Seven Ways to Endear Yourself to Your Favorite Restaurant #hackdining

Part of a small series showing food being served as a chef and a customer interact in a restaurant

Favorite restaurants are sanctuaries. They’re where you go to celebrate, relax after a long day, catch up with dear friends, or find solace from the troubles of the world. What draws you in as a diner, though? Maybe you worship the food. Perhaps you adore the staff. Possibly you just dig the vibe. It’s easy to figure out what keeps you coming back.

But flip that notion on its head. What makes a restaurant’s staff love certain guests more than others? We recently discussed what diners do that drive restaurant workers crazy. So, how can guests curry favor and become friendly with the teams at their go-to eateries? Here are seven ways to endear yourself to your favorite restaurant.

Give a gift
A regular at Washington, D.C.’s Tico routinely, but randomly, brings in flowers to hand out to the female staffers and guests. “I’ve never experienced that before,” says Steve Uhr, regional operations director for Good Essen, which oversees chef Michael Schlow’s ventures, including Tico and The Riggsby. “I feel neglectful that I don’t do that for my staff.” During last holiday season, the same guest gave generous presents to several staffers who regularly took care of him. “It’s thoughtful, because if you go and buy something for someone, you have to think about your relationship to that person, which makes it a lot more personal,” says Uhr.

Show your appreciation
The kitchen staff puts long hours in behind the scenes making meals happen. Though they’re creating the food, they often don’t get the opportunity to interact with guests. Chef Quinten Frye at Big Bear Café in Washington, D.C. wants to hear when guests enjoy their meal. “The easiest way is coming back to say thanks or give a simple handshake,” he says. “It’s always gratefully received.”

Be inquisitive
Restaurant staffers appreciate when guests listen to what they’re saying, whether they’re going through the daily specials, describing the tasting notes for a particular wine, or explaining how a certain dish is prepared. It’s equally appreciated when guests are willing to share their likes and dislikes, so the staff can create the best dining experience for them. “The bigger thing is when people want to participate in a dialogue,” says Caitlin Doonan, beverage director of New York City’s Toro. “When they ask us what we’re excited about or what we like, that’s great. It’s more than placing an order. It becomes a two-way street.”

Act like you’re visiting a friend’s house
The metaphor of the restaurant as a home is used over and over again — and with good reason. Many staffers talk about the idea of creating an inviting, relaxing, and comfortable environment for their guests, so they feel like they’re visiting a friend’s house. To complete that vision, diners should be on their best behavior. “Just be polite,” stresses Frye. “I’m a southern guy – I grew up in San Antonio, Texas – so I’m a yes ma’am, no ma’am, please, and thank you kind of a guy. To this day, I pull out my girlfriend’s chair when she sits down. The small stuff goes a long way.”

Don’t linger
We’ve all been in restaurants where you could tell from the energy of the space and its staff that they’re firing on all cylinders. Every table is full, the bar is packed, and the host stand looks like it’s being overwhelmed by a human tsunami. When you’ve finished your meal and paid the tab, it’s time to get up and go. “Be conscientious to other people that are hungry and wrap it up,” says Uhr. “We appreciate being able to serve other guests as quickly as possible.”Continue Reading

Lunch Break: Meet OpenTabler Daama Sheepo

DaamaOpenTable seats more than 16 million diners each month via online bookings across more than 32,000 restaurants. Our team of talented engineers helps us meet that ever-growing demand, crafting the code that makes life delicious. Daama Sheepo is one of those folks. He’s an over-caffeinated native New Yorker who knows good food, avoids roadside fugu, and wants to eat at State Bird. Meet OpenTabler Daama Sheepo, discover his dining picks, and find out what’s on his plate in today’s Lunch Break. 

Name: Daama Sheepo

Hometown: New York City

Job Title: Director of Engineering

What that means that I do at OpenTable: Enable the conversion of caffeine to code.

Years at OpenTable: 5  Alma mater: Bard College at Simon’s Rock

I have worked in a restaurant as a dishwasher/prep cook.

The food I can’t live without: Does coffee count as food?

The one food I’ll never try: Fugu from a roadside stand.

My go-to drink or cocktail: Dry cider

The delicious dessert I refuse to share: Chocolate mousse.

My favorite thing about dining out is: Discovering new venues.

