The topic of dining etiquette always results in a lightly heated debate, and this is usually when the discussion is occurring between someone who has worked in a kitchen and one who has not. I realize that it is important for me to be sensitive to this (to a certain extent). After all, the diner is the paying customer as well as the tipping customer (in the US anyway). But I firmly believe that the line has to be drawn somewhere when it comes to our behavior and demands as a guest.
I feel that I have a pretty interesting amalgamation of personal experience, as I have had to play every role in a restaurant. There are several things that guests do to make the restaurant staff secretly roll their eyes at you but as long as those things don’t interrupt the normal flow of service, it’s quickly forgotten. Here are a few things that do cause a significant interruption:
1. Faking an allergy to avoid a food aversion.
This one is at the top of the list because I think it is, by far, the worst!
If you don’t like the taste of something, it is called a food aversion.
If something gives you digestive discomfort and maybe some serious gas, that is called a food intolerance.
If something swells your throat, makes you break out in hives, requires an epinephrine pen, or sends you to the hospital- that is called a food allergy (and we should definitely always know about that.) Please do not lie about having an allergy that you do not have. Not only is it strange on a human level but this is why: The chef receives the order, and immediately has to stop what they’re doing to deep clean all cooking utensils, and to grab a fresh cutting board and possibly pans as well. The chef realizes that the ingredient you are allergic to is also in the sauce, improvises by making a new sauce without said ingredient. All while orders are in the works already and more orders are coming in. If you are actually allergic to that ingredient, the chef is more than happy to accommodate. But! If you said you were allergic but then we see you happily eating that item off your friend’s plate, we will probably hate you for the rest of the meal.
2. Celiac disease vs. Gluten Intolerance vs. You’re on a diet
This concept is essentially identical to the first. If you have been diagnosed with Celiac disease, definitely do tell! It is a very serious disease, and when gluten is consumed it can result in a very severe amount of pain and possibly send that person to the hospital. If you are gluten intolerant, by all means order the fish with rice. If you ask for an item on the menu that is normally breaded or gluten-loaded to be prepared without gluten- you are not allowed to complain about the final dish. It is not what we intended to serve, and it was not on the menu. It is now your creation so please be kind and gracious. If you’re just watching your carb intake, by all means tell us to leave off the bun. Whatever it is that ails you, be honest.
3. Playing chef at a restaurant.
Is OK behavior at diner’s, chain restaurants, and dives. If you are at a respectable restaurant, with a chef who has artfully crafted a menu with conscious thought and care…you should be letting them do that for you. Put your faith in the chef and his decision making and experience their compositions as they are intended. There is a very good reason he/she chose that specific vegetable or herb paired with that protein and sauce- it is because they believe that together these ingredients create harmony. The guest that pulls ingredients from different dishes and starts composing one of their own is actually passively insulting the chef, the establishment, and their mission as a place that is striving to deliver a certain magic to you. In addition- that guest will never get to experience what was intended for them which is just a shame.
4. Group checks
Please stop handing your server more than 2 credit cards. You guys knew you were having dinner together right? I mean, you called in the reservation this morning. There is no way you didn’t stroll past an ATM at some point. I once had a large group hand me 8 credit cards, and then complained about how long it took me to run them. Not only did they complain, they tipped me in crumpled bills hidden among the remnants and ruins of their meal. Organize. If you are the host, remind your people that they should bring cash. If you couldn’t approach the topic in advance, start the conversation over dessert. This conversation is usually a little awkward, but it shouldn’t be- take charge and be firm- everyone will be grateful for it.
…Part II tomorrow!