How to Not Look Like a High Maintenace Diva-Tool When Dining Out

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 aย  $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:

Saigon Roll: Spicy Tuna

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

Chicken Tataki
Upside down Ponzu sauce and Daikon on the side

ย 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

Hamachi Yellowtail collar

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?


26 thoughts on “How to Not Look Like a High Maintenace Diva-Tool When Dining Out

  1. I used to avoid the bread basket like the plague but then I realized I was torturing myself for no reason so just like you, if it’s worth it then I go for it! And I never order $9 dinner salads…it just drives me nuts when I get a few leaves of lettuce and not much else.

    I do select my order depending on what Ali gets…that way we aren’t both ordering the same thing and if one of us doesn’t like our order it’s not a total loss!

    And really? That was a real order when you were a server? Crazy!

    1. Haha I used to avoid the bread basket too, but once the food came I would be STARVING and inhale the dish like crazy…if anything I have that piece to stabilize my blood sugar. I like you, also don’t like ordering the same as my dining companion…because I always want a taste of something else ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. hahaha this post is golden. im with ya on the bread and salad dressing!
    if its good bread, hell, go for it! if its a mediocre piece of white Wonder bread? uhmm, thanks but no thanks. i’ll save room for what im’ paying for!
    i usually request dressing on the side because, honestly, most restaurants drench their precious spinach leaves in a cheap dressing to “make them taste better”. Negative. nice restaurants really do know the perfect ratio! and the dressings damn good there anyway, so why order it on the side? drench my baby spinach leaves in GOOD dressing and I don’t mind ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Personal healthy dining out tips? This shouldn’t apply to anyone on a weight-loss diet, but for the majority of the healthy living bloggers out there.. Eat what you want! If you’re taking the time (and money) to experience a nice restaurant, GET WHAT YOU WANT. and feel satisfied, and call it a night. I used to order the “healthiest” thing on the menu wherever I went, never feel satisfied, then go home and eat bananas and nut butter (aka: “treats” at the time). nope, don’t do it. Leave feeling like you got your moneys worth!
    i like pretty much every food, except fried foods (can’t stand a greasy mouth feeling! eek) so I never change my orders. I just order something that isn’t deep fried ๐Ÿ™‚
    I also always look up a restaurant’s menu before I go. I’m the one who takes 9875938475 hours to decide what I want, so i’ll look it up beforehand and narrow it down.

    Obviously, based on the size of this comment, I love your posts ๐Ÿ™‚ keeeep it uppp girl!

    1. Thank you! I agree with you about that ‘greasy mouth’ feeling, plus for reals fried food is the only thing that actually does give me acid reflux (except for french fries luckily)! Yeah I guess I’m just tired of reading ‘healthy living blogs’ where the dining out meals are boring, mundane, and basically salads some non-dressing low calorie thing on the side…seriously? really? You have one life to live so might as well enjoy it!

  3. AHAHAHA. Will & I read this together and laughed out loud! He was giving me “the stink eye” because I am SO guilty of ordering expensive salads when dining out. One thing I do make sure of though is that the salad I order have tons of bueno ingredients and toppings ๐Ÿ™‚

    LOVED this post, Sara! You should be a freaking comedian

    1. Thanks so much Brittany! You’re making me blush ๐Ÿ˜‰ Hey, I think anyone with a food blog is guilty of expensive salads…I mean I’m not completely against them as long as the ingredients can justify the price and isn’t just a bucket of lettuce with a sprinkle of good stuff

  4. I usually just order depending on what I’m feeling, and will only ask for subs like dressing on the side or removal of ingredients I don’t like. I LIKE the bread basket, but once I start, I can’t stop so I just don’t start usually. haha

  5. Number 1 & 2 I this all the time! I always check the menu online so I have a fair idea of what already want to get. I think its more exciting getting something that you haven’t had before and don’t make at home = money well spent & great dining experience ๐Ÿ™‚
    I don’t normally eat bread beforehand, but this weekend I did and it was such good bread too (yay to not torturing myself)

    Loving this post!!

  6. These tips are fantastic, I was laughing through this whole post! I used to not eat from the bread basket…wouldn’t even consider touching it or having just a small piece. You know how this made me feel? Simply pissed of yet “elated” that I could resist such a delicious tasty food. Ughh so glad I am over that, BRING ON THE BREAD
    Spicy tuna is one excellent choice mam ๐Ÿ™‚
    I do still get nervous about dining out, but am getting to be much better!

