You’ve been there… your food arrives at a restaurant and suddenly some waiter asks “would you like fresh ground pepper?” You were about to start eating your food so a) this is an interruption and b) you never typically use freshly ground pepper from a 3 foot long pepper grinder, and c) you have spent most of your life trying to fight off the moment when you can no longer season your own food. “Um… yeah… sure…” you mumble trying to avoid eye contact since you don’t want to be that jerk, you know the guy who is telling this poor waiter no. You know the waiter has been coached to offer pepper as a way to improve customer satisfaction i.e. the personal touch.
I bet there was a time in the 80’s or 90’s when this was a special moment. The high-end restaurants would do a little something extra for you; they would grind some pepper right there in front of you. But it has spread pretty much everywhere now. And it makes no sense and should be stopped.
- If this pepper is so damned good why don’t you have a pepper grinder on every table? It’s not like pepper grinders are expensive.
- Is there something wrong with the pepper that’s already on my table? Is it stale pepper? Is there such a thing as stale pepper? Hey, why aren’t you offering me freshly ground salt too, how do I know my salt isn’t stale¹?
- You are annoying me. Now we get into the ritual in which the waiter will ask everyone at the table “would you like freshly ground pepper” whether the dish really benefits from pepper or not. And everyone will agree to pepper. Except me and then everyone sort of looks at me thinking “what kind of weirdo says no to the pepper”. Oh… and our food is getting cold while we all do the pepper dance and that one other guy at the table decides to show how manly he is by saying “I’ll just tell you when” as his salad accumulates more fallout than Chernobyl. This is usually the same guy who orders 5 stars at a Thai restaurant and spends the next hour pretending he could handle the spice while turning beet-red and pouring sweat out of every pore.
- Can you imagine if restaurants do more of this? “Sir, would you like our freshly washed cutlery today with your meal?” “Artisanal ice cubes in your water today?” I remember in the olden days when you’d order a baked potato and a waiter would hover and drop dollops of sour cream, butter, chives, and bacon bits on the food. It was boring and sad and frankly I could do a better job putting bacon bits on things. I was happy when that “service” went away.
It’s time. Restaurants should either buck up and put the pepper grinders on the table or just acknowledge that the whole thing was a funny little hoax.
¹ And yes, I know that some fancy-schmanzy places do bring out special salts. This is stupid too since they all pretty much taste like salt. Except the lava salt which tastes like dirt and salt. And the smoked salt that tastes like… wait for it… smoke and salt.