Ten Rules for the Modern Restaurant-Goer

Today's post isn't exactly about cooking. Instead I bring you ten rules that I hope will help you enjoy eating. Eating out, that is.

1) Go out to a really nice restaurant once in a while. It doesn’t have to be a daily thing, obviously. If you’re budget-conscious, think of it as a reward for yourself. Enjoy life a little bit by spending a little extra money once in a while for a great culinary experience.

2) Make a point of patronizing owner-operated restaurants rather than chain restaurants. Forget the Olive Gardens and the Red Lobsters and the Macaroni Grill. Does it really help the world if you give business to huge corporations like Darden Restaurants or Yum Brands? Help support a local entrepreneur in your town instead.

3) Try at least one appetizer. Or better, order two and split 'em with your dinner companion.

4) Try one of the house specials. Learn what the chef is good at. Ask the waiter or waitress "what's good here?" and make a point of ordering that dish.

5) I wish I didn't have to include this one, but it goes in anyway: Never speak on your cellphone in a restaurant. You’re just not that important. Turn your phone off for once and try and enjoy the here and now.

6) Order drinks, or try a new wine you’ve never tried before. Laura and I have a weakness for the occasional margarita (rocks, and I'm sorry but I must admit it, extra salt).

7) If the restaurant has a sommelier, use him. Yes, I know this sounds snobby, and you don't have to do this EVERY time. But it's actually kind of fun. Tell him something cryptic like "I like red" or "I like sweet wines" and let him go to work. Then write down all the information on the label--and even a jot down note or two on whether you liked it or not and why--and keep those notes somewhere. Heck, file them with your 401(k) statements--you might cheer yourself up this way.

8) Don't clean your plate. Take some of your food home with you. This will give you room to follow rule #9, which is…

9) Leave room for dessert! It's an especially good idea to ask the server for a suggestion or a favorite recommendation when it comes to dessert.

And finally,

10) Tip 20%, never less. This isn’t the 1980s anymore. Make the universe a plentiful place. We're in the era of outflow. If service is atrocious, tell the server politely (and keep an understanding and sympathetic smile on your face while telling) and still tip 15%.

I'd love to hear any additional rules that readers out there think I should include. We'll update this one as needed.

Related Topics:
Using Salt = Cheating
Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life by Shakti Gawain
The International Sommelier Guild


Anonymous said...

These are excellent rules. They give one the tools to aproach a dining experience with humility, a desire to learn and a truly open mind. The best experiences are usually the most unexpected. Which leads me to anothr rule:

Americans have too much choice. I've been on a date before where the menu read like Tolstoy's War and Peace and my date still felt the needto see if she could eliminate the potato gnocci or get the sauce on the side.

The Rule:
Try not to make any substitutions your first time at a restaurant. Give the place a chance to succeed or fail on its own terms. If yuou are off carbs, show some will-power and leave 'em on your plate.

By substitutions I don't mean brown rice instead of white at an asian spot. If you've been to the resturant 9 times and you know the creamed potatoes are trememdous and you'd prefer them to the roasted plantains with your braised halibut- fine, then go ahead and makethe request. But good chefs put a lot of thought into their combinations and they toil long hours to perfect them. If a combo doesn't work, tell them politely and they should be willing to listen. Do them the courtesy, however, of not substituting on your first visit! Give it a shot as is.

Daniel said...

Totally agreed on that one, Mr. The Sieve! I've always felt that people who "excessively substitute" in a restaurant are just being passive-aggressive.


Unknown said...

Oh my gosh.... if the service is bad, explain and then tip?! Let me guess... either you are a waiter or someone you know and love is a waiter.

In general I am opposed to tipping. Why do I have to pay their wages twice... once for the food and once for the service? Do you tip your plumber, carpet installer, mechanic? Why not?

If service is bad I will not tip anything. Tipping doesnt even make sense... if you tipped at the beginning of the meal, ok, then they will give you better service, that makes sense. Unless you go to a place regularly the tip is worthless because they wont remember you 7 months from now and say "Oh, better serve him promptly since he once gave me a 20% tip" Does opening a $200 bottle of wine take more effort than a $30 bottle of wine?

