How to get the best out of your dining experience.
There have been times where I’ve served customers their food, checked on them during and after their meal to ensure everything was fine, they responded positively, paid their bill in full and departed, only to leave a negative review minutes later across several platforms. They’ve just paid full price for a meal they didn’t enjoy. Their night is wasted, the restaurant has a black mark, everyone loses.
10 years in hospitality as both a patron, waiter, cook and restaurant owner have taught me a lot of things – namely the big one is how to ensure that every meal I have in a restaurant can be great, despite any other circumstance that may seem to get in the way.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a poor experience from dining out – follow these
tips to ensure everything about your dining experience is the best it can be, from the moment you walk in the door to the time you pay your bill.
- Do your research
look up a place before you sit down – have a look at the menu, read their manifesto and decide if it’s right for you. It’s much easier to find a place whose cuisine and ethos aligns with what you already feel like rather than getting somewhere to change their menu options for you.
Restaurants like to please their customers and accommodate them in any way they can, but they also perform best when staying true to their original mission. Sure, a modern upscale west-Chinese restaurant that focuses on Sichuan style cuisine could probably prepare a Cantonese style sweet and sour dish if you asked them to, but as it’s not on the menu and not particularly in their wheelhouse, you may find yourself paying $26.00 for something that is no different to the local Chinese take away shop for less than half the price.
In short, find a restaurant that serves what you want, rather than finding what you want and getting a restaurant to serve it.
- Raise concerns early
If there is an issue with your food that you’ve noticed after the first bite, let your waiter know immediately – this is your best chance to get your meal replaced promptly. If you wait till after you’ve finished to speak up about it, you may get the item removed from your bill but it doesn’t undo the fact that you’ve had to sit through and choke down something you didn’t think was up to scratch.
Even if it’s something you feel a little embarrassed about, like if the dish you received wasn’t quite what you had expected it to be – there’s a chance they may still be able to fix it for you. They are here to help, after all.
“Restaurant owners know that repeat customers are key to a successful business. They want you to come back..”
Unfortunately, there are those who like to exploit the “complain and your meal is free” tactic, so some weary managers may be more reluctant to comp the meal if you send back an empty plate. Generally speaking, owners and managers try to give the customer the benefit of the doubt but speaking up before a meal is finished definitely improves the chances.
- Be up front about allergies and dietary requirements
A menu description is not an ingredients list – don’t assume that a mushroom risotto is vegan because it doesn’t list any meat – it may contain small amounts of beef stock, and that dessert that sounds gluten free may use flour.
Any good restaurant these days can cater to almost all dietary and allergy requirements these days – just let them know. In some cases it’s better to phone or email ahead to give them a chance to prepare something if there aren’t any existing menu options for you.
- Cues and etiquette
You don’t need to be able to distinguish between four kinds of forks when going out to a casual restaurant, but there are some cues that almost any venue that offers table service will train their staff to pick up on. Things like:
- Close your menu when you are ready to order.
- Use eye contact to get attention
- Put your cutlery together on your plate when you are done
- I’ve done all those things, I’m trying my best to enjoy myself and I came here with a good attitude, but the waiter is rude, the food sucks, or I waited too long. My night has just been ruined and there’s nothing that can fix it.
This is probably the biggest thought you had when you started to read this, and arguably the one that most people can relate to. It is true that not every restaurant experience is always perfect 100% of the time. There are a million things that can go wrong and managing a busy dinner service can prove a difficult task.
But you’re thinking “hey – that’s not my problem. This is my one night I get to eat out in a week/month/decade/whatever and I’m a paying customer so I expect a standard of service and quality.”
All is not lost. Try to keep your cool. Remember that waiters are hired for their ability to be hospitable – it is very rare that a waiter is intentionally rude and is more often than not just a misunderstanding. Furthermore, waiters work for tips on top of their wages. If they have concluded that there is nothing they can do for you to earn that tip – they may abandon you altogether and focus on the tables that are happy already. (this probably goes against many restaurant policies and is less common, but it does happen.)
Waiters are also human beings. If you are rude or demanding to them, they may feel intimidated by you, and in turn, avoid you also.
If it’s a dire issue that requires you to speak to the manager or owner of the business, the same rules apply. They will try their best to be on your side and improve things for you in any capacity they can – but if they deduce from your words and actions that there is nothing they can do to help you, or if making a scene is distracting other customers. there’s a chance you will be politely asked to leave.
“Remember that the restaurant is on your side.”
To conclude, communication is key. The more information you give the better your chances are of enjoying yourself. Remember that the restaurant is on your side. Any restaurateur worth their salt will do anything in their capacity to fix any problem, provided they know there is a problem to begin with.
Restaurant owners know that repeat customers are key to a successful business. They want you to come back. They aren’t just in it to rip off everyone who walks through their door – it’s not a very sustainable business model for an industry that is largely driven by word of mouth.
So find a place you think you will like, let them know what you need and speak up as soon as you feel they aren’t meeting that need. Use some common cues to ensure the flow of events is smooth. Keep these in mind next time you go to eat out anywhere – I’m certain it will improve your experience.