables: good guests will always taste first and assume that the chef has seasoned correctly – but don’t make us beg to adapt it to our tastes.


·      Excessive delays without explanation: don’t leave us waiting, tell us if there is a problem. Most diners will understand.


·      Tableware: serving food on wooden boards, slate and other unhygienic platters; and serving knife & fork food in deep bowls – too hard to cut.


·      Staff leaning across guests and the table to serve/clear away.


·      Poor table cleaning: greasy/sticky table tops, crumbs on seats, dirty floors.


·      Removing dishes from a table before everyone has finished: I’ve had staff remove a plate before I’d even put the cutlery down.


·      And then not clearing tables: it is common for staff to deliver a plate to your table but then return to the kitchen empty handed, leaving an uncleared table beside you.


·      Menus that are too long and arduous to read – less is more.


·      Food not cooked to order: 40-minute old bacon at brunch, risotto served within four minutes.


·      Cold French fries/chips: serve them fresh, hot and crisp.


·      Dirty toilets: no soap, no hand towels, wet floors.


Restaurant readers please note! These are just a few of the things that our reviewers notice often and that turn people off; and may make them go somewhere else.


Thank you to everyone who helped contribute to this article. If all of your peeves were not noted, my apologies. Obviously, we all have some personal preferences and dislikes, so I have only listed those that were mentioned more than once by several different people. But I have kept all on file for a future discussion on better service.