Thursday, November 16, 2006

Restaurant Etiquette

In keeping with the Mental floss blog ( which has been posting excerpts from Amy Vanderbilts "Complete book of Etiquette", I thought I would post my own version of restaurant etiquette based on my experiences this last week.

1) When you enter the library or restaurant it is good manners to respond when the staff greet you. Dont walk past us as if we dont exist.

2) If your table is booked for 7:30pm it is entirely appropriate for you to arrive at 7:00pm to partake of a pre-dinner drink. It is completely rude to walk in at 8:30pm then expect to sit in the lounge for over an hour without a word of apology. If you are going to be late, the courtesy of a phone call informing us is very much appreciated.

3) If you have any dietary requirements, the time to tell us is before you order your meal. Not five minutes after the dish that you ordered is placed in front of you. Chefs work with knives you know, and they get a tad unhappy when we return food to the kitchen after they have spent the last twenty minutes preparing it to be told that the customer is "allergic" to shellfish, so can they do something else with the scallops and crab raviolis.

4) If you are going to order your meat well done, be prepared for it to have the texture and consistency of shoe leather. By cooking it well done, you are effectively removing any moisture from the inside of the meat, hence it becomes tougher and stringier. It chefspeak when a check is called on with a steak well done it is usually shouted down the line as " One beef - fucked!". It is considered bad form to return said steak to the kitchen to be redone because you dont know the difference between medium and well done.

5) Vegetarians eat vegetables. Last time I looked fish, chicken, rabbit, and veal are all generally considered to be animals, and hence if you are vegetarian then they are supposed to be off-limits to you.

6) Menus are there for a reason, the chefs are in the building from 8am preparing their ingredients for the evening service. They prepare their "mis-en-place" according to the recipes that they follow for the dishes. So if you come in and decide that you want a dover sole meunierre, dont be surprised if we cant do it. If the kitchen has the gear and crucially the time to prepare it, by all means we will do it. If you wish to order off the menu, have the courtesy and foresight to let us know in advance. Then anything is possible (as long as its legal of course!)

8) We spend several hours a day preparing the restaurant - polishing everything in sight virtually, laying the tables up in fairly precise settings. For fecks sake when you sit down DONT move the glasses into the middle of the table. Im not Inspector Gadget, I cant say "go go gadget arm" and my bionic arm will telescope out over the middle of the table and fill your glass up with wine/water/whatever. The glasses are there for a reason. You have more than plenty of personal space, leave the damned settings alone.

9) on the subject of at the table. Dont sit half a mile away from the table. Again this boils down to our lack of gadget arms. If we cant reach the table to put the plates down, then you aint getting fed!

10) We appreciate that you are here for a nice meal, often with company, friends, girlfriends, business partners whatever. All we ask is that the few occasions when we approach the table to ask for water, food choices, describe the bread, whatever, do us the courtesy of shutting up and giving us your undivided attention for those few moments. We will be out of your way in less time, and you are going to get much better service that way.

11) Contrary to popular belief the words Please and Thank you are still very much part of the English language and it would be nice to hear them a bit more often. They go a long way to getting better service.

12) Also despite popular opinion food allergies are surprisingly rare. Im not in any way belittling those people with geniune allergies to nuts, shellfish etc. But your latest faddy diet does not count as an allergy to whatever. If you dont like something be brave enough to say that you dont like something. You wont hurt the chefs feelings, and they can usually leave certain things off the dishes without major problems. Just dont make out some fantasy allergy, because we usually spot the bullshitters when they subsequently ask for something they are allegedly allergic to.

Thats about all for now, but Im sure that over the next few busy weeks Im bound to think of more. Maybe I ought to write a book about it?


RighterLady said...

Contrary to what you have written, food allergies specifically are not RARE at all. They're quite pervasive in today's society and millions of people suffer from them (and they're just the ones who've had them diagnosed).
Take care that as a service provider you aren't belittling a customer with a "fantasy" allergy -very wierd food allergies do exist! For some of us, it makes dining out close to impossible.

I agree that patrons should not pretend to be allergic to things they simply don't like, but I believe you owe every customer the benefit of the doubt.

grazza said...

We treat anybody who declares an allergy to us equally sensatively, after all, as you rightly point out some people are seriously allergic to certain food items, with fatal consequences. I have several friends who have to carry epi-pens with them where ever they go incase they come into contact with peanuts or shellfish. Neil is so allergic to peanuts that if I eat a snickers bar and breath on him, he comes out in hives and suffers anaphylactic shock. However we continue to be astounded by the people who "apparently" are allergic to products who a) seem to know very little about what they are supposedly allergic to b) consequently order a dish which very specifically contains the item they are allegedly allergic to. I dont know about you, but if I suffered from an allergy to a certain food product, then I would make sure I knew what I could and couldnt eat, and would ensure that I dont order anything that contains said product. Likewise if I had an allergy to a food item, I would make sure that I spoke clearly to someone BEFORE I ordered my meal to ensure that the dishes I had in mind to order wouldnt present any problems. I wouldnt bring up the issue after the plate has been put down in front of me.

I still maintain that genuine food allergies are quite rare, I believe that I have seen a figure quoted that less than one in three hundred people suffers from a food allergy (that source remains elusive, although I recall it might have been Jeffery Steingarten quoting in an article for Vogue.)


RighterLady said...

I absolutely agree and always check ahead of time (I myself am of the epi-pen variety). I would be interested to see that quote if you can find it, though might I daresay that Vogue may not be the best source of information on the topic? :)
I'm fairly certain its more along the lines of "one in three hundred people suffers from a SEVERE food allergy."
Thank you for the prompt response. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

grazza said...

Im inclined to agree that Vogue isnt the best reference to use, but having just done a quick google search the best "guestimate" I could find suggested 1% of the population. I would be interested to know if that is medically diagnosed or just the response to a random consumer survey, which then extrapolates the results. Im glad you enjoy the blog, and when I get a chance (probably after xmas) I will check out yours too.


Anonymous said...

My friend's 3-year-old is allergic to peanuts. Like anaphylactic-shock-carries-EpiPen-Jr. allergic. Whenever we go out, and that subject comes up with the waiter, I make sure to point out that the allergy is serious and not a "fad" or a "mom diagnosis". The servers have always been very conscientious about this, for which we're grateful.

hiromi said...

when I was young, I was taught this by my grandfather who was Japanese ambassador in US. when we go to Michelin-star restaurants and order bottles of vintage wine we should leave a half glass for the chef so that chef would know what sommelier chooses for his dishes and can improve his cooking to suit the taste of wine.
One of the best sommelier also detailed his philosophy on wine-food pairings, saying that not only should the wine burnish the food, but also the food should burnish the wine.
"Food and wine are in a marriage where both should get better," he said. "It's a two-way relationship."
Is this correct? When I order the vintage, I still do this but I was laughed by my colleague saying how stupid I am….. would you please tell me if I am wrong?