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Industry Pros on the Biggest Restaurant Grievances of 2014

Following food trends, overcrowding and service issues.

As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types, and bloggers. We've already covered the 2014's restaurant standbys and top newcomers, seen the year summed up in one word, discussed the best dining neighborhoods, shared dining surprises and the best meals of 2014. Now, we're talking about our panel's biggest restaurant grievances of the year.

Q: What was the biggest restaurant grievance of 2014?

Marcie Rothman, FoodBuzzSD: The "follow the leader" mentality for restaurants...kale, Brussels sprouts, abound on nearly EVERY menu as sides (many with similar preparations). If you must, try using them as part of the plating of a main course. There are other vegetables in the market place and I would guess cauliflower is next to show up everywhere. This goes also for preparations of other "trendy" foods such as pork belly, and cheeks of any animal.

Caron Golden, San Diego Foodstuff: Overly intrusive and/or less than knowledgeable service. The best gift a restaurant can give to itself—and consequently its customers—is to better train serving staff. Last I checked I am not anyone’s guy. Unless I ask, because I don’t know you or whether we share the same taste in food, I don’t really need to know your favorites. I do want you to be savvy about the menu and able to explain how dishes are prepared if I have a question. And, I’d like to complete a conversation without being repeatedly interrupted. There’s an art to understanding when it’s appropriate to check in. Please teach that to staff.

Frank Sabatini Jr., restaurant critic, San Diego Community News Network, and contributing writer, Pacific San Diego Magazine: Non-intuitive service cloaked in awkward formality. Why do servers still ask if they can take away my plate after I’ve licked it clean?

Amy T. Granite, food writer, DiscoverSD: Deceptive food porn and unjust love among chefs via social media. One of my biggest let downs of 2014 came from trusting the opinions of several well-respected chefs on Instagram who all said "get to this new restaurant now!" Turns out, they were simply supporting their friend’s new venture, which is nice and all, but recommending it to their trusting followers was a total no-no. I don’t know if I can ever forgive some of these guys for plugging such expensive, sub-par food to the public. I hope this doesn’t become a thing.

Michael Gardiner, restaurant critic, San Diego CityBeat: Front of the house staff who do not think that their job description includes being sensitive to what a diner is doing – talking, eating, drinking or, for that matter, anything else that might be incompatible with inane questions like "how are we doing" (as if he or she is involved with me in the same campaign to demolish the food) and as if – contrary to apparent fact – they really give a shit what I think of the food. And then there’s this: "programs". Cocktail programs, oyster programs…tell you what, how ‘bout a barf bucket program. I do not want to hear about your programs. I really don’t. If I can’t figure out where you’ve put your emphasis telling me about your "program" won’t solve the real problem.

Erin Jackson, city editor, DiningOut San Diego: Overcrowded dining rooms with too many tables jammed too close together. I get that restaurants want to create lively, social spaces but nothing can redeem sitting in complete silence because there's zero privacy. Unless you are meeting up with a friend to discuss composting or embroidery, that's not going to cut it. Let's make 2015 the return of half-circle booths and acoustic coffered ceilings.

Michele Parente, dining and lifestyle reporter, Union-Tribune: We get it, you’re local, local, local. So where’s your local wine? Nothing from Baja, one of the most exciting wine regions on the planet? Not a drop from any of the innovative upstarts in San Diego, like Vesper Vineyards?

Barbarella Fokos, contributor, San Diego Reader: Seeing "GF" (gluten free) pop up on menus everywhere. Just knock that shit off now. The rare diner who actually has Celiac disease will know which items have gluten and which do not. The rest are misguided noobs who jump from one "health" craze to the next. Stop enabling them.

Troy Johnson, restaurant critic, San Diego Magazine: Service. Just hit an all-time lackadaisical, "I’ll get to it if i can, oops I forgot, what’s the big deal, don’t treat me like hired help by asking for things" low.

Darlene Horn, city editor, Zagat San Diego: The excessive use of plastic used to bag individual pastries in Asian bakeries. The goods at 85ºC, Paris Baguette and Big Joy Family make me weak in the knees but I don't mind if my selection of egg tarts intermingle with taro bread and savory hot dog buns in a cardboard box.