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Aug 10, 2005 11:39 AM

Ken's Salt and Pepper Rant

  • c

One of my pet peeves, as both a professional (I'm Chef/Owner of Ken's Place in PDX) and as a diner, is many restaurant's attitude towards salt and pepper.
First, it seems to be a trend these days among some upper end restaurants (Tabla I know, Ripe's restaurants, Fife and others I've heard do it) to not put salt and pepper on the tables. This is extremely arrogant on the part of either the chef or the owner, whoever is the instigator, and they need to get over themselves and remember that the restaurant is about serving the public, not their own egos. Taste for seasoning is a personal thing, and it's the chef's job to turn out the best food he or she can produce, seasoned as they see fit. Once it gets to the table, it is out of the chef's hands. If the patron wants to swallow the food whole without chewing, follow his fish with red wine instead of white, throw up the main course 5 minutes after eating it, or douse it in salt before even tasting it, it's none of the chef's business, scoff as he may (and we do scoff). To make the patron have to ask for salt, sometimes having to wait to track down the waiter while his food gets cold, and sometimes having the waiter give attitude about the request, and sometimes having to then wait again while said waiter tracks down the shaker, is rude, inconvenient and greatly detracts from the dining experience. This isn't art, it's dinner...get over it.
Pepper - At some other otherwise very fine restaurants, you'll notice a shaker of a pre-ground, usually inferior pepper product on the table. Then, as soon as your food has been brought, the waiter comes by with an oversized, somewhat phallic, grinder of the "good" pepper. What's up with that? Why put an inferior product on the table in the first place? And in the second place, why not treat your patrons as adults and give them their own little grinder? How do they know the food they haven't even tasted yet even needs pepper? And if it does, what if it needs more once they've eaten the top layer? And then you have to track them down again? Ridiculous.
I had one waiter (all right, it was at Tabla) haughtily tell me - after I quizzed him about why they don't put little pepper grinders on the table - that they were too much trouble. Excuse me? Uh, you fill them and wipe them down occasionaly.
Restaurants should be about diners enjoying themselves and the food, not about the chef or owner making a point at the diners' expense.

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  1. I agree with your rant. My restaurant has little pepper grinders with salt shakers on the tables. But my staff still insists on bringing the big gridners with them to the table. oh well. We are a casual restaurant in seattle. Erin

    1 Reply
    1. re: Erin

      The restaurant I work in does have the grinders on the table. Unfortunately quite a few have walked off, but ofcourse that's part of the business. It was worse when we had those cool iron teapots. I remember one of my tables stole two of them, and they were heavy! The funny thing about the little grinders is you still get people who ask for pepper and expect you to bring out that fallic symbol instead of pointing to the midget on the table, or even funnier, picking it up and grinding it for them. :)

    2. I know the biggest problem some places have with putting the little grinders on the table is theft...

      1 Reply
      1. re: deibu

        I've owned and managed restaurants for about 18 years in New York City and Portland, and have always put those little Peugeot grinders on each table. In all that time I've lost one by theft and 2 broke. At $15-20 each that's not a bad cost of doing business.

        1. re: GooGLeR

          Portland, Oregon...sorry!

        2. Ken,

          You write, "To make the patron have to ask for rude, inconvenient and greatly detracts from the dining experience."

          Is salt on the table at the French Laundry? Trotter's? Inn at Little Washington? Or any other fine dining destination in the US? Restaurants of this caliber will provide salt (of good quality and often in several varieties), when asked. But it isn't the default. Granted, none of the restaurants you mention are fine dining destinations. Maybe they're mistaken in their belief that the food they serve is seasoned properly. But it's not like this is a new or unheard of concept.

          You write, "And in the second place, why not treat your patrons as adults and give them their own little grinder?"

          Because people will steal them.

          I'm much more concerned with the *quality* of the salt, pepper, butter, and other condiments at restaurants than I am with whether or not I have to request them.


          11 Replies
          1. re: Scott

            Obviously the quality of the condiments is important. But why treat your customers as thieves? As I said in a later post, I've lost one grinder in 18 years. Not a big price to pay for treating clients well. Why not give them paper plates and plastic cups - those items break.

            And the restaurants I mentioned are fine dining establishments. I don't know the policies at the restaurants you mentioned. But why, oh why make diners have to ask for something that is not trouble - except perhaps to the ego of the chef - to place on the table in the first place. I, for one, don't like to sit there like an idiot while my food gets cold waiting for a waiter to fetch the salt shaker.

            1. re: chefken

              Oh, and you write: "Maybe they're mistaken in their belief that the food they serve is seasoned properly. But it's not like this is a new or unheard of concept."
              What does "seasoned properly" mean? Is there one standard that exists? I don't believe so. And I've eaten my way across Europe and have dined in perhaps 8-10 Michelin 3-stars, and perhaps 5 times that many 1 or 2-stars, and I've never encountered one that left the s & p off the table. So yes, I do believe this is a new thing.

              1. re: chefken

                It's the new restaurant owner arrogance: "WE will tell YOU what you like. Now sit down, shut up and hand over your credit card"

                Like I am supposed to be sooooo very grateful that I am...ummmm....a customer????

                1. re: chefken

                  Actually today many 3 stars in Paris don't have the salt and pepper on the table. Would be nice to see it there when you think of it. But I am sceptical about those little bowls with salt that you pick up with your fingers, God knows what other fingers have been in there.

                  1. re: mdibiaso

                    when I've used salt bowls in Germany, there is a spoon in the dish.

              2. re: Scott

                I love how they come out with the huge grinders and before you have even tasted your food, "Would you like some freshly ground pepper sir?". I am always tempted to ask them if they have tasted my food already and think it needs pepper. Why stop at salt and pepper, might as well give them the whole condiment tray if you want to make your customers happy these days.

                1. re: Pablo

                  Actually, I think the huge grinder thing was the invention of the late Joe Baum at his Cafe des Artistes in New York about 25 years ago. So he could charge more and waiters could make more tips.

                  1. re: chefken
                    Carpetbagger (John C)

                    I'm waiting for the day when restaurants start putting a meter on the pepper mill...

                    you'll get your bill and there will be a charge for 4 twists of pepper, say $1 per twist? ;)

                    1. re: Carpetbagger (John C)

                      What a great idea, I think I'll implement it immediately! And if you order, for example, steak au poivre, there will be a flat fee of $8 to put the pepper on anywhere in the five boroughs...

                      And if you feel like the pepper was inferior or if you feel ripped off, you can file a complaint with the Pepper and Seasoning Commission, which means you and the waiter will have to appear at the P&SC offices on Eleventh Avenue -- if you don't show up, the case is dismissed, but if he doesn't show up, they revoke his pepper medallion.


                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        And you can always call on Sargent Pepper, or if he's not available, Sgt. Pepper Johnson (Angie Dickinson on Police Woman) to issue a summons to the offending joint! (g)

                        1. re: WLA

                          hee hee hee hee

              3. re: pepper at table
                If a restaurant is serious about food, it should mean everything, including condiments. I agree about seasoning your meal being a personal thing (Some of my Mexican friends carry a small bottle of their own favorite hot sauce with them instead of relying on what's on the table) that the kitchen should not get fussed up about. Egos!
                Individual pepper grinders might walk off the table too often, but why not a small salt cellar-sized dish of freshly ground pepper at teach table? Like the one I keep at the stove so I can just grab a pinch instead of goo-ing up the Perfex?