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Pepper grinding by the wait staff

My husband and I went to the new California Pizza Kitchen in town on a recent date and it was what I had hoped for, pretty much: mostly good pizza (bizarre, but good: a pizza with pears, cheese, caramelized onions, and hazelnuts, topped with salad with blue cheese dressing). I told the waiter to tell the kitchen their hazelnuts were rancid, unfortunately, but got no offers to make it better. But I was willing to live with that.

My sweetie had something he liked and I liked it too when we traded slices. Everything came quickly and we left a good 30-40 minutes before our movie was scheduled to start, as we had hoped to do when we arrived.

But in the end I was irritated by something about the experience, and I finally realized what it was. A mental image of that waiter appeared, gripping the 20-inch-tall pepper grinder, and smarmily asking if I would like some.

And I sighed and went through the routine. "Yes, please," I told him, "lots."

Mr. Waiter ground until he felt I had enough and stopped. I said, "A little more, please," which he did, cursorily, and went on to offer my husband the pepper, which he accepted.

I don't know about you, but I find I bristle a little at not being trusted with the fresh pepper. I felt it so condescending. Does that bother you?

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  1. No it don't bother me. It's a showy thing for the waiter.

    I would be much more bothered by the rancid hazelnuts.

    3 Replies
    1. re: PeterL

      Ditto. Although I would much prefer that they put pepper mills on each table, but it's not like CPK is the only restaurant guilty of that show.

      I would have talked to the manager about the rancid hazelnuts. Not acceptable.

      1. re: notmartha

        It would be nice to have pepper mills at the table, but places that try it find they disappear at an alarming rate.

        1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

          Yep, and some are worth from $75 to $150 if they are the fancy Mahogany ones.

    2. I don't really mind the peppermill thing, I'm just grateful to get fresh pepper! But on the other hand I never really thought about it, before, I certainly would prefer access to my own when I want it.

      1. Only thing that bothers me about that is when the wait staff asks me if I want fresh pepper BEFORE I've even tasted the food.

        How am I suppose to know if it needs pepper at that point?

        3 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          Well, somethings for me always require fresh pepper - salad, soup, grilled meat.

          Plus they probably assume it's not the first time the diner ordered the dish and would know if they want pepper with it.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            I am a pepper junkie..not salt..just fresh pepper. I wouldn't want it on the table for the same reason I don't like using any condiments on the table. Everyone's hands have been on them..and I don't like that. [I once saw a child putting the salt and pepper shakers in his mouth, along with everything else he could get his hands on]

            1. re: ipsedixit

              I don't mind the waiter doing it as theft of peppermills is an unfortunate fact of life, even at upscale restaurants. But I wish they would wait until I actually taste the food before offering the pepper. If the food is properly seasoned to begin with, I often don't need it. Salads are generally the exception.

            2. That's why I keep a small disposable pepper mill in my purse (Mc cormicks)

              2 Replies
                1. re: kitchenhag

                  I do the same thing - and a sea salt grinder.

                2. I do like the idea of a fresh pepper mill at every table and so does everyone else. I worked at a restaurant where we opened one night with 30 pepper mills. At the end of the night there were only 12. I have seen so many people steal things from restaurant tables it would surprise you.

                  1. peppermills are one of those things stolen on a regular basis when left on the table at a restaurant.

                    it's become so common now for the staff to wield a peppermill, i'm really surprised you're so miffed.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      Hmmm, maybe there should be a "Peppermill Station".

                      You know, a little kiosk area where you can grind your pepper, dispense it in a little tray and bring it back to your table.

                      Solves all the world's problems.

                      1. No problem with theft
                      2. No frightening, off-putting images of waiters wagging big, obtrusive peppermills
                      3. No problems with babies sucking on pepper dispensers

                      Chow away!

                    2. I never realized they'd be such coveted items -- you lost 18 in a single night!? One would think a big peppermill would be conspicuous to steal, but no, that doesn't stop some people. And good point about chewing babies, etc....

                      What would be great would be if they'd return to your table and offer more pepper as part of the ritual. I often add pepper again midway through salad or meat dishes.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: vanillagrrl

                        i've been at work when plates, silverware, teapots, linen, paintings, stoli-doli jars (those big jars full of pineapple infusing vodka) and a hall table have been stolen. i could list dozens of items. if it ain't nailed down...

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          You are absolutely right - I've worked in several restaurants, and it's amazing how things can just "disappear". The worst were the tip-stealers at one establishment - children (8-10 yrs or so) who came in off the street and would go around to the tables and snatch off what was there, then cry and make a scene when discovered.

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            Let's start a thread on this-I love "ugly customer" stories!!

                        2. I HATE the "pepper ceremony".

                          The best solution I have experienced is a small bowl of fresh cracked pepper with a small spoon set on the table. and replaced, fresh, for each new seating.


