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Q&A: How to Dine

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You should feel totally comfortable ordering whatever the heck the menu allows -- and then some.

In terms of the way servers react to such strategies, if they can't appreciate your creativity that's too bad for them. I talk a lot in my book and public presentations about getting on the good side of the waitstaff, but that's not the only way to enjoy a meal. Sometimes you need to be willing to push your agenda whether a server wants to cooperate or not. Of course good servers will never let their irritation show, but if a bad server gets irritated because you order a lot of appetizers and share then I think you should seize the day and have some fun with the situation.

I definitely agree here that you should feel free to order whatever the restauant offers, in any combination that you please. No restaurant worth its salt would ever refuse a request to have two starters instead of one main course (the profit margin is usually better on aps, anyway). But I feel obligated to add, that if you know you want to share a whole bunch of appetizers, you might be better served in the bar or lounge. First come the simple logisitcs-- most tables in restaurants are small and designed for course-by-course dining, whereas you can always fit something else on the bar. Furthermore, most servers expect that anyone sitting at one of their tables will be ordering a multi-course meal, while most bartenders are happy for whatever food sales might come their way. So, whether it is right or not, you are much more likely to get better service in this instance from the bartender or cocktail server, who feels that you are augmenting his sales, rather than from a table server, who feels that you are diminishing his. Trust me, take a tip from the Spanish here.

Edited by joanner (log)
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  • 3 weeks later...

My budget contraints at this point in my life tend to keep me away from what anyone might consider a "fine" restaurant, so my experience there is limisted.

That said, I *am* a regular at the best bar (as far as I'm concerned!) in Charlotte, and I can say with utter confidence that the difference in service once the waitstaff and the manager (who's a homebrewer like myself :biggrin: brownie points) know your name is incredible, at least in a smallish establishment like that.

My group of friends got a great laugh a few weeks ago, when an obviously new waitress treated us like we'd never been there before.

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When I do radio appearances on call-in shows, it's almost inevitable that someone will call up and express the view that this sort of dining advice is only applicable to fine-dining restaurants in a few major cities. But, as you've experienced, you can derive great benefits from being a regular at most any restaurant; in any city, suburb, strip, small town or subdivision; at any price point.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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But, as you've experienced, you can derive great benefits from being a regular at most any restaurant; in any city, suburb, strip, small town or subdivision; at any price point.

Precisely. Back in the area where I grew up (Rutherford County, NC, if you ever find yourself in the western part of the state) there's a little Vietnamese place that I insist on visiting every time I head home to see the family; it's a little place, maybe 5-6 tables, but the chef knows me, comes out to talk, brings myself and whoever I'm with random treats (banana cannonli one day, fried seasoned pork skins another)

The place is tiny, built inside an old Skat's fast food restaurant, and basically a greasy spoon type place with an asian menu, but it's always a great experience.

Edited by Malkavian (log)
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  • 1 year later...

I think it boils down to:

1) Always be honest about your wants/needs/desires with your server (as if he or she was your doctor or attorney.)

2) It's easier to care than it is to pretend to care.

3) Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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  • 5 months later...

Interesting article.

1- Not all Sommeliers are equal in front of the Wine Gods.

In case you know your wine, stick to it.

2- I tailor my food and service expectations according to the restaurant level being visited.

3- Most definitely, being a regular beats all bets.

4- In case you spot a salt and pepper mill at the table, run....

5- If you can put one over the staff, do it. Not all wealthy or culinary aware people always dress nice.

I was once asked at the table whether I knew as to what is the difference between soda and tonic water besides the bubbles. I answered that he would pay the bill if my answer is correct and I would leave a USD100.00 bill if I was wrong.

He did not pick up the bet and he stayed far away from my table. T'was a nice meal though.

Edited by Nicolai (log)
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  • 11 months later...
One question - how do you actually request a sommelier's help? Every time my husband or I have a question about the food, wine, or a combo, the waiter answers our questions very confidently, making me think that we shouldn't need the sommelier.

I hate when that happens, because it means I'm not going to be good buddies with the server -- I'm going to have to go around him or her; they shouldn't put you in that position. So, you just have to say, "We'd like to speak to the sommelier about our wine order, please." If the restaurant has a sommelier, you shouldn't feel bad about asking to speak to the sommelier. What the heck else is the sommelier there for? If the server says, "Is there anything I can answer," just smile and repeat yourself, "We'd like to speak to the sommelier about our wine order, please." Don't feel bad about it. Indeed, if you feel the server has been obstructionist, you should mention it to the sommelier.

And how about if we bring our own wine - is it appropriate to ask that someone taste it and offer food recommendations? And who should you ask? The chef, sommelier, waiter?

That's not a situation I've ever come across. BYO isn't all that common in New York, and when I'm traveling elsewhere I don't have access to my wine collection (if you can call it that). So I'm not particularly experienced when it comes to BYO etiquette. Someone else is going to have to chime in here. Is this something that's done? My guess is no, but I don't really know.

I have yet to see a BYO restaurant with a somelier, since they usually don't sell wine. However, if you want to enhance your dining experience, send a glass of your wine to the chef. You might be pleased with what he might send back. We had special dessert on the house after we did it last time...

Who said you could not play with your food?

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