If duck is on a restaurant’s menu, I almost always order it.

My last best restaurant meal was at: Dirty Habit.

The restaurant I am a regular at: Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack.Continue Reading

How to Dine Like a Restaurant Critic #hackdining

How to Dine Like a Restaurant CriticSo, let’s get this out of the way. Being a restaurant critic can be pretty hard work. You can put away the tiny violins, and let’s pause for the laughter to die down.

Yes, of course, it’s terrific fun, and you sometimes want to pinch yourself for actually getting paid to dine, but the responsibility of a restaurant critic, in fact, goes well beyond just chomping down a meal and writing something about it. The point is, a thoughtful critic is mindful of the fact that he/she is ultimately passing judgment on some else’s hard work and recognizes the impact their verdict can ultimately have. This is no small responsibility. A good review can help launch a successful restaurant; a bad one, though, can be devastating. It’s not something to take lightly.

Following are eight tips for how to dine like a restaurant critic on a review.

1. Choose wisely. Ideally, you want to pick a restaurant that takes you out of your comfort zone. Don’t go to a place you’ve already been to a million times. Try something new, so you can approach the experience with a fresh point of view. Among the options you might consider: type of cuisine, price point, location, innovative formats (e.g. Japanese-Jewish fusion? Dessert only?), as well as the presence of a celebrity chef.
Advice: Be adventurous with your restaurant reservations.

2. Do your homework. If you’re tackling a cuisine that’s new to you, a bit of research about culture, ingredients, and preparations can go a long way and make for a much richer experience. This can help you gain a better sense of what some of the must-try dishes are and provide you more confidence when ordering. Also, if there are specialties that require advance notice (e.g. Peking Duck, suckling pig), better to know before you get there.
Advice: Read up on the restaurant and the style of cooking before you go.

3. Allow the restaurant a grace period. While it’s tempting to want to evaluate a new place right away, you typically want to give the kitchen a bit of time to get its sea legs. In theory, a restaurant should be fully ready for customers from the day it opens its doors to customers. In reality, it can often take time to properly train a newly staffed kitchen, iron out wrinkles in service, and refine dishes.
Advice: Do yourself (and the restaurant) a favor, and wait three to six weeks post-opening for the dust to settle.

4. Use discretion. A critic — whether a blogger or a writer for a major publication — should function as an advocate for the “everyman.” I literally imagine myself as a stand-in for my readers. When dining for a review, you ought to receive the same treatment as anyone else in order get and to give a fair and balanced assessment of the occasion. It certainly can be nice to get VIP treatment, but that doesn’t likely mirror what the typical diner will experience.
Advice: Don’t announce that you are writing a review, and never ask for free food in exchange for a review. That pretty much disqualifies your ability to be impartial.Continue Reading

Lunch Break: Meet OpenTable Employee Brooks Hassig

Brooks Hassig headshot-medAt OpenTable, we’re always searching for ways to improve the dining experience for guests and restaurants alike. One of our biggest accomplishments in that area is OpenTable mobile payments. Brooks Hassig is part of the team that works on this feature that lets diners settle their checks with just a few taps. He hails from Seattle and Motor City, likes to drink some of his meals (in the healthful way, of course), and he’s a sucker for a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Read on to meet OpenTable employee Brooks Hassig, learn about his picks for local food and drink, and discover what he’s digging into during his work day in today’s Lunch Break. 

Name: Brooks Hassig

Hometown: Seattle and Detroit

Job Title: Senior Experience Designer

What that means that I do at OpenTable: I help diners pay with their phones.

Years at OpenTable: 0.8  Alma mater: Western Washington University

I have not worked in a restaurant. (But I do like to eat at ’em!)

The food I can’t live without: PB+J sandwiches — I’m a simple man.

The one food I’ll never try: Hákarl — so gross!

My go-to drink or cocktail: Bundaberg Ginger Beer

The delicious dessert I refuse to share: Get your hands off my carrot cake.

My favorite thing about dining out is: Food/service/clean up

If pizza!!!!!!!! is on a restaurant’s menu, I almost always order it.

My last best restaurant meal was at: Le Sain Bol in Montreal

The restaurant I am a regular at: Samovar-Yerba Buena + Castro locationsContinue Reading