                          3 Replies
                          1. re: HarryLloyd

                            and due to health dept' regulations, any pepper left in the bowl at the end of a seating goes straight into the trash.

                            Yeah. THAT makes a lot of sense.

                            1. re: mclaugh

                              also, the spoons would quickly get lost in the dishwasher and those that didn't would be stolen by customers.
                              same goes for cute little salt cellars.

                            2. re: HarryLloyd

                              A friend opened a coffeehouse several years ago and was so thrilled that she found the loveliest demitasse spoons. She bought quite a few of them. After her opening day, when she was cleaning up the kitchen, she found all she had left was eight demitasse spoons.

                              Apparently the size was terrific for druggies and the temptation was too great for anyone else who just happens to thieve anything that isn't nailed down.

                            3. I love the idea of bringing your own fresh pepper! I have a purse-sized salt & pepper dispenser from Tupperware that I carry around. It's quite small, and seals tightly, so nothing escapes.

                              1. I gotta have lots of pepper and its never enough when the server is grinding it. I always tell them to leave it because I want it for the rest of my meal.

                                Just reminded me. Years ago someone who knew I was a fresh ground pepper fanatic got me a little grinder that you push and its the size of a lipstick. Now I'm going to look for it.

                                My biggest disappointment with CPK now is the pizza's are no longer wood fired, but they all have gas fired ovens to bake the pizzas in.

                                1. OP - are you saying he ground yours, and then handed the peppermill to your husband to let him do it himself?

                                  I have never seen that before, and it would bother me.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: hummingbird

                                    No, he ground mine, and then offered it to my husband, before I was ready for him to finish grinding.

                                  2. In my experience, the big pepper grinder is always the mark of ridiciulous restaurant. A good restaurant would have already seasoned the food well or provided individual pepper grinders on the table.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: JudiAU

                                      As previously posted, individual pepper grinders would fly out the door. People will and do steal anything that's not tied down. This is true in any type of establishment. And good pepper grinders aren't cheap.

                                      1. re: hilltowner

                                        The one place I worked that did have big peppermills had them that large so the waitron could easily reach a plate far away. This restaurant had both booths and tables, so it was a necessity. The bonus was the larger size is less apt to do a disappearing act.

                                    2. I don't hesitate to tell the waiter "More, please" if he begins to pull the mill away before my dish has been peppered enough for my taste.

                                      Usually I can nip the problem in the bud when I nod that I DO want fresh ground pepper because as waiter starts grinding, I say, "I like quite a bit of fresh pepper on my foods so I'll let you know when to stop."

                                      At some point, I generally say, "Just a bit more," so they know they're not going to still be grinding for me when the restaurant closes.

                                      Most honor my request. Others slow down grinding or begin pulling away the mill when THEY think I've had enough. I speak up. Generally they have such an incredulous look on their faces as they resume grinding.

                                      Any waiter who "harumphs" over my request is going to see the results in a reduced tip from me.

                                      1. I used to work in a restaurant where we hand to grind the pepper for the guests, the most annoying thing was when someone would ask for pepper, and would just continue to keep talking, completely oblivious to how much pepper was going on their food.

                                        1. I have no issue with places that grind the pepper on your salad etc.,.

                                          However it makes me think of the Sat. Night Live skit where the waiter asks in heavy accent..."you lika the pepper..?" every time , and I laugh

                                          1. Having your pepper ground for you is far less offensive than the 'your food is adequately seasoned' approach of restos in which you can't find salt or pepper anywhere. And while I applaud the approach, that food better be adequately seasoned!

                                            1. I recently started noticing that in the restaurants that had outstanding service, there was a little pause between when the food arrived and when they offered pepper or cheese-a lovely little touch that allowed us to ooh and ah over the food a moment before having ti decide.

                                              1. What is so hard with the following scenario.

                                                Waiter waits a minute ir two until we taste the food and approaches with a mill and asks if anyone would like pepper. If they are all salads he may not have to wait. He then leaves the mill. When the course is over the waiter or busbiy removes the mill. Since they collect everything else after the app and may bring different utensils (sharp knife) for the entree this should be SOP.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: jfood

                                                  Meanwhile, customer slips pepper mill into pocket/purse then "reminds" waiter s/he asked for pepper.

                                                  Now what, Mr. Manager? You gonna cause a scene (and possibly risk a lawsuit) by calling the customer a thief?

                                                  1. re: mclaugh

                                                    You gotta have a little faith. Afterall the resto has taken the credit risk of the custo for the entire meal including alcohol.

                                                    Yes this may not work in every tom dick and harry place, but its a start.

                                                    Just trying to think out of the box.

                                                2. Ask for the damn pepper mill, and grind it yourself. I always ask for the mill and no waiter has ever refused to give it to me. S/he waits and I give it back. Problem solved.