Trendspotting: Foraging for Food; Mixology with Meals; Pigs; Pop Rocks; Pop-Up Restaurants; Sharks; Sustainable Restaurants, and More

In food-related news from the blogosphere and your favorite food sections…

* Forget singing for your supper; it’s all about searching for it these days, thanks to a renewed interest in foraged ingredients. I don’t mind the practice, but this word is beginning to crop up on menus everywhere and it’s driving me a bit batty. [Nation's Restaurant News] [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

* New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz wants to ban the use of salt in food prep at restaurants in New York State. In other words, he wants to ruin all the restaurant food in New York State. [Nation's Restaurant News]

* Are Pop Rocks the new truffles? Probably not, but some restaurants in New York (Klee, Kefi, and Fishtail by David Burke) are embracing this clamorous candy and other 7-11 delights as ingredients in high-end dishes. [New York Post]

* I did not know that: Eggs aren’t dairy. Whew! I recently did a cleanse that excluded dairy, but I adore eggs so it was sheer (and, in hindsight, unnecessary) torture. Thanks to Carolina Santos-Neve and Epicurious for clearing this up.  [The Epi-Log]

* It’s not easy to not eat meat, but Chow’s Roxanne Webber has some insights as to how vegetarian and vegan chefs make their meat-free dishes so delicious. [Chow]

* First craft beers, now cocktails are being paired with food at fine restaurants. Can wine get a break? [The Atlantic] [Washington Post]

* Pop-up restaurants are, well, popping up all over New York, much to diners’ great joy. [Los Angeles Times]

* Restaurateurs are embracing sustainability in ways big and small, from building materials to menu items. [Los Angeles Times]

* Shark is not sustainable, in case you were wondering. [The Atlantic]

* In news sure to shake Miss Piggy to her stilettos, whole-pig restaurants are all the rage in Southern California. [Los Angeles Times]

* Despite their appetite for whole pigs, diners want to get healthier. [Nation's Restaurant News]

* Diners also want to eat outdoors, especially in New York. [The New York Times]

* Food is my religion, and restaurants are my houses of worship. Thankfully, I am not alone. [The Grist]

Dining in Denver: Not-To-Be-Missed Restaurants in Colorado’s Capital

Dining in Denver Dining in Denver: Not To Be Missed Restaurants in Colorados CapitalDenver Post dining critic Tucker Shaw recently compiled a list of restaurants that “define Denver’s culinary momentum.” The criteria for earning a spot on the list were quite lofty.  Cost, food, hospitality, service, and the space itself mattered, but the overarching question Shaw asked himself was, “Did my experience at this restaurant enrich my life?” If that’s not a tall order, I’m not sure what is.

Meeting the challenge and making the top 10 are Bones, Fruition Restaurant, Lola, Olivéa, Rioja, Root Down, and Table 6, among others. Honorable mentions for “trendsetters” include Argyll, Sushi SaSa, Twelve Restaurant, and Venue. Palace Arms at the Brown Palace and Restaurant Kevin Taylor receive honorable mentions under the”lasting hits” category.

Congratulations to these standouts in the Denver dining scene.

State Your Complaint: Restaurant Critics; Restaurant Designs; Restaurant Menus; Restaurant Websites, and Being Treated Like a Regular (Huh?)

State Your Complaint State Your Complaint: Restaurant Critics; Restaurant Designs; Restaurant Menus; Restaurant Websites, and Being Treated Like a Regular (Huh?) * Will a Twitter campaign take out your least favorite critic? Doubtful, but one tweeter is trying, taking aim at Los Angeles Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila. [Grub Street Los Angeles]

* Phil Vettel stews over restaurant design flaws. I would concur with the oversized menus being a problem. I never know what to do with them if I just want to enjoy a cocktail before ordering but am sitting at a tiny table for two. Suggestions? [The Stew]

* Menus are less-than-appetizing at many restaurants, as far as Baltimore Sun blogger Laura Vozzella is concerned. She doesn’t mention my new pet peeve, which is seeing the word “foraged” on menus (Way too precious and fetish-y for me, thankyouverymuch!). [Dining@Large]

* Restaurant websites come under fire for a few of the right reasons. [Eater PDX]

