A poorly trained restaurant service staff will guarantee a customer exodus, yet you're likely to encounter incompetent servers more often than awful food.
In recent months, restaurant trade magazines have been reporting that service will be the difference between success and failure in the 1990s.
An article in Restaurants & Institutions reported that 70 percent of customers, "who jump from one seller to a competitor, do it because of perceived 'inferior service,' not because of price or quality."
A few of my service pet peeves:
* You call to make a reservation and a voice whines, "Chez LeRude, can you hold?" Before you can answer, you're on hold. Several minutes pass while the napkin count is conducted. If this is how the restaurant treats diners before they step into the dining room, consider another restaurant.
* You make a reservation, arrive on time, and are promptly escorted to the lounge "while we prepare your table." Twenty, 30 and then 40 minutes pass. Figure that your table is undergoing extensive urban renewal, they're trying to squeeze another drink out of you, or the restaurant has serious service problems.
* Once dessert is served, the waiter vanishes. Your bill arrives just before closing time.
And one more pet peeve that has more to do with pricing:
* On the wine list you notice a California Cabernet Sauvignon for which you paid $18 a bottle for last week at the grocery store. For the same bottle, the restaurant is charging $42. Incredible markups on wine indicate no respect for the intelligence of diners. Order a soda and don't come back.