Two simple words will likely get you all the information you need.
That poor, unsuspecting waiter who finds me or another inquisitive eater at the table. I want to know what I'm eating, but I don't want to inconvenience anyone. What dunderhead wants to put a waiter in a tough spot? It can be an uncomfortable moment: the patron hesitant to ask, the waiter ill-equipped to answer. Awkwardness ensues.
There's beauty in that simple question. If the waiter doesn't know, it seems natural and straightforward to say, "I don't know."
If the waiter doesn't offer to ask the chef, I might say, "Would you mind asking the chef?"
Are you navigating other restrictions and allergies? Local is still a good place to start. It opens the conversation.
We are all local; we all understand local. It's a fair question.
Also, in the phrasing, you're not insisting anything. It's positive and open-ended. You're not saying, "What's local? Because I'll only eat that," or even, "Is the chicken local?"
You're just curious, and you're gathering information.
Once you know what's local, there might be an option that meets your dietary needs (and, let's not forget, what you feel like eating) perfectly. If nothing grabs you or seems to fit, the conversation can continue. With a smile, of course.
Maybe, you won't end up eating local that night. That's OK, and it's OK to know. So if you want to know, it's OK to ask.
After all, you're here to enjoy yourself. To eat, and to have a nice experience.
"... I'm too apologetic... "
This post originally appeared on newfoodculture.com, where Leo Brown writes about food, nutrition, and health. It was inspired by a meal he enjoyed at Christopher's in Cambridge, MA. The waiter happily volunteered to find out from the chef what's local.