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A wish list for the local dining scene this year "Now there's some new gouging I'm beginning to hear about. An extra charge for a drink served straight or even on the rocks."

Everybody's fat and everybody's tired and everybody's secretly happy that the holidays are over. Welcome to the most anticlimactic week of the year -- which also happens to be the most difficult time for a food writer to produce a column.

And yet, and yet . . . a full 12 months of eating stretches ahead. It offers enticing possibilities.

So here are some things I'd like to see on the local culinary scene this year. (I'm not taking bets as to whether they'll actually happen):

* The elimination of baseball caps or other headgear in restaurants.

I know I've mentioned this before, but the situation seems to be getting worse. One guy even sent me an e-mail complaining that The News has the nerve to actually run pictures of capped customers with our restaurant reviews. (It's a little like the people who criticize us for printing only bad news. But I agree, yes, it looks tacky.)

Oddly, most restaurant management seems to ignore the practice -- afraid to lose customers, I suppose. But most restaurants also aren't afraid to ban bare feet or even collarless T-shirts. Why is a baseball cap any different?

* The absence of petty charges on menus. You can nickel and dime a customer to death (or, even worse, out the door). Begone extra charge for blue cheese that never crossed the pond! Or for anchovies, or for extra sauce for that matter.

I'm putting the extra charge for broiled fish (vs. fried) under this heading, too. Restaurants claim that with the absence of batter they have to give you a larger order of fish. Doesn't say much for their regular portions, does it?

There's some new gouging I'm beginning to hear about: An extra charge -- running from 75 cents to $3 -- for a drink served straight, or even on the rocks. Explanation: they have to serve more liquor if there are no mixers. I suggest upping the charge for everyone across the board and then serving everyone the same amount. Or, how about buying smaller glasses?

* Reducing our dependency on bagged salads. This one is -- if you'll excuse another culinary metaphor -- really pie-in-the-sky. In a time-pressed society these items are big sellers.

And, of course, almost all of the stuff is perfectly OK but in the light of all the food-based illness traced to them this summer, it makes you wonder.

* The elimination of the no-reservation policy in restaurants. It's great that the establishment is doing so well it can issue this decree, but most customers don't like the idea. And maybe the no-reservation policy works against the restaurant in the end. People want more security when they go out for dinner.

* There are a few supermarket changes I'd like to see. I'd be happy if the checkout clerks didn't spend quite so much time discussing last night's date -- but who wouldn't? And I'd like to see fewer aisle displays. Aren't those walkways crowded enough already?

But sometimes customers ask for too much. I keep hearing from a woman who is short in stature and says that everything she wants is always on the very top shelf. Something has to be on the top shelf, however, and I'm not sure what a market can do about it.

In the end, the answer to all this might be to simply speak up firmly but be nice. And be timely, too. It doesn't do any good to complain two weeks later or, in the case of restaurants, after your plate has been polished.

Yes, this doctor is here to listen to your woes -- please keep the e-mails and letters coming. But in the end, it's you, the customer, who is the real boss. The food scene can always get better.


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