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Upset over charge for hot water

Everybody is a restaurant critic now.

Crossing the Peace Bridge last week with friends to eat in St. Catharines, the customs agent wanted to know the purpose of our visit. We told him and he wanted to know the name of the restaurant, as well.

Then he nodded approvingly. "The Blue Mermaid — that's a good choice. Especially the salad. If they mix it in front of you then you know it's fresh," he said.

We smiled and went on. The salad was indeed excellent. And then it was time to go home.

Back on the bridge, the American agent was not as approving. He said, "When I want a good meal, I go to the Chophouse or EB Green's."

My point is this: I must have crossed the Peace Bridge upward of a thousand times in my life but no official ever talked restaurants with me while I was doing it. So, like I said …

Everybody is a restaurant critic now.

The Internet is devoted to it; television can't seem to exist without it. Listen to the conversation at other tables when you are dining out. They are talking about the quality of the food.

And that's not a bad thing. Restaurant criticism serves a purpose. It keeps restaurateurs on their toes.

If feeding people for money is your life's work and you care about it, it's helpful to know how you are doing. And how you can do better .

Food improves when diners think about what they are eating and care about what they are eating. They should speak up about what they are eating, too.

Also, ubiquitous discussions of dining out create a restaurant climate in which people are curious to go out to eat.

So dear readers, custom agents, policemen, physicians — feel free to think about what you are eating and criticize at will. But do please sign your name.

Speaking of critiques, consider this recent question/comment, and how a smart restaurateur should react.

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Q: "Dear Janice: In all your travels, have you been charged for hot water? I went to a restaurant on Sheridan Drive last week and, as I can't drink tea or coffee, I always order just hot water. I couldn't believe that there was a $1.84 charge for a pot of hot water.

"I did protest, but they informed me that it was on the menu and not even suspecting that, I never noticed it. Their explanation was that people order hot water and bring their own teabags."

— Gilda, Buffalo

A: I was once charged for hot water, about 20 years ago in a restaurant in East Aurora. It's not there anymore. I still remember it because I thought it was dumb even then, and not very foresighted. I know that teapots (or cups) cost money; I know there is a certain amount of breakage and it costs to wash them and heat the water. Also understand that it's a little mingy for diners to bring their own teabags. However …

There is the little matter of good will.

If you ordered some food from the menu, I think it's self-defeating for an eating place to charge for water. Hot or cold. And you, correctly, said so.

What happened to hospitality? Unless the place changes its policy, I wouldn't go back.

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