Sunday, April 3, 2011

How to be a terrible restaurant customer

Couple orders from a waiter (Thinkstock)  

 Sending back food or snapping at your server will earn you a spot on the most annoying list.

When the Customer Is Wrong: Restaurants

It's one of the oldest adages of the retail world: "The customer is always right."
Of course, very often the customer is wrong. Every day customers behave in ways that make the lives of waiters, cashiers, customer service reps and other retail workers miserable. And in many cases, these customers don't even realize how annoying they're being.
To rectify this, we've decided to talk to the people on the other side of the cash register to find out what sort of customer behavior gets on their nerves. To kick things off, we got some veterans of the restaurant industry to dish on their secret pet peeves and give some advice to diners.
Great Expectations
Think about the last time you cooked dinner. How long did it take? Forty-five minutes? An hour? More?
We're guessing the answer wasn't "15 minutes." Yet that's about how long most restaurant patrons expect their dinner to take, and they get irked when it takes any longer. Sometimes diners need to tone down their expectations, says Michael Gordon, a restaurant industry veteran who has spent about a decade as a cook and waiter.
"A steak needs time to cook, and fish needs time to be brought up to temperature," says Gordon. "There's a lot of prep work."
And if you're in a big party, expect it to take even longer.
"The bigger the party, the longer it's going to take," he says. "I can't give one person a plate and not give everyone else theirs." In other words, the table will only be served once all the meals are finished, so if one dish takes 25 minutes to cook, that's how long it will take before anyone sees their food.

Trust the Chef
Gordon says cooks don't mind people sending their food back if it isn't cooked as requested. But he estimates that nine times out of 10 the dish was cooked just fine -- the customer just doesn't know what constitutes "medium rare" or understand how a dish is supposed to be cooked.
"Everybody has a degree in something or other, but when they get to a restaurant, everyone thinks they have a doctorate in cooking," he says.
If you really think the people in the kitchen screwed up your steak, by all means send it back. But consider for a moment that the professionals know better than you do how to prepare a meal. (And if you're not sure whether you're on the same page with the kitchen, you might clarify beforehand how they define the varying degrees of doneness.)
This Isn't 'Top Chef'
Of course, just because they're professionals doesn't mean that cooks are capable of producing any dish on Earth. While some substitutions and special requests will be fine with the kitchen, you can only expect so much improvisation from a kitchen with limited time and ingredients.
"We get people walking into a restaurant and asking for a vegetarian or vegan plate, and unless we've specifically got a menu for that population, you're out of luck," says Steve Dublanica, author of the Waiter Rant blog. "You're asking the chef to make something they're not used to."
Dublanica, who's also authored two books based on his experience as a waiter, recounts the story of a woman who came into a Northern Italian restaurant and asked for sushi; when she was informed that the kitchen was incapable of producing sushi dishes, she retorted that it should be possible given that the restaurant had tuna on the menu.
There's nothing wrong with asking if the kitchen can make something that's not on the menu, but don't get all worked up when the answer is no.
[10 of the Best Restaurants in the Country]

10 of the most fattening supermarket foods

Photos (L-R): Marie Callender's Creamy Parmesan Chicken Pot Pie; Haagen-Daz Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Choose a better frozen dinner than Marie Callender's 1,020-calorie creamy pot pie.

