From mystery menus to edible flowers: The 27 things ruining restaurant experiences for travellers

Are you tired of fancy gins, celebrity chef restaurants and mediocre meals topped with edible flowers? Then read on...

1. SERVICE IPADS

Doesn't going out for a meal involve the interaction you have with your waiters? Don't you like feeling warm and fuzzy when you get a really friendly waiter? If they can have servers at McDonald's, why make us use iPads at restaurants?

2. ORANGE WINE

It's the indie darling of the wine world – "skin-contact" orange wine is now served in the best restaurants around the world; but doesn't it really just taste like kerosene?

3. DEGUSTATION MENUS BEYOND FIVE COURSES

Unless you're a food tragic, who wants to sit for three hours-plus waiting on minuscule offerings from the kitchen that just tease our stomachs, with each course requiring a long, detailed explanation thereby making conversation next to impossible.

4. BROCCOLI COFFEE

Get out of my coffee, broccoli.

Get out of my coffee, broccoli. Photo: iStock

Dry out a stick of broccoli, ground it into a fine paste and scoop it into your coffee – it's the latest health trend taking off in Australia; with two tablespoons of broccoli powder equal to one serve of vegetables. Although here's another idea: eat your vegetables and leave our coffees alone.

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5. FOAMS AND ACIDS

Real food, please

Real food, please Photo: Alamy

Come on chefs, let's move on … it was fun while it lasted but now we'd just as soon  eat real food again … please.

6. TAKING YOUR PLATE 

Nothing like putting the spotlight on the slow eater of the table, or highlighting which of your group eats far too fast than a waiter clearing plates away as we finish. While it's common etiquette throughout Europe and the US to let us all finish first, too many wait staff in Australian restaurants don't follow this basic rule.

7. DIM LIGHTING

While most of us are fans of mood lighting, couldn't we at least have enough light so we don't have to use the torch on our iPhones to read the menu?

8. CELEBRITY-CHEF-THEMED RESTAURANTS

The food's terrible, the prices are high and people only go because they think that famous bloke or woman on TV somehow had something to do with what you're about to eat. But they didn't - they were too busy on TV.

9. LET US SIT FOR A MINUTE 

You might know your menu inside out, but we don't; ordering the first drink of the night can set the tone of our whole meal so give us a few minutes to get it right. Same goes with breakfast, unless we're regulars, don't assume we all have the same coffee order every day and so don't need to see the menu first.

10. DISAPPEARING WAITERS 

Give us five minutes from the start, that's all we need. Before you've even sat down, your waiter is asking if you're ready to order. If you tell them no, you'll need a minute, do you wonder too which black hole it is they disappear into for the next 20 minutes?

11. MYSTERY MENUS

Menus that just list the ingredients – "okra, sesame, black garlic, jus" – but not the way they're prepared, inevitably forcing diners to either guess at what they're about to receive, or ask the waiter to describe the dish properly, are a pretentious nightmare. Make it stop. 

12. COMPETITIVE EATING

Devouring a five-kilo hamburger patty isn't impressive. Making an extremely tasty burger, however, is. There's a trend towards competitive eating, particularly in down-home bars and restaurants in the US, although even in places like Japan. We would prefer this was replaced with a desire to just make tasty food. 

13. INSTA FOOD

Your attempts to make a splash on Instagram have been duly noted.

Your attempts to make a splash on Instagram have been duly noted. Photo: iStock

Cocktails topped with fairy floss? Consommé served in a miniature bathtub? Absolutely everything topped with edible flowers? Please stop with these quirky, over-the-top creations clearly designed purely to make a splash on Instagram. 

14. BRITISH COFFEE 

Britain has made great strides in recent years in improving its coffee culture, but not aboard its trains. We'd love it if British train companies realised that coffee should taste

stronger than hot water. In the meantime, we'll order tea when riding the UK rails.

15. REASONABLY PRICED HOUSE WINES

We understand restaurants make a substantial degree of their profits on marked up booze but paying $15 for a modestly poured glass of wine is just irksome, it's really hard not to feel ripped off. There is a cosy Italian restaurant in my neighbourhood offering an eminently quaffable house red for $6. Consequently, I go there all the time, I order more food, I drink more wine. Everyone's a winner. More places should do this.

