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Taking Notes at a Restaurant


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BUX sorry for the delay in the response. The waiter probably thought I was a critic of some kind. (that was what I wanted him to think) I'm sure that Thomas new immediately because I didn't try hide anything from him. It actually started out as a little game for me. I enjoyed myself.

" Food and Wine Fanatic"

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Has anyone considered one of those mini digital voice recorders?

I use one of these from time to time. They're nice because they can capture the waiter's descriptions of dishes pretty unobtrusively and because I can talk a lot faster and less obviously than I can write.

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I've told this story before, but when we were at Veyrat's place outside of Annecy, France, my wife took many notes of our long and extroardinary meal. As we were facing the view out a large window, we had our backs somewhat to the room and it was hard to hide the notetaking. We were starting our cheese course and one of us had already made a selection, when a waiter appeared and stopped the cheese service at the chef's request. We had eaten quite a lot already and wondered if we would be up for desserts, when several more full sized coursed appeared one after the other before we were allowed to continue to cheese. Indeed, we consumed so much food that I wondered if it was a treat. Fortunately each course was better than the last and all were more than superb. I wondered if the note taking had anything to do with the comped dishes and if so, did Veyrat think either one of us was a food writer, or did he just appreciate the depth of our interest. I should note that we ordered local wines and thus can hardly have been rewarded as big spenders although we took the gastronomic menu.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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i'm curious as to what posters think the downsides and upsides of being caught "note taking" might mean to the overall experience?

most reviewers that i've been out with are very discreet about their note taking, whether it be recorded or written. surely most restaurants don't treat customers differently when they see them jotting down notes. do they? :blink: and if so, can it be a bad thing? i'm doubting it, unless, as, in bux's example, perhaps things get a little too over-the-top. but if that's all it takes to get "special" treatment, then i'll carry a pad and pen to every restaurant.

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Just the other day I was at a banh mi shop where the menu on the wall is in Vietnamese, and I grapped a paper bag and jotted down all the selections, intending to have a Vietnamese co-worker translate for me later. One of the ladies behind the counter asked me (in perfect English) what I was writing. I told her it was an American custom to transcribe menus, commonly known as "Menu Spotting". She said don't bother because the menu on the wall rarely corresponds to the food actually being served that day. Later, I showed my notes to my Vietnamese co-worker, and, after studying it for some time, she said "you have very bad hand-writing."

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ID

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. . . if that's all it takes to get "special" treatment, then i'll carry a pad and pen to every restaurant.

Tommy, it's amazing--when eating by myself I usually bring a pen and legal pad with me into the restaurant (usually it's work and not related to the food). 99% of the time, I get service that's excellent bordering on fawning. Either I can really pick restaurants with outstanding service or the staff is thoroughly cowed by the pen and paper. It can't be because they think I'm a critic, because restaurateurs know that critics don't usually go by themselves. Maybe I've just been lucky with good service. It's uncanny.

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. . . if that's all it takes to get "special" treatment, then i'll carry a pad and pen to every restaurant.

Tommy, it's amazing--when eating by myself I usually bring a pen and legal pad with me into the restaurant (usually it's work and not related to the food). 99% of the time, I get service that's excellent bordering on fawning. Either I can really pick restaurants with outstanding service or the staff is thoroughly cowed by the pen and paper. It can't be because they think I'm a critic, because restaurateurs know that critics don't usually go by themselves. Maybe I've just been lucky with good service. It's uncanny.

my point exactly.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Long before I became an amateur food writer I used to always take notes of what everyone at the table was eating, specially when traveling abroad (i've always kept a food journal). I was about 13 when a funny thing happened in bordeaux, france... the staff kept on being excessively "helpful" and really really nice which I thought was strange for the french...until they finally asked if we were from the Michelin Guide and using the "youngster" as a decoy! It was hilarious... great free stuff though!

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  • 1 month later...

I ask for a copy of the menu, take notes on cards, and even record every single course I eat (at a "serious" restaurant) in a small, handheld digital video camera. Discreet? No. Effective? Yes. The more serious the restaurant, the less problems you'll have. ADNY and Charlie Trotter's were among the most accomodating than some smaller places (e.g., when Liebrandt was still at Papillon, our waiter appeared frantically and intermittenly, often making snubs about "those weird food writers"). If a restaurant has integrity, they'll be as friendly as can be (Sugiyama was one of the best in recent memory).

Much peace,

Ian Lowe

ballast/regime

"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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Ben:

There usually is enough ambient light from the sun because I eat a lot of lunches when I'm traveling. I record each course once it's on the table, and at times people's reactions. My dining companions, if there are any, know I'm obsessed and therefore tolerate my maniacal need to document everything.

As per light at night, it hasn't been that much of a problem, thankfully.

I recently lost my entire hard drive (I use a lot of the computer labs at my university right now), so it will be awhile before I have any .mpegs again. Once I do, I will gladly put them online.

IML

ballast/regime

"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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