A “Different” Perspective on Hamilton’s Food Scene

urbanicity is widely-read in Hamilton’s restaurant industry. Eatery profiles in the “Food + Drink” section, the Novemburger and April Salads campaigns, the ads, Erin Dunham’s articles, etc., make this magazine an influential voice in the local hospitality community.

Once I realized that my column has a large audience of restaurant owners, I decided to write about all the things that bug me about restaurants – a restauRANT – hoping that my restaurant-owning readers will take my insights to heart and make their establishments less annoying. Meal dealers of Hamilton, I expect immediate reforms.

First of all, tipping. Customers hate tipping. We only do it out of fear of being considered a cheapskate or as a pathetic attempt to bribe a server into liking us. After a relaxing meal, the last thing in the world I feel like thinking about is the exact amount of money I should voluntarily give away. Is 15% the standard? If there is a problem with the service, should you give less? If the food is not great – no fault of the server – do you reduce the tip? Is it okay to triple a tip because the server looks hot? Once you figure out the server’s performance-review, then comes the math. Unless paying by debit, you might have to use a calculator or remember how to do long division. Arghgh! Some restaurants state on the menu that, for large groups, they will add an automatic tip. Restaurant owners — include a set tip in all the prices and, as in Europe, instruct your servers to refuse any extra donations. Customers would like this change and if servers were paid a living wage, I’m sure they would like it too.

Homer Simpson may not be a sophisticated gourmet, but he was right. Every food can be made better with the addition of bacon and/or caramel. Adjust your menus accordingly.

Next, ripping off beer drinkers. Measurement Canada defines a “pint” as 20 imperial ounces, not including the foam, with an acceptable margin of error of 0.5 of an ounce. If you know what a 20-ounce glass looks like, as many of us do, then it is obvious that the so-called “pints” sold by many local restaurants and bars are much smaller than a pint. Some of them look to be smaller than 15 ounces, but are deceptively sold as “pints”. It’s like going to the gas station, paying for 20 litres of gas and only getting 15. How can you even try to get away with this? It is unethical and a breach of the federal Fairness at the Pump Act, with fines of up to $50,000. So, the next time I’m at your establishment and ask for a pint, slide me my rightful 20 ounces or say, “We don’t sell it by the pint.”

Food trucks, yawn. Hot next thing: food hovercraft.

Sound can set a mood, entertain, provide valuable information and enhance the customer experience. It can also drive a customer freaking crazy. A few weeks ago, I met a friend at a Hamilton diner for breakfast. I got there first and sat near the front window. A couple of TVs were on, showing sports. The TV sound was annoying, so I moved to a booth near the back. There I found that I could still hear the noise of the TVs and also, coming from speakers overhead, a radio playing Y108. The confused blend of sounds was much worse than the TV or the radio alone. When I asked the waitress to turn the radio off, she looked at me like I was asking her to turn the lights off. That is an extreme example, but far too many Hamilton bars have TVs and radios blaring annoying noise. Pull the plug, please, and give us peace when we eat at your place.

Let’s talk menu language. If you use the word “fresh” to describe certain items on your menu, does that mean that every other item is not fresh? Use of French terms is pretentious; it’s “mashed potatoes,” not “pommes puree,” okay? And if you’re going to use fancy gourmet terms like “confit,” “emulsion,” “essence,” “frisee,” “artisanal,” “aioli,” “jus,” “fondant,” etc., could you please include explanatory footnotes on your menu, as many of us have no idea what you mean?

Finally — after the bill has been paid, many places give you free candies with the receipt. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but these candies are usually hard and tiny and attractive only to kids, who have a tendency to choke on them. If you’re going to give out candy to customers, Halloween-style, how about mini chocolate bars — such as Twix, O’Henry, Wunderbar, etc. — instead? Or a free shot of vodka to all grown-ups, for the road?

Despite my complaints, restaurant owners of Hamilton, you’re doing good. There are many restaurants in Hamilton that have delighted me. Just in my own neighbourhood of Ainslie Wood, we have several outstanding eateries: Joya Sushi (try the seafood pancake), Maccheroni’s (cajun pasta), Mr. Gao’s (griddled duck), the West End Diner (breakfast), Pinks Burgers (duh), the West End Pub (wings), Talley Ho (roast beef sandwich) and Eden (gyro). A Hamilton-wide list of restaurants that have brought me great joy would include My Thai, the Mule, the Black Forest Inn, Denningers, La Spaghett, Papagayo, La Luna, Papa Leo’s, the MacNab Cafe, August 8, Mex-I-Can, Gates of India, One Duke and that Ethiopian place on James South (near where the LRT loop-de-loop is going to be built).

If you’re a local meal dealer and I’ve left your place off my lists, don’t feel bad. Just follow all my advice — including the purchase of a kitchen-equipped hovercraft, to dish out succulent treats on both land and sea — and you will probably make my list next year.

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