  7. this post is AMAZING!!! I couldn’t agree more with everything you said- I think it’s so bizarre now when people make a zillllion substitutions. I admit that I also used to do some of those things, but it really does take the fun out of it!

    1. Yeah I used to be the Grand Duchess of substitutions as well…one of my lamest was ordering a caesar salad without croutons or cheese and asking for balsamic vinegar on the side instead of caesar dressing. Not only was that embarrassing but just kind of pathetic…I mean, what’s left? Romaine lettuce and chicken? I try to trust that the chefs know what they’re doing with the ingredients which is why I even keep aiolis on sandwiches now despite my actual dislike for mayonnaise…and aiolis anyways taste far better and add so much zing to a sandwich ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. If there are no quality veggies at a restaurant (aka american casual dining and fried food joints) I turn into a mega-diva against my will. it gets worse as i get hungrier! haha

    though i promise i follow these steps/mantra most of the time =)

    1. Haha I do feel you on that though…I’m a major snob about a lot of “casual dining” chains (Chilis/Olive Garden/etc) and the quality of their veggies/other ingredients.

  9. I used to be every servers’ worst nightmare with my orders! I still do ask for a few changes but not enough to drive them crazy! Love all these tips as the old me could definitely relate! Eating out is (or at least should be) and experience so embrace it as is rather than change everything you can…why bother going out then! And hell yeah to the bread basket, especially when it’s still warm from the oven!

  10. When I was a kid I was utterly obnoxious (as a vegetarian in a not so vegetarian friendly town). I would get a baked potato, or a salad without the chicken and pay the same price (and I don’t even like salads). Now I’ve tended towards restaurants that cater to non-meat eaters, or sometimes I just get a side of something and eat more later if its a BBQ joint or something- why waste money? It’s not like I’m going to starve. Sometimes I drink beer or just have some french fries instead of spending all of my money on something I don’t like. I prefer to go out for drinks and appetizers where you can split lots of things.

  11. I rarely make substitutions with my order. However, I always ask for whole wheat bread or wrap, skim milk and sometimes skip on the fries if the come with my meal. My favorite tip is number 3. I totally agree with you, if you always order salads at restaurants your friends or date may think you are a rabbit!

  12. You’re hilarious!

    “chances are if youโ€™re ordering a garden salad as a main course youโ€™re probably forgoing the dressing anyways.

    So true!

    Man that yellowtail looks tasty, Im off to google what a collar is.

  13. I love dining out! I must say though I am a substitution junkie. I figure hey if I am paying someone to cook my food then I want it to be made exactly how I like it! I’m not completely naive to the fact that making too many subs is uber annoying. If I have to change something too much I don’t bother ordering it. Whats the point of having something a chef intended to be one way come out completely different!?!

  14. Yum yum!! Sushi!!

    Dining tips, it’s easy to get extra steamed or grilled veggies for a side, salad dressing – oil and vinegar, sometimes I even ask for salsa or I ask just to have dressing on side so I can put it on myself and not have a whole tub on my salad of it!!

    Great tips girl!! Xoxo

  15. haha oh my gosh first time reader here, and I am already obsessed with you/your blog. I was seriously laughing out loud throughout this entire thing. this is one of the best things I’ve read in quite a while.

    probably my favorite line: “chances are if youโ€™re ordering a garden salad as a main course youโ€™re probably forgoing the dressing anyways.” too true.

    you’ve pretty much got it all covered in regards to tips; I guess the only thing I would add is that you don’t to need to feel embarrassed about asking for (small) changes to make the meal a bit healthier! I used to feel really self-conscious about asking for things like a side of steamed veggies, and then I realized–umm, so what? as long as I’m not the crazy lady asking for the cobb salad without chicken, avocado, bacon, hardboiled eggs, or bleu cheese (I can’t believe that really happened), it’s not a big deal. yeah, don’t try to change too much, and definitely don’t freak out about a little extra butter or whatever, but it’s also OKAY to ask for a thing or two slightly different/healthier.

    random side note: that hamachi looks so good.

  16. Oh lordy…this is something my mom should read.

    She asks the most questions, confuses the hell out of the waiter, and sometimes orders things not on the menu.

    I indulged so much on this trip…still have to post about it, but this post makes me miss Asia for some reason ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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