Bleh, tipping should be abolished. The restautant should simply increase prices of food by %15 and then give raises.

Daniel said...

Nope, I actually never was a waiter. And I don't know or love a waiter (or waitress for that matter) either. Closest I ever came to that business was putting frozen burgers on a broiler conveyor belt at a Burger King.


I still think this is a question of outflow, not whether I'm paying somebody's wages twice.


Anonymous said...

Do you tip on the full cost of the wine? I never do and I agree with Mr. Rico who doesn't tip when the service is bad. Or better yet, leave a lousy tip so they don't think you just forgot. As a former waitress, I know that it's not that hard to provide reasonably good service, even at a Dutch Pantry where they were always out of items on the menu.

Interesting how the best service we've had is in France where there generally is no tipping.....

Mijo said...

Good rules.

I don't know about France, but in the US, waiters' and bartenders' wages are actually deflated because of the expectation of tips. They rely on our tips - albeit unpredictably - to pay their rent and feed their families. (In New York, bartenders actually have a special minimum wage, lower than everyone else's minimum wage because of the expectation of tips). So yeah, tipping is the default.

I agree it would be better for all food service workers (including bus boys, prep cooks, and dishwashers, who are just as important to your dining experience) to get a raise. But unless you have the power to make that happen, you should tip.

Another tip-related rule I'd suggest: Never tip on your card if you can avoid it. If you put the tip on your card, the waiter gets taxed. If you tip in cash, they don't. Also in some restaurants (including some very swanky ones) the restaurant keeps the tips that come in on credit cards. It's totally illegal but happens often. You put the cash on the table, you know who gets it.

That said, if the service is *really* bad I don't tip at all. But this almost never happens.

No, I'm not a waiter but seems like everyone I know has been one.

And I always ask the waiter what they recommend.

PS - For the seminal discourse in the tipping debate, please see the opening scene of "Reservoir Dogs."

Daniel said...

We'll be renting Reservoir Dogs this weekend...


Michael Goldsman said...

Restaurants are allowed to pay waiters and waitresses less than minimum wage!

People definitely have the right to be opposed to tipping on a philosophical level, but if you're not willing to tip, you shouldn't be eating out. This is how restaurant workers put food on their own table.

I actually do prefer the European model where bartenders and waiters are paid a decent wage and tipping is not the tradition. But remember, there's a reason why we make fun of slow service by referring to it as "European style!"

Anonymous said...

There are many restaurant goers in this world and so everyone must respect the people working there. In that case it is really good to tip the waiter or waitress. I agree with the idea of tipping.

Anonymous said...

Its ridiculous how we have to pay the wages of restaurants making millions of dollars a year. For you waiters and waitresses, if you don't want to make two bucks an hour, then stay in school like I did you fucking douchebag. Why should you get paid 30 bucks an hour bringing food to a table when the poor slob at McDonalds slaving over fries while getting blasted in the face with grease smoke all day makes 5 bucks an hour? Look at a place like Mortons where the restaurant makes on average $150 a meal but they only pay their waiters 2 bucks a hour. They should simply pay them more. I worked as a plumber while going to school. I worked my fucking ass off and no one ever tipped me. It was incentive to stay in school and I now make decent money. I never bitched. Here's something everyone should start doing and I have been doing it for years. Don't tip anyone and give them incentive to stay in school and make something of their lives.

Anonymous said...

While I hate to indulge what sounds like a vent about a someone's larger issue, I'd like to point out 2 things:

a-Most waiters are at the casual restaurants and make about $12-15 an hour when it's a good shift, and sometimes more, but sometimes much less. I base this off 2 years + 2 summers serving. Also, the waiters at fine restaurants have less tables per evening than a Bob Evans type places, so they need to make more per table.

b-Some (but not all) waiters are in college and thus are not only "working their ass off" but having to earn their rent money as well. Those at fine restaurants have specialized in the art of service, for which they are better compensated.

