Like most people, I like to eat out, but I do it occasionally. You see, I am not only conscious about what I put inside my body but also how I spend my money. So if I want to spend a lot more on having a meal outside the home, I do not want to consume lots of calories unless the food is genuinely delicious (compared to what I or my wife can cook) and is worth the price (if the food is only as good as what I can buy in the supermarket, heat it up, and chow down with my fork, I would rather do that than spend money at an overpriced restaurant). So when I decide to eat out, I first try to make sure that they take their food seriously and want to create a nice experience for their diners, but I also want to make sure that just because they have great food, they do not rip off customers. I will happily pay a lot of money for great ingredients, cooking, and serving, but I do not want to pay for overpriced water or beverages or wines or simply for too much food, because it is not a secret that the more food and drinks you consume the more money the restaurant makes. So below are six tips for not falling into the traps of even the finest restaurants:
One: Drinks are the most profitable for a restaurant. A typical waiter will ask, “Can I take your drinks order?” Some restaurants bring out bottles of wine introducing them as new or a favorite of the sommelier or organic or from France or wherever. Other waiters mention their favorite cocktails implying that you should order them. Now, if you are totally convinced that (overpriced) wine will truly enhance your meal, go right ahead if you have the money for it. Otherwise, simply order iced tea or beer, which are typically not inflated so much. I often get away with water because I buy great wines in a store and drink them at home. As much as the hype is out there about pairing wines with dishes, I am not convinced that I enjoy one more that way.
Two: Do not order an appetizer unless you are positive that the main dishes are small portions or you are very hungry. Most restaurants train waiters to ask the question in a manner that you are pressured into ordering appetizers. For instance, after giving you a chance to review the menu, and asking, “What would you like to have?” these clever restaurants train their staff to ask, “What would you like as an appetizer” or its equivalent “I recommend starting your meal with XYZ” or “Today we have a really nice XYZ.” Simply say something like, “Well, we are ready to order our meal and it is going to be ABC.”
Three: Many restaurants resist providing free bread before a meal because the fuller you get the less food you order. If that is the case, it is better to order the much cheaper bread and not blow money on an appetizer or dessert.
Some restaurants offer salty snacks (tortilla chips, peanuts, etc.) for free but the plain reality is that anything with excess salt makes you thirsty and without realizing it, you are drinking more of your drink, and then the waiter will gladly offer to bring you more beer or wine. Avoid eating these freebies or order an appetizer.
Four: Pick your dish on your own and it is generally better to ignore the waiter’s recommendations because they maybe biased. For instance, if an ingredient is about to expire in the kitchen, the restaurant maybe pushing a certain dish not because it is their specialty, but because it could mean loss of money for them. Similarly, the taste of the waiter may not be anything like yours. In addition, restaurants often get bulk discounts on ingredients if something is in oversupply or if a seller is getting rid of about-to-expire item and then the restaurants try to push it by calling it today’s special or whatever funky name they can come up with. Not always a great idea to fall for the scam.
Five: Always try to remember that you are the customer, one with the money, and the very fact that you are in a restaurant means that you deserve to be there. Do not let a snobbish waiter or restaurant employee intimidate you or make you feel less than anyone else if you do not order the most overpriced wine or tons of food. You should order what you truly intend to enjoy, pay the bill and a generous tip (not because you are intimidated but because being just a little bit generous to underpaid waitstaff is an act of kindness), and not think about the rest.