Saturday, November 3, 2012

Menu Reading for Dummies

   A quick guide from your not-so-helpful server

     Avoiding problems is my number one priority. In no way do I enjoy seeing a customer's hand suddenly thrust in the air, their behind hovering over their seat in their impatience, like the classroom teacher's pet during quiz time. Nor do I appreciate approaching a table while I'm carrying a heavy stack of plates, a drizzle of olive oil slowly running down my forearm, and having to listen to a "my night is now ruined!" story.

     When a dish arrives incorrectly because of a kitchen or service error, well, that's our bad: "Let me just stick these plates on my head and I'll get your dish fixed." But a more sinister possibility exists The customer didn't bother to read their menu. In these instances of blatant negligence, I may be tempted to drop my stack of plates on the customer's head.
     Tip #1:  A menu will typically have large words in bold, followed by smaller type. Those are titles, used to denote categories of food. "Pasta," for example, will mean the dishes listed will contain glutinous, flour-based concoctions. This is important to remember in an Italian restaurant; If lamb shank is listed as an ingredient for an item in the pasta section, it will be pasta with lamb, and not the other way around.

     Tip #2:  If it seems too good to be true it probably is. If something costs half the going rate of other items on the menu, it's likely to be a smaller plate (this is assuming the guest has ignored the "appetizer" heading). Or, when the lamb pasta costs 10 bucks less than the lamb entree, it is again another clue that the dish is more pasta than meat (I can't begin to count how many people order that damn pasta thinking they've just gotten the best deal on the menu.)

     Tip #3:  Know restaurant "types." Is the place down-home style, with a bunch of fluffy, middle-aged people chugging diet cokes and eating fries? Or a trendy spot with suits and designer dresses slurping down oysters? This gives huge insight to the menu when a customer decides to skip reading the ingredients. In the first scenario, a burger will likely come dressed the old-fashioned way, with lettuce, tomato, mayo, etc. In the second case, one can expect the cow patty to be topped with something sautéed, a stinky cheese, and possibly served on brioche with an herb-spiked aioli.

     Tip #4:  Have a sense of adventure. Dining out is not an Indian Jones' movie; No poison darts will fly from the wall, or trapdoors suddenly open beneath anyone's chair if they order wrong. If the restaurant is busy, chances are the unexpected item will be good. Trying something new is fun, and the reason many people go out to begin with.

     Tip #5:  Don't ask the server, "What do you like?" Nine times out of ten the answer is disingenuous because a) all the food started tasting the same to server years ago b) the server spent the afternoon doing Yoga and making pumpkin granola and not eating ravioli in cream sauce  c) the server has heard that question too many times to make more than a standard effort. A better question, is "between these two dishes, what would you recommend?"  

     Tip #6:  If a customer is allergic to anything commonly used in restaurant food (onions, garlic, wine, citrus) they need to stay home tell the server! This is important, because most of our sauces contain at least trace amounts of these ingredients.  On the flip side of this, the fastest way to piss off the server is to cry wolf about an allergy. For example: a customer doesn't want garlic because they are avoiding scaring away their date with dragon breath, or they are on the gluten-free diet bandwagon because a friend told them they "might" have an allergy to gluten. When the term allergy is used falsely, the multi-step procedures we have in place hand-typed instructions, a conversation with the kitchen, separate sauce preparations and panshas been an exercise in futility. Customers who pull this kind of garbage on a busy Friday night are self-centered asshats.

     Tip #7:  Finally, don't forget to have fun! This is a bit of a repeat of tip 4, but I can't emphasize it enough. Customers who ask good questions and are open to new experiences have more fun and make the server's job more enjoyable too!
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  1. ROFL! My favorites are #4 and #7: #7 because too many people forget that going out to eat is a fun event, and #4 because I think you just came up with a great theme for a new restaurant. Seriously. Adventurous types would have to choose a seat at the bar, not knowing which seats were booby-trapped. And that is just the beginning, there could be arrows (with suction cups instead of points for liability issues) being shot from holes in the wall, and you a mentioned trap doors. I think the trap doors need to in the path to the restroom. Positively genius! :D

    1. Haha, that would be a fun place to work. The darts should come out for every cliche question, that would teach people to be more thoughtful.
      It's exhausting how seriously some customers take choosing their food. The interrogation, the himming, the hawing.. we have a large menu so this can go on forever sometimes. I always say, go with your first choice, then come back to try the other stuff later.