* Restaurants come under fire for all the wrong reasons, thanks to the Chicago Tribune‘s Christopher Borrelli and his resentment at (GASP!)  being treated like a regular (when he is, in fact, a regular). Here’s a bit of free advice, Mr. Borrelli: If you don’t appreciate that restaurants or the barristas at your local Starbucks are able to anticipate what you’ll order, stop ordering the very same thing every time you dine out or grab a coffee. Live a little! Try something new — but not out of spite, because that’s just plain silly. That is all. [Chicago Tribune]

Well-Reviewed: House Café; The Prime Rib Grill; Strip House-New York, and More

Recent restaurant reviews from the news…

* S. Irene Virbila says the menu at Bruce Marder’s House Ca in LA has “something for everyone.” [Los Angeles Times]

* Marzano and Garibaldi’s in San Francisco save the day for a large party of diners/fans of Michael Bauer. [SF Gate]

* The Prime Rib Grill by Hereford House in Kansas City bests its predecessor, according to Charles Ferruzza. [The Pitch]

* David Kaufman likes the show at SHO Shaun Hergatt. [Financial Times]

* Just like steak and wine, the Strip House in New York improves with age, says critic Sam Sifton [The New York Times].

Dining Out on Easter: Egg-cellent Deals at Restaurants Near You

Dining Out on Easter Dining Out on Easter: Egg cellent Deals at Restaurants Near YouEaster is less than a month away, and, if you’re a planner (as I am), you’re probably ready to book a table at a restaurant for that day. What I love about Easter is that many restaurants offer brunch or an early traditional dinner (think ham and lamb). There’s something about eating dinner especially early (not early-bird special early, however) that feels extra decadent to me.

There are lots of Easter dining deals to be found on OpenTable. Some really fun ones that caught my eye include The Café at The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta, which is offering a brunch that includes a live petting zoo and an egg decorating station for kids. In Boston, Harborside Grill and Patio at the Hyatt Harborside features terrific views of the city’s skyline and activities for young diners, including a visit from the Easter Bunny himself. Chicago diners may have all the fun this year as Dick’s Last Resort is creating a brunch with live Beatles music by the Cavern Beat and an appearance by the Easter Bunny (I’m not sure how he’ll be in Boston and Chicago on the same day, but maybe he flies private?) as well as egg dying. China Grill in New York is getting festive and kid-friendly with an Easter egg hunt in the evening. In San Francisco, Bar Bambino is serving up a prix-fixe brunch comprised of classic Easter fare enjoyed in Italy. The nation’s capital is not to be outdone, with Chima Brazilian Steakhouse providing complimentary ice cream and entertainment for kids from 1- 5PM. If we lived in D.C., my husband would probably attempt to pass as a child based on this opportunity alone. His Zach Galifianakis beard would surely betray him, though.

Look for the launch of our national Easter page soon, and search for Easter dining deals on your local start page under “Easter Brunch & Dinner.”

What’s your favorite dish to dine on for Easter? How does your family celebrate? Share your thoughts here or on Facebook.

How Much Do You Tip When You Dine Out?

How Much Do You Tip When You Dine Out How Much Do You Tip When You Dine Out?When you talk about tipping, which is, obviously tied to money, tempers can flare and passions run high. So many factors contribute to how much people tip: the quality of the service and the food, what they spend on their meal and drink, what they were raised or educated to believe about tipping, and if they’ve ever worked in a restaurant.

Recently, David Sax ranted about tipping on The New York Times City Room section, sharing that he always tips 15%. I thought this was stingy. Also, I don’t believe one size fits all, particularly where hats and tipping are concerned. Maybe I’m too prejudiced because of the time I’ve spent as a server, so I reached out to my fellow diners on Facebook and Twitter. I’m pleased to report that Mr. Sax is, indeed, too parsimonious. Most folks responded that 20% is a standard tip. Says diner Sallly Whitehead, “Twenty percent [is] standard, unless [it's] really bad service. If you can’t afford to tip 20% you shouldn’t be eating out.” To the few who chimed in that they left less, Desirée Chérie Rojas notes, “Sorry, people, but 15% is NOT standard. I’m not a waiter nor have I ever been, but the standard is 20%! Stop being so cheap! Those people need to make a living too! If you can’t afford it, don’t go out!”

