Are Restaurants Trying to Influence What You Order?

menu Are Restaurants Trying to Influence What You Order?This week, Grub Street calls out restaurants for trying to manipulate what diners order via carefully designed and well-written menus. Um, I should really hope they’re doing that. Give me a menu that sells me on how scrumptious an entrée is or a server who swears by a certain dish any day. Are you worried that you’re being unduly influenced? Find out what tactics to look out for – and learn which restaurants are using them.

Turning Down a Table: Confessions of a ‘Picky Seater’

tables Turning Down a Table: Confessions of a Picky SeaterIt’s no secret that I love dining out. But it’s about the whole experience, not just the fact that I’m not preparing my own meal or even serving it. It’s the setting. And, for me, a big part of that setting is where I’m sitting. The right table can make a meal one to remember – or one to forget. Obviously, then, from time to time, I request a different table than the one I am first offered. In fact, I did so two nights ago while dining at Scarpetta, a very well-reviewed and busy Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s trendy Meatpacking District. The place was almost entirely filled at 7PM (on a Wednesday!) and, as someone who has been a hostess, I could see I’d thrown a tiny monkey wrench into the front desk’s well-oiled seating plans. However, they were quite gracious in accommodating our request. We happily waited at the bar, and in just 20 minutes we were presented with a perfect table (at which we enjoyed a wonderful meal).

Of course, my instincts aren’t always correct. I once switched tables twice in the same evening (from one table to another – and back again), much to our server’s great chagrin. I don’t recommend doing this, unless you want to drive the front-of-house staff crazy, but after settling in to the first (and better, in hindsight) table, my friends and I ordered two bottles of wine and several courses each. Had we been unhappy with our seats, we probably would have spent far less on food and wine and never returned. Now, that restaurant has become a familiar favorite.

I wondered how restaurateurs view “picky seaters” like me, so I asked one. Rob Wilder, CEO of ThinkFoodGroup, whose Washington, D.C. area restaurants include Café Atlantico, Jaleo Bethesda, Jaleo Crystal City, Jaleo DC, Oyamel, and Zaytinya, reassured me, “Switching tables is never an issue! The only problem is when we don’t know and can’t fix it — leaving the guest unhappy. A good table to one diner might be a bad table to another and vice versa. And, once we know our customers preferences, we can make a note in our Opentable system.”

The next time you want to switch tables, use these tips to make sure things go smoothly.

  • Be polite when requesting another table.
  • Let the host know – tactfully – why you don’t like the table (so you don’t wind up with an equally displeasing table).
  • Don’t demand a specific table. Even if it’s empty, it doesn’t mean it’s available.
  • Be patient. You may have to wait a while until a more suitable table opens up.
  • Grab a seat at the bar. A cocktail can help pass the time and you can probably order an appetizer if you’re starving.

Eating out on Father’s Day: Dining Deals for Dad

fathersday Eating out on Fathers Day: Dining Deals for DadMove over, Mom. This Sunday is Father’s Day. And, since the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, treating dad to a meal will guarantee he loves his gift (Does he really need another tie? Probably not! Ditto on the golf balls.).

Unlike Mother’s Day, which seems irrevocably yoked to brunch, Father’s Day dining deals tend to be a bit more diverse. From discounted dinners featuring juicy steaks to complimentary cocktails, restaurants are doing right by dad. Caprino’s in the San Francisco area is discounting dad’s dinner meal by 50%! At Café Ba Ba Reba in Las Vegas, dads dining out receive a $25 gift certificate for a future visit. Looking for a little luxury? At Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Denver, your father can really put his feet up. His three-course, prix-fixe meal includes a free car detail while dining and a complimentary cigar. And, at each of Havana Central’s three New York locations (Times Square, Union Square , and  The West End ), a prix-fixe special entrée, a hand-rolled cigar, bottomless beer, and a family portrait await fathers.

Thinking of taking the festivities outside in honor of the first day of summer? Dad can get a break from the grill at Jedediah’s at Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport, New York, which will host an outdoor pig roast with bocce ball and horseshoes.

Check out all the dining deals restaurants in your area are offering by clicking on the “Father’s Day-June 21/Special Menus & Offers” button on your OpenTable start page. When dining out, be sure to mention OpenTable to your server to take advantage of these specials.

