Sunday, February 18, 2007

Amateur Night

There's a phenomenon in the hospitality business called "Amateur Night." These are nights that for whatever reason seem to involve a disproportionate number of inexperienced diners or diners who are out of their element in a particular restaurant. Amateur night is bad for a number of reasons, the primary one is that the amateur night diner is typically more demanding and more likely to have unreasonable expectations while also spending less and tipping worse than a more seasoned diner.

The amateur diner will often only eat someplace if they can make a reservation, by doing so they have disqualified themselves from eating at some of the most compelling dining options in the area. The amateur diner also typically must eat between 7 and 8 on a Friday or a Saturday and then is shocked and/or confused when they find themselves in a loud, crowded restaurant and their food is taking longer than they think it should. The amateur diner becomes angry and/or disconsolate when they don't recognize anything on the menu, can't find a wine that they know, or aren't given their first choice of tables. The amateur goes out to eat when everyone else goes out to eat, and is more likely to find as much pleasure dining at Macaroni Grill as they would at Nopa.

So how do you avoid being an Amateur Night diner?

1. Know your restaurant. Research where you're dining in advance. Is this the place for you and your dining companions? Are you just going there because "you heard that it's good"? Most restaurants have websites with recent or representative menus (and prices). If not, check for reviews online (but take reviews from sites like citysearch and [especially] Yelp! with a metric tonne of salt. Also, don't go to a restaurant just to have one specific thing that you saw on their menu, that way you won't be disappointed if they're out of it or not serving it that night.

2. Do you really have to eat out on a Friday or a Saturday night? If you do, do you have to eat at 7:30? If you answered yes to both questions than you are an incurable amateur diner. Plan your evening differently--go out to eat at 5:30 or 6 and then continue your evening out with the theatre, drinks, or dessert elsewhere. Or, conversely, have a cocktail hour at home or at a nearby bar and then go have dinner at 8:30 of 9:00. Or hell, go see your movie first and then go eat at 10 o'clock! It's Saturday night! Where do you have to be the next morning? Hungover in the shower, that's where. Most restaurants in any city worth living in seat until at least 10PM, usually much later (especially on weekends).

3. Don't expect too much. People who dine out irregularly, especially people who go out for a "fancy" dinner only a few times a year, are expecting those meals to be absolutely transcendant or mind-blowing. The fact is, most of these people are going to be just as sated and pleased after a meal at your basic upscale casual-dining chain establishment as they are at the finest restaurants. Frequent dining out and cooking in is the key to understanding and appreciating the differences between restaurants, flavors, ingredient quality, etc. And the fact is a lot of expensive restaurants are doing the exact same thing as your local Chili's, only with better ingredients. And once again remember if you're eating at 7:30 or so on a Saturday, you're experiencing a restaurant at its busiest, which means food will take longer and the servers and bartenders will be busier than at virtually any other time during the week.

4. Be understanding. Know that, with very few exceptions, chefs, cooks, servers, bartenders, and managers are doing everything in their power to provide you with an optimum dining experience. If you're having to wait for food, a drink refill, etc. it's not due to laziness, incompetence, or mismanagement. It's because it's fucking busy. Also, if you've already exhibited some of the aforementioned signs of being an amateur diner, you've probably already been deprioritized (usually unconsciously) in the minds of the staff because the staff knows that, no matter what, you're going to tip a perfectly calculated to the penny 12-15% on an already sub-standard bill. Obviously you'll still get good service, but any extra attention that staff might be able to provide will go elsewhere.

And I do mean to sound bitchy and elitist, because all that I've said is true. I don't eat out often on Friday or Saturday nights when I am free for these reasons. Off-peak times, afternoons, and weeknights are the best times to eat out and have a truly good time.

Humans are creatures of habit, routine, and convention. Break out of it. Stay in and cook dinner on a Saturday night. Have people over for a party. Go out to that hot new tapas bar on a Wednesday. You'll be a better person for it.


kathryn said...

AMEN! This should be reprinted in newspapers' restaurant sections worldwide.

David J.D. said...

Thanks, Kathryn!

Zack said...

I am only able to eat dinner at restaurants on Friday and Saturday, since I work evenings Sunday through Thursday. So tough luck, Zack. I liked (weird Oakland Belgian-American) bar Luka's, but it's really popular now, so I haven't been able to go for at least a year.

If you're having to wait for food, a drink refill, etc. it's not due to laziness, incompetence, or mismanagement. It's because it's fucking busy.
That's great. I'm still thirsty. Good to know that they are trying and failing, rather than just not trying. Also sometimes it is laziness, incompetence, or mismanagement.

The upside is that my pre-work lunches are epic.