I've been eating at restaurants my entire life, having grown up to parents who didn't cook and who love eating out more than life itself. The following tips are culled from a lifetime of dining out with them and also from my own experiences as an adult eating at restaurants for my blog.
1. Accepting A Table That You Don't Like.
Have you ever found yourself ushered to a table in the dark, gloomy corner of a restaurant, next to a table of screaming children and you thought to yourself: "Oh boy, this is not what I had in mind?" You have every right to ask for a different table. Now at a trendy, sceney place, you may get a hostile reaction: "There won't be another table for at least an hour." If that's the response you get, immediately leave that restaurant: it's not worth it. If you're polite about it, though, chances are there's a better table for you and your evening will be that much better.
2. Listening To Your Server Instead of Your Craving.
Don't get me wrong: your server is a fabulous resource for finding out what's good and fresh on the menu. Often a server will espouse their favorite menu items. That's very helpful, but it's not the most important thing. The most important thing is knowing what you're in the mood for and sticking to that instinct. So if you're craving steak and the waiter puts on a whole song-and-dance routine about how much he loves the fish, nod nicely and still order the steak. If it's a good restaurant, the steak will be as good as the fish.
3. Not Asking Questions.
Where your server does play an important role is in explaining words on the menu that you don't understand. There's no shame in asking "what's quinoa? And am I pronouncing it right?" Clarify a dish before you order it or you may be ordering something that you didn't really want.
4. Not Thinking The Meal Through From Beginning To End.
If you are getting a steak for your entrée, is it wise to order the bacon-wrapped dates as a starter and then a foie gras terrine as your appetizer? Probably not, unless you want to be carried out on a stretcher. If you're having a heavy, meaty entrée, order a lighter, more fish-oriented starter. Or a salad. Or, inversely, if you're getting a lighter entrée, order a heavier appetizer. Think: balance.
5. Ordering A Bottle of Wine When Wine By The Glass Makes More Sense.
If one person orders fish, one person orders steak, one person orders pork and one person orders crayfish risotto, it might be very difficult to choose a bottle of wine that appeals to everyone (and would go well with all that food). So keep things simple and do wine by the glass: one bottle is about four glasses anyway and if you do the math, it often works out the same.
6. Salting Your Food Before You Taste It.
If you're at a good restaurant, the seasoning, like everything else, is carefully scrutinized by the chef before it reaches your table. Trust, then, that the food is seasoned correctly when you first take a bite. If, a few bites later, it still isn't doing it for you, by all means, ask for salt.
7. Asking The Kitchen To Leave Off An Element.
I understand that some of you are allergic to mushrooms or zucchini or mushroom-shaped zucchini. Fair enough. But if there's a dish on the menu that has, as a component, something that you don't like or that you're allergic to, you're better off choosing a different dish than asking them to remove that component. That component is there for a reason: it's meant to balance out the other elements on the plate and if you throw that balance off, your dinner will be disappointing.
8. Going To The Bathroom Right Before They Serve Your Next Course.
You may not know this, but at many fine restaurants, they carefully watch your table before they bring your food out to make sure everyone is seated. If not, they'll wait. And if the wait is too long -- and this is at the most serious places -- they'll sometimes throw out food that's gotten cold and re-fire your dishes. How awful! Do the restaurant a favor, then, and go to the bathroom right after they take your food away; don't wait until just before the next course comes.
9. Sharing One Dessert.
Sure, if you're on a budget or a diet, sharing one dessert is a fine way to go about things. But if you want to seriously experience a restaurant, you have to give the pastry chef their due: order two desserts and share them. I recommend one fruit-based dessert and one chocolate-dessert, that way you get to experience the best of both worlds.
10. Keeping Your Dissatisfaction To Yourself.
Though it may seem rude, at first, to tell your server that the asparagus frittata was over-salted or that the white wine wasn't properly chilled, it's far more galling for a restaurant to read an anonymous review online that complains of these things without a chance for them to correct or address what went wrong. By speaking up, you're alerting the restaurant to issues that need to be addressed and actually helping them improve their game. Plus, if they're generous, they'll make up for things by sending over an extra dessert or refilling your glass, no charge.