Creepy Alert: Restaurants Know More About You Than You Think


I remember my first time at Eleven Madison Park. I was with two friends, and while our waiter was cutting open the lavender honey duck, he looked me straight in the eye and noted that the duck was covered in Szechuan peppercorns.

“I know that you’re a food writer with a passion for Chinese food,” he said.

My friends enthusiastically applauded his attentiveness and the fact that he had taken the time to research us before our reservation. For the rest of the meal, whenever an Oriental ingredient popped up, he was sure to note it. I looked like a deer in the headlights. Creepy. This was a private meal between my friends and I, and I wasn’t eating for work. The entire atmosphere of the lunch was ruined.

Some may take restaurants’ dedication to finding out the background and habits of their guests to be a indication of great customer service. Others, like me, just find it plain intrusive.

A New York Times feature reveals some of the other creepy habits of some restaurants in the city:

1) They keep track of what color napkin you want: “. . . His server always knows that he prefers a black napkin (less lint) and wants only the ends of a loaf in his breadbasket.”

2) They know generally how much you will tip: “In many cases, they can trace your past performance as a diner; how much you ordered, tipped, and whether you were a ‘camper’ who lingered at the table long after dessert.”

3) They assign acronyms to your name — some too inappropriate to publish: “At some restaurants, HSM is short for heavyset man; at others, LOL stands for little old lady — two types of diners who may need special seating. Customers with bad reputations are often flagged HWC, handle with care.”

4) They categorize old bills: “Managers bristle at the suggestion that they keep this information so they can analyze an individual’s spending patterns; it is used primarily, they say, to answer customer billing questions and to provide receipts to those who have lost them.”

5) They know the name of your wife: “‘Sometimes a man will come in with another woman, not their wife,’ Ms. Nathan Genovart said. ‘You have to be very careful about what you say.'”

6) The regulars are awarded: “At RedFarm, everyone who shows up is put on a computerized waiting list, which becomes a file on each customer. Mr. Schoenfeld, the owner, said regulars get first dibs on seats when there is a long line at the door.”

And for the record, Google me if you want, but please don’t tell me that you did.