Dining out, I personally love it, the entire experience whether it’s the conversation, company, food, atmosphere, dressing up (or down) or how many hits this dining documentation will get me from Urbanspoon tomorrow.
I know however that there are some peeps out there who are not so crazy about having someone else cook their food or who have some reservations regarding the preparation protocol and ingredients which can lead to a rather stressful dining experience as opposed to a pleasurable one.
Hence, I am here to the rescue to put you dining-out-aphobes at ease without making your dining companions ponder whether you live in an organic squeaky clean toolshed:
Disclaimer: Please take these serious tips with a lightheart, I am not out to offend anyone who shuns breadbaskets or orders salads with more than two substitutions
Disclaimer #2: I have never been out on a non-platonic date and thus when mentioning that scenario I am using what I imagine would be the most appropriate advice
1) Check out the menu online beforehand if you’re an indecisive type or are dining with someone who might make it difficult to put the entirety of your mental energy into the exciting experience of menu-pondering. Scope out possibilities and then “act” like you’re pondering the menu and a quick decision maker during the actual dining experience
2) Do not order something you can make at home. Like a $9 garden salad…unless it has some phenomenal Food-Network featured dressing, but chances are if you’re ordering a garden salad as a main course you’re probably forgoing the dressing anyways.
3) Regarding salads; it’s normal to ask for the dressing on the side- I admit I do 67% of the time (the other 33% of the time I don’t is at fine dining establishments because they are masters at perfecting the proper vinaigrette to arugula ratio). However, refrain from ordering some entree salad and then also ask for all the ingredients that make it delicious to be omitted due to allergies/intolerances/whatever (unless you really are a nut-allergic lactose-intolerant raw vegan who gets severe acid reflux from avocados). Plus, salads are expensive so you (or your non-platonic-date) will end up paying the same full price without all the goodies…while making you look like a masochistic rabbit.
4) Regarding substitutions: My personal rule of (doubly-jointed) thumb is to make no more than two substitutions/changes to a dish. When dining at a restaurant, the menu is the chef’s vision, so the ingredients of each dish are meant to be sown together to bring alive that vision. Example of alright substitutions: “May I get the blackened halibut tacos without the sour cream and the cabbage slaw on the side?” Example of unacceptable substitution: “Can I get the Cobb Salad without chicken, avocado, bacon, hardboiled eggs, or bleu cheese and instead of dressing can I just have some salsa on the side?”– this was an actual order when I worked as a Server, and yes this patron did help increase our profits for the week by paying $11 for a cup of butter lettuce and tomatoes with a side of salsa.
PLUS, too many substitutions makes you look high maintenance (hah don’t magazines like Cosmo always tell girls not to order salads on dates?)
5) Don’t fake more than one allergy at a time, that’s when it gets complicated. True story, several years back I was eating at a Steakhouse in Oregon with my foreign uncle and his family and I faked an allergy to eggs to justify ordering a salad sans dressing (because the dressing sounded Mayonnaise-based…and I was a resident of the lettuce & mustard only toolshed at the time) and anyways the waitress ended up looking up and reciting the entirety of the ingredients of the dressing/etc/etc trying to find a different suitable dressing and it just got too complicated. Now the only things I substitute/omit are pork products, celery, green capsicum, and goat cheese, aka stuff I either cannot eat/am allergic to/or straight up don’t like.
6) If you’re watching your sodium/fat/calories/etc for whatever reason (I’m hoping it’s not because you are scared of those respectable categories), here are some real tips:
a) Look at the menu verbage/descriptions: Poached, braised, sauteed, baked, and grilled are usually safe bets whereas fried, crusted, smothered, rich, and creamy usually imply elevated deliciousness and greater presence of butter, cream, oil, or ghee.
b) As for salt- ingredients that have been jarred/canned/or pickled are usually rather high in sodium (pickles, pepperoncini, kalamata olives, some beans/artichokes/etc) as well as cheeses- most notably feta or parmigiano reggiano. Thai/Chinese/Japanese food also can be pretty salty due to usage of high sodium fish or soy sauce
c) It’s okay to ask for something to be cooked light on the butter/oil
7) In regard to sharing dishes: State your dietary restrictions to dining companions, I normally straight up say, “I don’t eat pork and I’m allergic to green capsicum,” and that usually still leaves a significant amount of choice. Plus when sharing, that means you should get to choose a dish of your choice as well. If the other dishes stress you out, eat more of your dish, order another “less stressful” one or just enjoy the conversation then go home and eat your chia-seed and peanut-flour-fake-peanut butter topped oatmeal and call it a night. Personally, I love sharing dishes because it gives you a chance to try something you may have not normally ordered (or if you have fabulous persuasion skills you can convince your dining companion to order all the MANY dishes catching your eye on the menu). #WIN? Je pense que oui.
8 ) In regard to that cheeky bread basket: Stop torturing yourself! You’re starving, you obviously aren’t able to pay attention (and thus converse constructively) to what your ex housemate/potential client/platonic date is ranting about so HAVE ONE PIECE OF WHOLE GRAIN WALNUT BREAD and that enticing fragrant pesto-garlic dip they served with it unless you’re in a non-platonic date scenario and for some reason they aren’t having any. In that case, skip the dip and pile on the buttah. It makes you look fearless and thus sexy. I however admit that I only reach for the bread basket when it or it’s accompaniment is unique, hot, and fresh, otherwise my cost benefit analysis says it’s a waste of valuable eating space (I take economics to the plate)!
9) Try to order something relevant to what type of restaurant you’re dining at, because that is usually what is best there and the other menu items are just “accommodating dishes,” meaning for people who cannot for one reason or another indulge in that restaurant’s particular specialty. For example, don’t order a rotisserie chicken at a place known for having the best lobster tail outside of Maine and DEFINITELY DO NOT order a salad at a place with Pizzeria in the name…unless that salad is ON TOP of the pizza.
10) Enjoy yourself. Dining out is not the time to stress out, especially if it’s something you don’t do often. Order something you’re comfortable with, but also think of it as an experience to try something new, have something you secretly love made exquisitely by a professional; and if you don’t like what you ordered for whatever reason, it’s okay to voice that to the server- as long as you are polite some places will even get you something new.
For instance, last night I ate an entirely veggie-less meal…with *gasp* white rice sushi:
Marta and I went to Robata and I couldn’t decide between sushi or a chicken dish…so i got a little bit of both
Ate everything, but let me just say that there was a RIDICULOUS amount of chicken in that plate. And I guess I lied about having a veggie-less dinner, because daikon is technically a vegetable
Marta had this big slab of fish. I think she had it pre-planned because she didn’t even look at the menu.
What are your personal healthy dining out tips?
How much of an order changer are you?
Is dining out more stressful or exciting to you?
Do you select your order depending on who your dining with?