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A Guide to the Becoming the Perfect Restaurant Customer

Dining out is a luxury that many don’t quite appreciate. Even in the advent of reality food shows and personalities like Anthony Bourdain and Bobby Flay in their faces, society has yet to really grasp what it means to have a proper meal. Many don’t exude the proper etiquette to make themselves professional diners.

In larger cities like New York, Miami and LA, the restaurant customer is provided with uncompromising food and unparalleled service. Even so, many don’t understand the guidelines of restaurants, but help is on the way. Here some of the tips to follow when you go to your next fancy meal and it will ensure that you will be the perfect restaurant goer.

Know Your Surroundings

Dining is about the one-on-one or group experience. But in becoming the perfect customer, you need to study what’s around you the moment you walk into the restaurant. The reason being is that your surroundings are an indication of the pulse of the restaurant.

Sitting in a prime table in the dining room is great. But look around. You are probably one of maybe seven other tables that were sat within a matter of minutes. There’s a good chance that your server is in the weeds (that’s jargon for being over-the-top busy) and he will need time to catch up. You need to bare will him and be patient. That means don’t complain when your drink comes after your first course (the bartender is probably making 100 cocktails around now). Your good attitude will not only win points with the server but it will impress your date.

Remain attentive to your surroundings throughout the meal. If the dining room begins to empty, and the time is getting late, then there’s a good chance the restaurant is nearing a close. A major dining faux pas is being the last two people in the dining room even though the place was closed for an hour. You may be focused on your date but you can’t ignore that you are being rude to hold up an entire tired staff for personal pleasure.

Keep A Close Eye On the Time

Restaurants are built on pockets of time — those are the busier, moderate and slower moments of the evening. Before making a reservation, you should know all about these pockets. They very important. Also, before making reservations, be aware to check the time the kitchen closes — we’ll get to that in a moment.

Early reservations — usually from 5 pm to 7 pm — will result in a very attentive service since it’s the slower period. Coming in for dinner after 7 pm, you should expect a bit of a lull in service since that’s considered the “dinner rush”, and the chances of waiting for your server or food could be delayed since its the most chaotic. Patience and understanding are very key for this pocket of time. Arriving after 9:30 pm will again give you a more enjoyable time since the restaurant slowing. But this is where you need to keep an eye on the time the kitchen closes.

Yes, you are allowed to make reservations up until the kitchen closes but you will certainly not make any friends in putting your name down at 10:15 when the kitchen closes at 10:30 on a Tuesday. Keep in mind some things: the kitchen workers are probably entering their 12th or a 13th hour at this time, and the server is finishing a 10th hour of work and already dealt with 75 humans. Bottom line, everyone is pooped at this point and just wants to go home. Your understanding of time will make you a hero customer. Every restaurant’s “pockets” are different — especially when it comes to bigger cities like New York or Los Angeles — since operation hours vary.

Modifications, Sch-Modifications

A chef has designed the menu as an art form. It’s a story told through his palette that he wants to share with you. So why try to destroy the creation for selfish reasons? Unwarranted modifications to dishes are another big no-no if you are trying to perfect your dining skills.

Simple modifications — like substituting different a vegetable for another vegetable or subtracting an item — are acceptable. But when you start playing Mr. Potato Head with the menu, then you will drive a server and a chef bonkers. They are reasons the chef has put the dish together — either it’s a price point decision or a flavor choice — and you will need to accept that because this is the cuisine YOU chose to eat.

Allergies or diet restrictions are a different story. The chef is open to adopting a dish if the diner has an allergy to shellfish or is a vegan. But you have to define to yourself if this is truly an allergy and not a preference.

Learn the Etiquette

General dining etiquette must be learned before coming to dinner. You’d be surprised how many diners coming into high-end restaurants in high-end spots like the Upper West Side and Beverly Hills and don’t really know how to dine.
Jokes about the price of the items on the menu isn’t a good look. Also, childish ways to order like calling an appetizer “Appies” doesn’t bode well for the confidence of your server; it’ll simply annoy them.

The cell phone needs to put away the moment you sit down. Waving away your server because you are on a phone call is highly-unprofessional. The reason you are dining is to be social and not chat away with your bestie on the phone. Lastly, you can’t skimp on the tip. The servers and bartenders live off the tips and work hard to earn them. So when the check comes, you must make sure you leave 20 percent — the days of 15 and 18 percent tipping was something of the 1980s.

Don’t Make the Rules

Diners often mistake servers for servants. It sounds harsh but it’s the truth in some parts of the world. They want to control and call the shots because they are paying for it. Yes, the diner does essentially rent that spot of the restaurant for an hour. But don’t let it go to your head.

The most common mistake diners make actually happens when they initially sit down. They begin redecorating the space they are in. That means they take the chair from the table next to them and use it as a coat check (a big no-no). When the host sits you at a table, it’s for a reason. There are reasons you have been placed in that table. There’s rotation flow that is designed to let the restaurant properly operate. So it’s not proper to choose your own table. Also, if you are two people, then you shouldn’t choose a table for four.

Servers pouring wine for a customer is another area to be mindful of. A glass of wine is generally six ounces and that’s what you’re getting. Asking for more just makes you look cheap and gluttonous. These are simple rules put in place by the hierarchy of the restaurant gods to help your favorite restaurant survive. So you must obey them.

Read the Menu First; Ask Questions Second

The menu is a traveler’s guide and a tool to the restaurant they chose. It’s carefully put together to give you a complete understanding of the cuisine in front of you. Study it thoroughly the moment you sit down and then make logical decisions. If there’s something that’s unclear, like the definition of kohlrabi or kaffir, then you should ask.

Servers are already balancing a multitude of things when they are at tableside to take your order. Asking silly questions will shed points away from you instantly. They are many common questions that will annoy your server. What is good here? Is the steak from the area? Do you have a salad on the menu? Internally the server is asking him one question: did you read the menu? You don’t want that moment as a customer.

These unspoken rules aren’t created to be undermining, but rather simplifying. In the end, the dining experience isn’t a hard one. It’s about consideration and letting the experience come to you.

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