My son John and I have a Sunday morning tradition of brunch out at a local restaurant. I meal plan for the week early on Sunday morning and tend to do a lot of errands, so at this point in our lives, this time works best for our 1:1 meal together. Last week we ate at a chain restaurant (which we rarely do, but I was craving certain lettuce wrapped Asian tacos). We left a little later than usual, so it wasn’t the more ‘chill’ environment we had experienced on a Sunday morning. The restaurant was crowded, hot, loud with TVs blaring, tables were unusually close together, and the service was not great (it took almost 20 minutes for the waiter to acknowledge we were seated; our order was wrong, then when we asked for our bill, it took another 20 minutes and we were given another customer’s bill along with their credit card) These are experiences we all have from time to time and it’s understandable that mistakes happen, but I’ve been noticing lately that the conditions for sharing meals out has been on the decline.
Sharing meals out at a restaurants is part of my shared-meal plan, but it’s not a daily event.
In part, that’s because it’s not always easy to find a restaurant that is hospitable to guests taking their time, fully relaxing, and having the environment that is best for shared-meal conversations. This is particularly true of chain restaurants which I try to avoid (because of the questionable quality of processed ingredients, and the high sugar-fat-salt ratio often used in the food.)
Here are some tips to keep in mind when you are dining out:
1. Go at a time when it’s less likely to be crowded
-call the restaurant in advance and ask about their busy peaks; even a half hour earlier or later might change your dining experience for the better
2. Ask to be seated in a place where you can relax and feel comfortable; if tables are ridiculously close together, politely point that out to the host or manager.
–it’s unnerving to try to avoid accidentally bumping elbows with the people to your sides. If we speak up about too-tight tables, owners will get the message we don’t want to be packed in like sardines.
3. If a host tries to seat you near the Restrooms, ask for another table
-this will encourage owners to remove tables near the restrooms…(ew…gross…who’s with me on this?)
4. If there’s a TV blaring (unfortunately more and more common), ask the manager to lower the volume or turn it off (exceptions for sports bars/events, of course)
-it’s a reasonable request that if no one is listening to the TV that it be turned to a volume to allow you to socialize with your guests, and if it can’t, ask for a table further away from the TV
5. Slow down the ordering process to set a relaxed pace to your meal
-resist giving your entire order (drinks, appetizers, entrees, etc.) the moment you sit down. See what you feel like ordering as your meal progresses
6. Don’t be shy about asking questions about how a dish is prepared, or the type of ingredients used
-if you have special dietary restrictions such as low salt, dairy or gluten free…or if you want to use a smaller amount of oil in the preparation of your vegetables, it will only enhance your dining experience if you address these upon ordering
7. Tip your waiter well for good service, and request seating in their area the next time you visit that restaurant
-waitstaff work very hard and many make most of their pay from tips. So tip them well for good service. If there’s a problem with your meal or your bill, it might not be due to the waiter. Let the manager know in a respectful tone what your experience has been or what the problem is.
8. Review your bill for accuracy; nobody likes these kinds of surprises
-Recently a friend was out with her family and added a $60 tip on their bill. However, upon arriving home, they discovered that the tip had already been included, so they accidentally double-tipped. The restaurant hadn’t published that the tip would be included in the bill, nor had they been informed
9. Talk it up with your friends about new places they’ve discovered
-word of mouth is the best way to hear about places with good service, quality ingredients, and a relaxing environment. Support restaurants that staff with enough personnel too. It’s sad to see cooks and waitstaff running around like their heads are spinning off because the restaurant owner doesn’t want to pay for enough staff. I’m personally willing to pay a little more for a restaurant who staffs with enough employees. How about you?
10. Ditch the tech devices at the table (my favorite tip)
–it doesn’t make for an enjoyable meal out if you hear a chorus of dings and special sound effects; enjoy having uninterrupted time together
If you’d like to read more about how to create the best shared-meal experiences, in and out of your home, sign up for my blog Shared Meals Matter by clicking here.
I‘d love to hear from you! Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask me any questions or share your meal experiences.