For those who need to vent about tipping, figure out what's really bothering you and address it elsewhere please.

Holly said...

Some elements of service are not in the waiters' control. Bad food or too many tables per server shouldn't cause the poor waiter to be penalized and in general we tip well. The only exception is when the waiter is obviously the problem such as rude service, bad hygene, etc.

daftlikejack said...

Sorry to comment on an old post, but I'm a new reader and just getting to the archives here. Greatly enjoy the blog in general.

My question is: if I really want the main component of a dish and know that I hate some small component of the side dish, why is it so terrible for me to ask them to change it? I don't see what is so wonderful about leaving something I dislike on the plate. Why waste food instead of asking for something else? I know that chefs work hard to come up with complementary flavors and the like, and most are quite good at doing so, but I don't think it's an insult to them if my tastes are not the same.

In my line of work (freelance cellist), I am happy to recommend pieces that I think are wonderful and may not be known by the average person, but ultimately I play whatever the clients want. I do this happily because I am glad to be paid to do what I love and glad to know that the person hiring me will get to enjoy whatever he or she chooses. I would hope a chef could have a similar attitude (especially since so many guests will be having it just the way it was intended). What do you think?

Thanks for all the lovely posts!

daftlikejack said...

P.S. I am so tired of people being angry about having to tip and saying they are paying the waitstaff twice over or whatever. Find a way to change the system or learn to tip properly. Don't act like a stingy ass and then justify it with sanctimonious blather.

Oh, and to those saying that not tipping helps people to quit waiting tables and "make something of themselves": (even if you won't acknowledge that waiting tables is a proper profession like anything else) if you enjoy eating out enough to have to complain this bitterly about tipping, you must realize that you would only have more to complain about if you and others like you somehow drove all the waitstaff in America to do other work. It's a laughable premise.

Daniel said...

Zoe, thanks for stopping by! There's nothing wrong with asking for small changes. After all, you're the customer. I think the issue for some of the commenters was making insane or unreasonable substitutions.

And yes, on tipping--agreed, anybody who can't handle tipping generously for good service should cook at home. There are plenty of recipes here at Casual Kitchen to try!

Thanks for reading.


Juno said...

I get that restaurant staff are underpaid and tipping is expected to make up for that. What I don't get is why this logic doesn't extend to, say, a crappy call centre job where I have assisted a customer cheerfully and patiently...I don't expect the customer to send an extra $5 my way, and if my employer paid me so little that customers were expected to make up the disparity in wages, I would seriously think about looking for another job and/or boycotting the company or industry who had such an arrogant policy. And if the service is crappy? I do NOT tip.

Daniel said...

Interesting point Juno, although perhaps a bit outside the scope of what I write about here at CK.

However, many firms--including call centers--offer incentives or bonuses as rewards for effective employees. Moreover, there is a wide range of jobs out there with a wide range of compensation schemes. Some jobs pay really well, but they probably shouldn't (my former career on Wall Street is currently ringing a very loud bell). Other jobs pay a fixed salary no matter how good or bad you are at your job (see: Dept of Motor Vehicles or many teaching jobs). Other jobs offer extra compensation at the discretion of the customer (waitressing, limo driving, hairdressers and many other service industry jobs). I think in many cases the way workers are paid in many industryies is highly arbitrary, or based on long traditions.

Thus I'm not sure to what extent it's useful to draw conclusions or comparisons across widely differing jobs.


chacha1 said...

New comment on old post. I'm so tired of the tipping debate. If you don't wanna tip, do us all a favor and DON'T EAT OUT.

Anyway. Re: using the sommelier: we have found this is an excellent way to be introduced to things we might otherwise be too cowardly to try. Nero d'Avola? Dolcetto? Douro? WTF? We love them all but might not have tried them if a friendly neighborhood sommelier had not responded to our request framed as "we like X, what would you recommend?".

Also: try the specials. I might never have discovered deep-fried ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossoms otherwise.