If the service is poor, though, is 20% still warranted? Not necessarily, according to Mary Hidalgo. She states, “If the service is horrible or the server is rude in any way, I usually ask to speak to the manager and leave 10% or less.” Other folks concurred with the 10% rule, including Maryem Malak, who shares, “If service is poor (assuming it’s the server not the kitchen), [I] tip up to 10% max, but it all depends on the attitude.” If the service is reprehensible, Glendy Kam admits, “Very bad [service] = I write my experience on the back of the credit card slip,” without leaving a tip.

What if you get superb service? Ken Taylor may take the prize for substantial tipping. He reveals, “I’ve tipped 100% when I proposed to my wife. They went way out of their way to make it special for us.” Typically, he will leave 50% for outstanding service and 30% for great service. Leslie Cervantes also tips generously. She says, “We tip 20% if [service is] not great. This is the service industry and servers need to make a living. If [it's] great or excellent, 40%.” The funniest overall strategy came from James Hubble, who notes, “I usually tip *at least* 20%… if service is good, 25-30%. If the server’s a hot chick, bump it up a tad. This is my usual formula.”

A few diners wished for the elimination of tipping altogether, urging restaurateurs to pay service professionals a living wage, especially Paul Woodhouse, who writes, “OMG…this is a US thing right? How about we pay the price on the menu and the employer pays his staff a fair day’s wage!” Angela Raye Johnson reminded her fellow diner, “If they pay the staff more, then food costs would increase greatly due to overhead. Either way, you will be paying for the experience of going out.”

While 20% is the average tip, some folks don’t tip 20% based on the total bill (nevermind the tax). The issue of expensive wines came up and people said they didn’t always factor that in when tipping. Richard Doherty says, “I separate the food and the liquor/wine charges…[tipping] 15%-20% on the food portion and a flat 10% on the liquor/wine portion. Why? Because of the outrageous markup on the ‘adult beverages.’” David P. Best admits that he may leave less than 20% “if the wine component is over $150 per person.” For an insider’s take on this situation, I reached out to AJ Ferrari, lead bartender at Michael Mina in San Francisco and a Stanford University Wine Instructor. Ferrari notes, “I think deep down everyone knows the answer. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.  The tip is always based on the level of service. If your glass stays topped and you get little story about the winery or a full-blown education, well, that can change your meal into a real wow experience!”

Did you share your thoughts on the topic of tipping yet? If not, do so in the comments section or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

Winter Restaurant Weeks: AC, Buckhead, DC, Denver, MSP and the OC!

Winter Restaurant Weeks Winter Restaurant Weeks: AC, Buckhead, DC, Denver, MSP and the OC! Maybe the folks from Orange County, California, aren’t sick of winter, but I’m pretty sure the rest of us are. The good news, aside from spring’s arrival on March 20, is that winter restaurant weeks are still happening across the nation.

Denver Restaurant Week runs through Friday, March 5 as does Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Restaurant Week. Orange County Restaurant Week continues until Saturday, March 6 — along with  Atlantic City Restaurant Week. Washington, D.C.’s Restaurants Unleashed Week began today and goes through Sunday, March 7. And over in Atlanta’s Buckhead district, their first restaurant week starts on Saturday and ends on March 14.

Don’t miss your chance to take advantage of some of the tastiest days of a long winter. And keep checking back for news on upcoming restaurant weeks in the months to come.

Top 50 Restaurants with the Best Service: Diners’ Choice Awards 2010

Top 50 Restaurants with Best Service Top 50 Restaurants with the Best Service: Diners Choice Awards 2010Everyone at OpenTable values superior service when dining out, so we are thrilled to announce the 50 restaurant winners of OpenTable’s 2010 Diners’ Choice Awards for Best Service. Derived from nearly four million reviews submitted by OpenTable diners for more than 10,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, this list consists of restaurants where service is a centerpiece of your dining experience.

Great service means more than keeping a diner’s water glass filled. A professional wait staffer shepherds you through your meal, making sure that every moment is pleasurable. The best service appears effortless and unobtrusive, when, in fact, it is carefully orchestrated and requires much training and skill.