Do You Know Which Fork to Use (and Does It Even Matter)?

cutlery1 Do You Know Which Fork to Use (and Does It Even Matter)?If the Obamas invited you to a state dinner at the White House, would you know which fork or spoon to use for each course? Perhaps not (Hint: Start on the outside and work your way in), but Chow’s Helena Echlin wonders if this even matters anymore – at least in restaurants. As a big fan of tasting menus, I’m finding that many restaurants replace the cutlery with every course, so there’s no opportunity for a fork faux pas. Five-course meals aside, restaurateurs have become so accommodating to diners, that you can be sure no one will bat an eye if you wish to eat your entire entrée with a teaspoon. However, if any of us ever get to dine with the POTUS and the First Lady, let’s be sure we know a salad fork from a seafood fork.

Restaurant Review Roundup: Word on the Street

Trying to decide where to eat? Want a little professional help? Read about these recently (and positively) reviewed restaurants — and book a table to judge for yourself.

Hard Times in the Big Easy

bigeasy Hard Times in the Big EasyIt’s been nearly four years since Hurricane Katrina devastated much of New Orleans (among other places). Rebuilding efforts have long been underway, and, in fact, even more restaurants have since opened in this city of food and fun. But, it’s still not a cakewalk for many of the city’s longtime restaurateurs. CNN spotlights the everyday challenges at Mat & Naddie’s, a neighborhood gem (according to OpenTable diners) that serves modern Louisiana food. Next time you’re in the Big Easy, book at table and sample chef/owner Stephen Schwarz ‘s modern Louisiana food.

Best of the Rest(rooms)

best restrooms Best of the Rest(rooms)The best seat in the house may not be in the dining room at some restaurants. The Chicago Tribune spotlights the nominees for America’s best public restrooms. Included on the list are Canlis restaurant in Seattle, Washington, the Palm Court at Chicago’s Drake Hotel, and Zeffirino at the Venetian Resort and Hotel in Las Vegas. Sponsored by Cintas Corporation, the contest has been held since 2002. You can take a virtual tour of these and other impressive powder rooms (one even features a mahogany pool table) and vote for your favorite through July 31, 2009, here.

What Words Should Restaurant Reviewers Avoid?

cliche1 What Words Should Restaurant Reviewers Avoid?Epicurious editor James Oliver Cury calls out restaurant-review and food-writing clichés this week. Among his all-time un-faves are “decadent dessert” and “yummy.” The Village Voice has an even more lengthy list of food-related terms it wishes writers would terminate altogether. Concerning the latter list, I completely disagree on “crispy.” Hearing or reading that word makes my mouth water. Crispy duck? Yes, please! Crispy fries? Affirmative! Crispy bacon? Please, sir, I want some more! I could go on and on, but you get the general idea.

What bothers me more than well-worn words are the du jour phrases that seem to creep into the dining vernacular only to be replaced by something more precious and/or trendy the following year. Housemade, anyone?

Eat Like a President: From Washington, D.C. to Washington Place

whitehouse Eat Like a President: From Washington, D.C. to Washington PlacePresident Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama dined out in the Big Apple this past weekend. So, where in one of the food capitals of the world did they eat? Blue Hill, naturally. The Obamas are committed to sustainable agriculture as indicated by the new White House kitchen garden, and Dan Barber, chef/co-owner of Blue Hill, is renowned for his role in the field-to-plate movement.

A 2009 James Beard Foundation Award winner, Barber also operates Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is a non-profit, four-season and pastured livestock farm that provides many of the ingredients served at both Blue Hill restaurants.

Texting While Dining out: The Lesser of Two Evils?

texting Texting While Dining out: The Lesser of Two Evils?New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni confesses that he doesn’t mind seeing diners texting while eating in restaurants – only, mind you, because it means they’re not gabbing away on their mobile phones.

I’m a rabid texter, but I usually only indulge in restaurants when I’m waiting at the bar for my dining companions to arrive (and I’m always the first to arrive. Grrr! But that’s a blog for another time). However, it seems so many people have jobs that require them to be dialed in at all times that I agree with Mr. Bruni. Texting is far less disruptive and far more polite than either making or taking a call at the table or excusing yourself repeatedly. Just try not to text while your food is on the table lest you may insult the chef.