Boo! Just when you thought it was safe to go out to eat. These are the trends that are scaring local diners—read ’em and see if you can spot the local restaurants that inspired them. Also, while we’re at it, go ahead and share the scariest trends that you’ve witnessed. Don’t look now, but some of this mess is coming to a restaurant near you.
1. No Reservations for Groups of Fewer than Six. Oh, you’d like to dine on Friday at 8 pm with three of your best friends, but just try to get into some of our hottest restaurants. Owing to an epidemic of dishrag diners who don’t honor their rezzies, the rest of us have to gamble on whether we’ll find a table.
2. Bait-and-Switch Drink Prices. I’m obsessed with this now that I’ve seen two recent, shocking examples. One restaurant lured us in the door with the promise of excellent bargain margaritas, then—presto!—those excellent margaritas were slightly less of a bargain. Or the hip little new place that once offered $9 growler fills, now retailing the same growler for $17. Holy price hike!
3. No Credit Cards. Dude, all I have in my pockets is lint and baby barrettes; I’m kinda counting on flashing my plastic whenever I go out to eat. Yet, in reaction to rises in credit-card processing fees, some local restaurants are no longer accepting credit cards. Sure, this means that they can keep their prices low, but those new, in-store ATMs charge three bucks per withdrawal—which is matched at my bank by another $2. That’s a surcharge of $5 on a $5 sandwich. Please, just bring back the credit cards and charge me $6..
4. Service Fees. Let’s talk again about those dishrags that spoil it for everyone else. We’ve already mentioned the ones who don’t honor their reservations, forcing a growing number of restaurants to abandon this courtesy. Now let’s talk about the dishrags who celebrate at a restaurant with a group of 15. When the bill hits the table (and all but two diners are left), turns out there’s only enough cash to cover the tax and a 6-percent tip. To avoid chronic group under-tips, restaurants are adding a 20-percent service fee for all large tables. Fine by me, but there are some who view tipping as a discretionary option. Recently, I witnessed a freak-out on the sidewalk of a new White Plains restaurant when an unhappy diner was forced to leave a 20-percent tip—far more than she thought the service merited.
5. Naked Entrées and the Tableside Upsell. Oh, it’s way past the days of standing at the counter and hearing, “You want fries with that?” Nowadays (and in the most elegant venues, too), you might feel yourself being nudged towards a sides list because your mid-$30s main doesn’t come with starch or veg. I’m thinking, it’s better to come out and declare that you’re an expensive restaurant (and charge for it); don’t make your waiters engage in car-salesman negotiations at the table to bump up tabs.
6. Forty Is the New Thirty. Oh, it’s in the mail, folks: I’m seeing more and more $39.99 entrées. It only takes a small nudge to push prices up one more buck
7. Food as Dare. Thanks, Guy Fee-eddie and the rest of you TV circus geeks! We’re seeing more dishes in restaurants that normal humans are incapable of eating. Elevation Burger has the 10-patty burger, while Westchester Burger Company sells the “Entourage”: a 10-ounce beef patty held between two buttery, sourdough grilled-cheese sandwiches. True, the point is not to actually eat these behemoths; they’re just something to hold while mugging for cellphone pics. I don’t know, maybe I’m nostalgic—but I miss the days when you had to visit a carnival tent to witness such acts.