ALOT OF COMPLAINTS are directed at seafood restaurants -- overcooked, undercooked, too pricey, too skimpy, bad service, no service.

The latest objection outlined a frustrating evening at a local seafood establishment, echoing similar complaints I hear about a lot of restaurants. The interesting part was the diners' concluding suggestion: "If you'd like to spend money on seafood," wrote Julie Chase, "I suggest a tax-deductible contribution to the Chesapeake's 'Save the Bay' foundation."


And the most amazing excuse I have heard for a long delay in serving the entrees was at La Nicoise. When the diners asked why their meal was taking so long, the waiter responded that it was the kitchen's rule that entrees are not served until an hour after they are ordered. (A call to the manager revealed that "it is not a policy but it takes approximately one hour.") So all the speed those roller-skating waiters rev up is a mere facade of bustle. Too bad there's not a "Save the Roller Skaters" foundation.


In the pet-peeve department, a lot of diners would sign a complaint against those restaurants that refuse to seat a group until everyone is there. The restaurant's side of it is obvious: It doesn't want to tie up a table for longer than necessary. The diners make the point that it is uncomfortable to wait for a table, that they could be ordering drinks and poring over the menu, and that it is plain inhospitable to leave tables empty and diners waiting for them when most of the party is there.

Union Street Public House in Alexandria has recently instituted the full-party requirement on weekend nights when there is a waiting list for tables. Its point is that complete parties shouldn't have to wait for a table while incomplete parties, who aren't ready to order, occupy one. If the group is just waiting for one member to park the car, said the manager, the restaurant will seat the rest; but if one couple is waiting for another to arrive, the first will be asked to wait in the bar. Sounds like lots of room for discussion on this issue.


I once spent half a lunchtime waiting for my companion at Anna Maria's as she waited for me upstairs; I didn't even know there was an upstairs. At Harvey's I averted such a disaster; after being seated in its dim, dark dining room, I turned to peer more closely at the man at the table behind me to discover he was my lunch guest.

But two diners at Childe Harold had no such luck. One entered the restaurant by its second-floor door and left his name with the mai~tre d'. The second came through the downstairs entrance and left his name with the staff down there. They waited, they worried, and they wound up eating alone. Only after dinner did one discover the other on the way to the men's room. When the two angry diners told the mai~tre d' what had happened, he offered nothing other than defensiveness.

The manager, Michael Bradshaw, handled the complaint more graciously when he later heard of it. "I don't feel like my staff member handled it correctly," said Bradshaw. He added that he tries to make sure his staff warns diners that they might have to check the other floor themselves to locate their companion. And a restaurant, said Bradshaw, should treat a complaint as an opportunity to correct an error and save the restaurant's reputation. He invited the two diners back for dinner. "They can choose upstairs or downstairs," he promised, but in any case "they will have to sit together. I'm not going to have any more of this."