10 Worst Supermarket Foods

Who likes food? All of us!
Who likes shopping? All of us!
Who likes food shopping? Hands? Anyone? Hello . . .?
The answer is, almost nobody likes food shopping. Going to the supermarket is a drab, draining drudgery, as even shopaholic gourmands will confess. A trip to the grocery store means spending an hour or so parsing specious nutritional claims and confusing price schemes and annoying, cloying packaging tricks, all while paying more money than you ever imagined, and doing it all under florescent lighting that could make Brooklyn Decker look like the Crypt Keeper.
Worse, thanks to tricky packaging, that supermarket is loaded with food that’s going to cause more weight gain than you bargained for. And it doesn’t matter how thorough your command of the English language is; Eminem couldn’t pronounce half of what’s on an ingredients list, and only Don Draper could make sense of marketing gobbledygook like "Part of a Well-Balanced Diet" and "Loaded with 9 Essential Nutrients." What you need is a cheat sheet that will lead you away from the worst offenders, and toward the shelves of nutritional safety. Fortunately, I’ve got one.
Through years of groundbreaking Eat This, Not That! research, we've managed to conquer the labrynth, and to show you what I mean, we've pulled together the worst of what the supermarket has to offer. If you want to survive the aisles, you'd be wise to avoid these diet-destroying pitfalls.
1. Worst Yogurt
Stonyfield Whole Milk Chocolate Underground (1 container)
220 calories
5 g fat (3 g saturated)
36 g sugars
Stonyfield is notorious for being generous with the sugar, but the 9 spoonfuls in its Chocolate Underground is bad even by the most indulgent dessert standards. Not even Ben & Jerry's most decadent scoop has this much sugar.
Eat This Instead!
Stonyfield Plain 0% Fat Yogurt
80 calories
0 g fat (0 g saturated)
11 g sugars
2. Worst Condiment
Eggo Original Syrup (1/4 cup)
240 calories
0 g fat
40 g sugars
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but not when it comes topped with this much sugar. Thanks to the combined impact of three liquid sweeteners, one serving of Eggo's pancake syrup has as much sugar as two packages of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, according to Eat This, Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide. That's no way to start the day.
Eat This Instead!
Maple Grove Farms Sugar Free Syrup (1/4 cup)
25 calories
0 g fat
0 g sugars
Special Report: If you're serious about losing weight, you need to cut down on sugar first. Problem is, many of us eat too much of the white stuff for breakfast. You stay full longer when you swap out sugar for fiber, and we'll show you how to do it with ease right here: The 24 Best and Worst Cereals.
3. Worst Pick-Me-Up
Vault Red Blitz (20-oz bottle)
290 calories
78 g sugars  
Here's a staggering stat: If you're used to drinking black coffee every morning, and you switch to this bottle of Vault, you'll pack on more than 5 pounds of body fat in the first two months on your normal diet. What's more, it's unlikely that you'll earn any extra buzz. This bottle has 115 milligrams of caffeine. An 8-ounce cup of coffee has as much as 200 milligrams. Stick with coffee or pick a leaner energy drink.

Drink This Instead!
Rockstar Recovery (16 fl oz)
20 calories
2 g sugars

Easy ways to score free stuff

Family grocery shopping (Corbis)   

 You can nab serious savings by tracking down online rebates and coupons.

6 Simple Ways to Score Free Stuff

Everyone loves nabbing free stuff.
And getting it is easier than you think. Yes, it's mostly small stuff -- not an Xbox or an iPod. But freebies can really add up. Using free samples, coupons and rewards points, and even hosting house parties can help you net serious savings on daily staples.
For example, Sarah Barrand, founder of, says she saves $500 per month on groceries and other sundries, using coupons.
But Brent Shelton, a spokesman for, says other items, such as gadgets, can carry an invisible price tag. For example, some consumer surveys promise iPads, iPods and other gadgets in exchange for your personal information. You also might have to refer friends, take a survey or apply for a 30-day trial.
"Most people don't get the iPad 99 percent of the time," says Ryan Eubanks, president of the Hey, It's Free! website. "The good stuff is so hard to get."
Even so, there's plenty of other free stuff to scoop up. These tips will put you on the fast track with the fewest hassles.
Find Free Samples
Free samples are the most abundant of the freebies on the Internet, says Nick Mokey, a staff writer for Digital Trends, a technology product review and news website.
He recommends checking out, a deal-sharing site. "There are forums there," Mokey says. "If somebody finds a freebie, they list it."
Mokey also suggests, and because deals listed there are frequently updated.
"You can sign up for them and be done within a few seconds," Eubanks says.
Twitter users can find freebies on the aggregator website They can also get free stuff from companies such as Revlon that use Twitter to launch new products like lipsticks. And you can sign up for free gifts on your birthday.
Even some mainstream retail sites such as give away free samples.
To be sure, if you sign up for freebies, you could be the target of unwanted email. "Use a freebie email account in case you get spammed," Eubanks says.

Crowd boos Sheen at first live show

Charlie Sheen (AP)  

The star demonstrates that comedic success onscreen doesn't always translate to the stage

Charlie Sheen show sputters in Motor City

DETROIT - Charlie Sheen was heckled, booed and eventually abandoned by the crowd at his inaugural stage show, with many of the audience members chanting "refund" and heading for the exits even before the show abruptly ended.
Story photo: Charlie Sheen show sputters in Motor City
The first stop on Sheen's "My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option" 20-city variety show started Saturday night with thunderous applause but ended 70 minutes later. In between, Sheen tried to appease his audience with rants, a rapper and a question and answer session, ultimately concluding the first show was "an experiment."
The former "Two and a Half Men" star learned firsthand at Detroit's 5,100-seat Fox Theatre that show business still requires a show. The debacle called into question the fate of the nascent tour. Some fans already predicted a premature end for the monthlong trek, which was scheduled to resume Sunday in Chicago.
"No way" the show makes it through all the dates, said Bob Orlowski, a lawyer from Plymouth, Mich., who watched with six clients in a suite.
"He's not suited for this," said Orlowski, 46. "It wasn't funny."
Sheen's publicist, Larry Solters, declined to comment after the show. Sheen, 45, reappeared after the house lights went up to thank the hundreds who remained.
It wasn't clear when Sheen lost the audience, but there were many awkward moments.

