Monday, June 19, 2006

Rant: How to Have a Good Time Out

Too many people head out to a meal and don't seem to even WANT to have a good time. You're spending an assload of money on food--you're paying for the whole experience which includes good company. Plus, if you're in a bad mood in passes off to your server and colors your enjoyment of the food. A $30 piece of fish is going to taste a helluva lot better if you're in a good mood than if you're out with your cousin you can't stand who just brought his bawling daughter with.

Here're some tips to maximize your night out:

Pick your partners well - Make sure that who actually WANT to go eat with the people you're eating with. Why are you going out together? Do you like the same food? This last point is key. Working at a seafood restaurant (with menus prominently displayed on windows and online) I'm still surprised at how many times there's at least one person in a party who does not like fish. Well why the fuck would you pick a seafood place to go? Or why would you take your friend there? Unless you hate your friend. That's probably it.

Order the Same - I don't mean order the same food, but try your best to order the same number of courses per person. This is especially with larger parties. It is incredibly difficult from both a service and kitchen perspective to time a six-top where two people are getting appetizers and the rest are getting entrees. Do we crowd up the table? Do the other four watch as the two munch on their salads? If you're going to get appetizers, everybody get something! Or, if you want to save money, take advantage of your collective buying power and get a few appetizers and salads to share. Or, in the rare instances where you're the odd man out for ordering appetizers, suck it up and skip it. Come back by yourself or with someone who actually wants to eat.

Keep it Small - I'm going to lay this out right now--it is next to impossible to have a truly great dining experience with a party bigger than four, unless you're at a set menu type establishment or at a place that specializes in large parties (BBQ joints, Chinese seafood restaurants, Spengers, et al). The basic Cal Cuisine culinary model is made for intimate dinners. Food is cooked quickly, cools off fast, and is artfully presented. Appetizers are usually made for 2-4 people to get a few bites each. Bottles of wine are perfect for 2-4 people. Plus, you can't hear each other, people feel left out, and on and on and on. If you are going to go out in a big group--and I definitely don't want to discourage you--pick your restaurant (and dining companions) well. The best way to do it is to order everything tapas style. Get a round of salads to share. Then get a round of appetizers. Then a round of entrees. And a round of desserts. Double up on certain things if necessary. You'll get to taste more of what the restaurant has to offer AND it relieves the stress on the kitchen. Maybe for your party of six you only get three or four things each round. That should be enough for a couple bites each and there is so much more that you can try? I don't know about you, but I don't necessarily need to eat more than three or four bites of the same thing anyway. And if you do, just order another one! See how that works? And if you insist, absolutely insist, on doing it the old fashioned way in a large group--be patient, know what you want, and try to follow the previous entry about ordering your courses.

Pay for your Table - This probably will tick people off the most, but from a restaurant standpoint it is of paramount rudeness for a table to sit and sit and camp and camp without spending money. It's rude for the restaurant and for the customers waiting. Try to show up all together. If you can't, order a glass of wine or a snack while you're waiting. If you want to hang out for an hour or more after you're done with your entrees, that's fine but order dessert, coffee, more wine, port, etc. A restaurant is not a lounge or a library--it's a business providing a space and a service. Use that space and that service while you're there. If you're done, get up and move on. Find a coffee shop or a bar or a lounge to continue your conversation. Move to the restaurant's bar if it has one.

Don't be the Last Ones There - Pay attention to what's going on around you if you're at a restaurant after they've stopped seating. Are you the last customers there? Yes? Okay, what's the staff doing? Are they cleaning up and doing work? No? Are they in the back folding napkins? Yes? Chances are you're keeping three or four or five people there waiting for you. You should probably go. Naturally if you're still eating and ordering food this doesn't apply. But if you're just hanging out and talking--you're done with coffee and dessert and have been for a while--you should make your way out as soon as it looks like things are winding down at the restaurant. It's just courteous. If you do show up and get seated late in an empty or near-empty restaurant, be considerate as well. Order promptly (the kitchen has infinitely more clean-up to do than the front of the house), but there's no need to rush--just pay attention. As long as you're there and spending money, the restaurant is glad to have you. In fact, order a lot. Get wine. Get four courses. And tip well, especially if it looks like you've kept your server there for quite a while. Surprisingly, most servers aren't necessarily in a rush to get home (most want to make money) especially if he or she knows that this late diner is a good eater and a generous tipper.

Pepper me with comments and complaints. Please, for the love of god.

1 comment:

DoctorGirl SF said...
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