16. TINY EXORBITANTLY PRICED "TAPAS" DISHES

What is it with tapas? Ordinarily people would balk at paying $20 for a tiny bowl of sautéed mushrooms or a couple of canned anchovies draped over a tomato but apply the word tapas and suddenly everyone's clamouring for it. Be honest, how many times have you been out for "tapas" with friends, spent a fortune and come home only to raid the fridge? 

17. MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY

Molecular gastronomy: Delusions of grandeur.

Molecular gastronomy: Delusions of grandeur. Photo: iStock

If I wanted my dinner to look like the video to Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart, I'd have asked for it. Mucking about with foams, liquid nitrogen and thermal immersion toys doesn't automatically make you an artiste to be revered. It makes you someone with rich friends, delusions of grandeur and way too much time on your hands. Get on and cook. 

18. FOOD INFLUENCERS AND BLOGGERS

Entitled, drunk on their perceived power and strangely lacking in any discernible skill or talent. That's quite enough about travel writers, how about those influencers then? We're quite sure there's some good ones out there (no really) but for every one of those, there's the influencer all too happy to hold a business to ransom over the power of a tweet, demand outrageous freebies in exchange for 'exposure' and care far more about their own click rates and subscription numbers than the subject they claim to be an expert in. And can you please stop photographing my soup now, I'm ready to eat… 

19. SINGLE-SERVE ITEMS 

Some of the world's most impressive five-star hotel breakfast buffets let themselves down by using single-serve plastic containers of butter and jam. You've had teams of people working since dawn to prepare this lavish feast – how hard would it be to offer butter, jam and other condiments in reusable containers and let guests help themselves? 

20. PLASTIC STRAWS

A big thumbs down to any establishment that is still using plastic straws. For a start, there are reusable metal or  paper alternatives but, more importantly, how many drinks genuinely need a straw anyway? 

21. GIN

The recent explosion of gins has made the previously simple task of ordering a gin and tonic a harrowingly complex task. Now we have to navigate a sea of fruit and berry-infused spirits plus an equally bewildering range of tonics. Please, no more gin varieties – we have plenty. 

22. DEAFENING MUSIC

You're running a restaurant, not a nightclub. Background music is essential for creating a warm and congenial atmosphere, but let's keep it in the background. Don't make diners bellow at each other over a deafening soundtrack just to make themselves heard. 

23. RUSTIC SUGAR LUMPS

They make look fancy and "artisanal" but these nuggety sugar lumps are really the work of the devil. You spend ages fingering through them to find one that's the right size (a hygiene issue in itself), then the cursed thing takes so long to dissolve your coffee goes cold. The same goes for those weird sugar-coated swizzle sticks you find in the US. Granulated sugar will do nicely, thank you very much. 

24. DESIGNER CUTLERY

It may look schmick and fancy but designer cutlery is often awkward to handle and topples over like a drunken Weeble when you set it back down. There's a reason why the standard knife and fork design has lasted so long – it works. 

25. WATER SNOBBERY

Dear wait staff, don't make someone feel bad about ordering tap water rather than the fancy bottled stuff. Perhaps they don't like sparkling water or don't want to create yet more recycling. Or maybe they just don't see the point of paying for something that already flows for free out of the tap. Either way, it doesn't mean they're unsophisticated or cheap. 

26. THE CRUMB-CLEARING DEBACLE

Is there anything more awkward than trying to continue a conversation while a waiter diligently sweeps up the flotsam and jetsam from your previous course? Unless I've accidentally knocked over a glass of wine, a seafood tower or my dining companion, please don't come rushing over with your scraper or miniature dustpan and brush – I can cope with a few crumbs. 

27. THE NAPKIN DEBACLE

Has anyone mastered the art of feigning indifference while a stranger drapes a napkin over your nether regions? We all know what a napkin is for and where it goes – we'll put it in the appropriate place when we're good and ready, thank you kindly.

See also: 2019 Traveller Hot (Food) List: The world's best restaurants, bars and dishes and more

See also: The world's 14 greatest snack foods every traveller needs to try

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