Best chocolate chip cookie doughs

Close up of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough IMAGE: © Stella/fstop/Corbis

In a taste test of store-bought doughs, three brands win by a landslide.

Supermarket Standoff: Chocolate Chip Cookies

By Katherine Kims,
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Taste Test
Cookie Dough Taste Testing
Photos : Katherine Kims
We have embarked on a taste test tour of supermarket foods. We nibble, we score, and we share the results to help you avoid the paralysis of Brand Choice Overload. Today's topic:
chocolate chip cookie dough.
After two grueling, back-to-back yogurt standoffs, cookies were a welcome relief to our taste testers. We tried five pre-made chocolate chip cookie doughs including Pillsbury, Nestle, and other supermarket staples. Some turned out crunchy and sweet, others chewy and chocolate-y, but our staff was largely in agreement and the top three won by a landslide.
A big factor was chocolate flavor--chip-to-cookie ratio, and how much they actually tasted like good chocolate. Aesthetics also popped up in a lot of our staff's notes (apparently, when it comes to cookies, looks do matter). However, nutritionist Marissa Lippert pointed out the trans fat (ack!) and partially hydrogenated kernel oil in the prettiest-looking cookie--Pillsbury's.
We still believe that homemade chocolate chip cookies made with all-natural ingredients will knock these guys out of the park for flavor and health value. But in a pinch, it's good to know how things stack up in grocery store aisles. Baking the cookies couldn't have been more simple (that's the point, right?): Open package, pull out pre-cut round/square, place on ungreased, unlined baking sheet, bake for 10 to 15 minutes. This was by far our most popular taste test to date--even Editor in Chief Adam Rapoport snagged a photo for Twitter.

Our Favorites for Flavor

#1 Trader Joe's Chunky Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Nutrition: One cookie (28g) = 120 calories, 60 calories from fat, 6g total fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 20mg cholesterol, 60mg sodium, 17g total carbs, 0g dietary fiber, 8g sugars, 1g protein, 4% vitamin A, 0% vitamin C, 0% calcium, 2% iron Ingredients: flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), chocolate (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, milk fat), sweet butter, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, molasses, vanillas, salt, baking soda.
Cost: $3.49 at Trader Joe's.
Blind Tasting Notes: "excellent chewy consistency", "nice and soft", "chewy and delicious", "not too sweet", "doesn't look awesome but my favorite", "perfectly integrated chocolate [that's] all melty", "perfect chocolate to dough ratio".

Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Flavored Cookies

#2 Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Flavored Cookies
Nutrition: One Cookie (29g) = 130 calories, 60 calories from fat, 6g total fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 1.5g trans fat, less than 5mg cholesterol, 95mg sodium, 18g total carbs, 0g dietary fiber, 11g sugars, 0% vitamin A, 0% vitamin C, 0% calcium, 2% iron.
Ingredients: enriched flour cleached (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, chocolate flavored chips (sugar, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, cocoa, cocoa processed with alkali, dextrose, soy lecithin), partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, water. Contains 2% or less of: molasses, wheat protein isolate, baking powder (baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate), salt, eggs, artificial flavor, nonfat milk.
Cost: $3.99.
Blind Tasting Notes: "nice appearance, looks the best", "a little too thin", "buttery and too sweet", "love the texture--crispy at edges, slight chew inside", "delicious, suspiciously so".

Wholly Wholesome Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

#3 Wholly Wholesome Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Nutrition: One cookie (26g) = 120 calories, 45 calories from fat, 5g total fat, 3.5g total fat, 0g trans fat, 15mg cholesterol, 85mg sodium, 17g total carbs, 1g dietary fiber, 9g sugars, 1g protein, 2% vitamin A, 0% vitamin C, 2% calcium, 2% iron.

Miley Cyrus out of step on the red carpet

Miley Cyrus (Jeff Kravitz/KCA2011/  

 The singer wears an oddly formal frock to the Kids' Choice Awards, while most stars keep it casual.

Former Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus looked a bit out of step on the orange carpet at Nickelodeon's 24th Annual Kids' Choice Awards, wearing a long floral-print dress with a train when most of her peers opted for shorts or short skirts.Jeff Kravitz/ - Sunday, April, 3, 2011, 1:3 AM