Congratulations to all the winners, which include Acquerello in San Francisco, Canlis in Seattle, Daniel in New York, and The Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena (where “Top Chef” season 6 winner Michael Voltaggio cooks), The French Laundry in Yountville,  TRU in Chicago, and Vetri in Philadelphia.

Have you dined at or worked at any of the winning establishments? Share your experiences with these service standouts and other amazing dining experiences here or on our Facebook page.

Bad Service at a Restaurant: What Would You Do?

bad service Bad Service at a Restaurant: What Would You Do?This past weekend, I dined out a restaurant (one not on the OpenTable network, and, on behalf of my fellow diners, I am glad for that) and experienced really poor service. I’ve waited tables at many restaurants. Because of that, I am always apt to cut servers a lot of slack. It is a difficult job and, as a waiter, you cannot control every element of the dining experience, even though you are the face of the dining experience. That said, I usually don’t complain about service unless it is abominable. And this was.

After botching every possible aspect of our meal, I voiced my opinion to the server. The manager, with whom I’m friendly, came over and offered up various amends: different dishes, comped entrees, or free drinks and dessert. I told him I wasn’t interested in any of that as we had to leave, and the point wasn’t that I was looking for money off my bill. It occurred to me, though, that I didn’t know what I wanted. Probably an apology from the waiter. Ideally, a do-over on the whole meal, which came at the end of a very stressful day. Looking back, I think I should have asked the manager for a different server as soon as things got off course.

I’m reminded of a silly (and — WARNING! — often off-color) film starring Ryan Reynolds (aka Mr. ScarJo) called Waiting, about servers toiling away at an awful chain restaurant. In one scene, a patron wants to send her food back, and the poor server points out, “Ma’am, I don’t doubt the steak was overcooked, but did you have to eat it all before you complained about it?” Diners can behave badly, too, and negatively impact their own dining experience. However, great service has the transformative power of making a mediocre meal fantastic. Terrible service can overpower any food, no matter how carefully prepared and delicious it may be.

How important is quality service to you when you’re dining out? What do you do when the service is less than stellar? What should I have asked for from the manager after my experience? Weigh in here or over on Facebook.

And, speaking of service, stay tuned tomorrow as we roll out our Diners’ Choice Awards for Best Service provided by restaurants in America. Find out if your favorite restaurant makes the cut!

Siri Personal Assistant: A Voice App That Lets You Speak to OpenTable

Siri on OpenTable Mobile Siri Personal Assistant: A Voice App That Lets You Speak to OpenTableMobile makes a great proving ground for testing new usability concepts. Two years ago we pondered our own: showing you OpenTable restaurants with availability around your current location, beating the traditional phone at its own game. Since we started on OpenTable Mobile in 2008, we’ve seated more than 2 million diners via our mobile applications. Concept proven.

Over a year ago, we were approached by Siri, who wanted to take a fresh approach to voice recognition. Their goal was to make voice search contextually relevant (more so than the “Call home.” cliché) and actionable with third-party services. Siri wanted to tap into the vast network of OpenTable restaurants and prove their model through a use case everyone can understand – making a reservation. I have to admit some of us here were a little skeptical and thought we’d have to speak like a robot to make it work. However, we were pleasantly surprised when we spoke a natural but complicated phrase — “Find a table for two at Bambino’s this Saturday at 7PM,” — and Siri came back with a relevant response. From there, the reservation was confirmed in no time.

Siri took this usability concept one step further by responding to your queries on screen, rather than reading it back to you in monotone, which we all know would be an embarrassing experience in public. (By the way, if Siri makes an Auto-Tune version, I’ll go from being embarrassed to insisting it speak back to me.)

You may be wondering if Siri can do more than just search for a specific restaurant (incidentally, our forthcoming iPhone update will let you type in the name of a restaurant and reserve it right then and there). Try saying, “Show me Italian restaurants around here with tables tonight,” and feel a smile cross your face when Siri does just that. Siri is leading the field in voice recognition, and OpenTable is proud to be part of proving this incredible concept.

Have you tried Siri yet? Let us know what you think here or over on Facebook.

Josh Garnier is an OpenTable Product Manager.