Matters Of Taste

How To Dine Out Satisfactorily
Without Having To Think About It

While the times haven’t really changed all that much, the restaurant scene has seen a lot of evolutions and revolutions lately. I also note a sea change in the tastes and habits of diners, who are getting excited about restaurants much different from the ones that would have grabbed them a few years ago.

The biggest change is that few people want to be bothered to prepare for a dinner out. They feel that bygone imperatives like making reservations, dressing up, or knowing anything much about the place they’re headed to or its food are unnecessary impingements on their personal freedom.

These changes in the way people make dining decisions has made me re-think the way I present the information I gather and disseminate. I must follow the needs and wants of my customers, or I will be out of a job.

Here, then, are the New Rules Of Great Dining Today.

1. Go To The New Place. This just makes sense. A restaurant that just opened will be nice and clean and new. It will have a bright, young, good-looking staff of servers who are happy because their lives have changed by the thrill of a new career. Proof that this is a good idea: Restaurants that just opened are full to bursting, while the ones that opened last year are half-empty.

2. It’s All About Portion Size. Really, what does it say when a restaurant piles your plate high with its food? It says that they know what their customers like, and are happy to give it to them. Consider the picture of a gourmet lowering his eyelids as he carefully picks at the three shrimp with mango-truffle sauce. Doesn’t he look like he’s in prayer or something? Trying to convince himself that the dab of food before him is special is what it is. Compare that with the look on the face of someone who just got twenty-three big fried shrimp surrounded by as many oysters, five fillets of catfish, a soft-shell crab, and a thousand fries. Their expression says it all: Wow!

3. Familiarity Breeds Content. We all know how badly our budgets are stretched by the cost of gas and all the money those bastards in Washington steal from us. And when you get a restaurant check that says the meal you just had punched a hole in your wallet to the tune of, say, $20 per person, how can you take a chance on dishes you never heard of? Warning: unhappiness lurks there, brought on by the great effort necessary to open your mind to the unknown. You know spinach-artichoke dip, chicken Caesar salad, Southwestern egg rolls, ribs falling off the bone, veal parmesan with lots of bubbling red sauce and melted cheese, and the all-American hamburger will be solid. Really, who was ever hungry for lamb sweetbreads?

4. Nothing Succeeds Like Success. Another piece of simple logic: If a restaurant is so good that they’re opening many locations across the country, isn’t that a massive vote of approval by other customers? It’s like the Tea Party Movement: how could so many average people be wrong? Multi-unit restaurants (or “stores,” as they’re known in the industry) have their act together, or else they wouldn’t make so much money. Which side is happier: the majority, or the losers?

5. Tipping: Threat Or Menace? Think about it. Do the customers of the business you work for hand you a few extra dollars just for doing your job properly? Don’t you think you should do a good job to begin with? Let the people who wait on you in restaurants know that you expect them to get it right, exactly as you like it, and that any slip-up will take a bite out of that fifteen percent. And that you expect a heartfelt “Thank you!” in acknowledgment of what really is your generosity.

6. The Wisdom Of The Crowd Is Gospel. The greatest thing about the internet as far as dining out is concerned is that hundreds of web sites take polls of their anonymous readers as to whether restaurants are good. These are real people, not those more-tasteful-than-thou types who write restaurant reviews for a living. What are their qualifications? What do they have against the average guy looking for a great meal for his twenty-dollar bill? How do they know how it feels to spend that kind of money when they get all their meals for free?

7. If It’s On Television, It’s Good. Ask anyone who’s tried to break into television and you’ll find out that it’s only possible if you’re really, really different. Same with restaurants. If Guy Fieri says its good, you know it will be. (After all, he used to be a cook.) The best thing that ever happened was when the secret finally got out that cheap places that don’t spend money on fancy food or dining rooms and instead give you a lot of edible food are what most people really want.

8. Drink Water. Did you know that drinks of all kinds carry the biggest markups of anything a restaurant serves? Why should you pay two bucks for a glass of iced tea, when it costs the restaurant almost nothing to make it–even if they refill the glass five or six times? Thank God water is free. And if wine seems to be the thing, bring your own. When the waiter says something about a corkage fee, point out that box wine has no cork. So there.

9. Wear A Clean Golf Shirt And New Jeans. There’s no doubt that it’s more of an occasion when you dress up to dine out. Fortunately, almost no restaurant anywhere requires such things as jackets or ties anymore. All that matters is that you look good to yourself. And to that babe of a waitress. (Why did we bother to go out before the waitresses were allowed to wear T-shirts and shorts?)

10. Why Can’t We Learn From The Chinese? The biggest nation on earth is eating our lunch in the export markets. They clearly know something that we don’t. Same with Chinese restaurants. Big, big platters of food, all the rice you want for no extra charge, entree prices under $10, everything chopped up so it doesn’t make any difference whether it’s prime beef or free range chicken or any of those scams. The servers are too humble to expect tips. And they make it so easy to do take-out! Yet all Chinese restaurants are very prosperous. How do they do it? I wish all the so-called gourmet restaurants would learn that.

Again, it doesn’t take any special thought or skill or pretentiousness to eat in restaurants anymore. Just a big appetite and a twenty-dollar bill.

 


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