You Can Take It with You: The Etiquette of the Doggie Bag #hackdining

Doggie Bag BlogJust because a meal has ended doesn’t mean you’ve taken your last bite. Doggie bags allow you to extend a dining experience beyond the confines of your restaurant reservation, while also helping cut down on food waste and saving you some time in the kitchen later on. The tradition began in Rome during the sixth century B.C. Banquet goers would wrap up extra food in a napkin to signal to their host just how much they enjoyed the meal. However, the modern practice – and the name doggie bag itself – came to fruition in the States during World War II, when diners were encouraged to their leftovers to feed their pets, though it soon became apparent that diners – not Rover – were the usual recipients of the unfinished meals. This new practice opened up a proverbial Pandora’s bag of etiquette issues, which are still present today. Here are six tips on how to deal with the doggie bag.

No Shame

Whether you’re dining in a budget-friendly eatery or a high-end restaurant, you can always ask for a doggie bag. Some diners don’t want to ask for their leftovers when dining in four-star restaurants because they don’t want to appear cheap. They shouldn’t feel poorly about making the request. Just because an establishment has nice silverware, white tablecloths, and a tasting menu that costs more than the average car payment doesn’t mean they don’t have takeaway containers in the back. Don’t worry; the staff is more than happy to put the remainder of your truffle topped cacio e pepe in a box for you, so you can eat it later that night when you’re in bed catching up on Game of Thrones.

Sharing is Caring

Everyone is entitled to take home the remains of their own meal, of course. (It’s also perfectly acceptable to “gift” your uneaten portion to someone else at the table.). However, it gets trickier when it comes to dividing up family style entrees between two or more guests. Before simply claiming the giant rectangle of lasagna sitting at the center of the table, ask your dining companions if anyone else would like to take some home. If someone else is interested as well, either divide up the leftovers yourself or ask the staff to do it for you.

Pack Wisely

Getting home and opening your doggie bag to find that a sauce has leaked out, the bread is soggy, or a component is missing can be disappointing – and may even cause you to throw the food out. To prevent such waste from happening, politely request that any dips or spreads be packed separately, sandwiches or rolls be wrapped in aluminum foil, and be sure to specifically point out what leftovers you’d like to take home. Some restaurants will simply bring you takeout containers, so you can wrap everything up to your liking.Continue Reading

Who Owns a Dish? A Discussion with Chef Stuart Lane of Spinasse

Who Owns a Dish? A Discussion with Chef Stuart Lane of Spinasse

On an episode of Chef’s Table, Netflix’s docuseries that follows prominent chefs, Grant Achatz recalls a discussion he had with chef Thomas Keller while he was a young cook at The French Laundry. Achatz had created a cantaloupe and caviar gelee dish for the restaurant’s tasting menu and chef Keller liked it and wanted to add it to the menu.

Before incorporating the dish into the menu Keller asked Achatz a question: “If this dish goes on the menu it becomes a French Laundry dish; are you okay with that?” Achatz said yes, as any young cook would, proud of creating something that his mentor deemed worthy enough of serving in his restaurant. The dish was added to The French Laundry’s tasting menu.

Every single restaurant dish starts as an idea from an executive chef or a line cook, who then works on creating that dish. In most kitchens, dishes don’t reach the menu until line cooks, sous chefs, or the executive chef taste the dish and add their opinions. It’s like editing a rough draft of an article. After everyone weighs in, the original chef or line cook that came up with dish makes changes based on the feedback and the process repeats itself. Once the dish is approved by all parties it’s added to the menu or run as a special for the night. That dish is the final draft, the one that gets published and added to the menu.

Except, in writing, finished articles usually include the name of the writer somewhere on the page. On menus, dishes are not credited to the cook who may have originally came up with the idea — instead they’re all lumped under the executive chef’s name. So, who really owns a dish? And in the case of signature dishes that become an important part of a tasting menu (a la Grant Achatz at The French Laundry) who can claim ownership?

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Check Splitting Etiquette: The Art of Painlessly Dividing the Bill #hackdining

Check Splitting EtiquetteDining out with a group of friends, going on a date, or having dinner with a few out-of-town relatives should be a joyful occasion. But these memorable meals can descend into a mess of confusion, disproportionate payouts, and hurt feelings when it comes time to split the check. Save the table that collective pain and be thoughtful to your server by following these seven tips for gracefully dividing the bill.

When Someone Treats

If one contingent of the party insists on paying for the meal either upfront or when the check is presented, it’s still good form to offer to cover the tip. Consider it a gesture of thanks and goodwill. The host may turn you down, but at least you’ve made the offer.

Advance Warning

Asking the server to split up the bill at the end of the meal is an inconsiderate, messy move. If you’d like separate checks, request them before anyone has ordered. It will still require the server to do more work, but it will make it easier for them to keep everyone’s various charges separate. Remember, many restaurants cap the maximum number of check splits and some won’t do separate checks at all. (They usually note this one the menu, but, if they don’t, you should ask about their policy at the start of the meal). Call ahead if you’re going to ask to split a check more than four ways to make sure they can accommodate your group.

Elect a Foreman

Someone needs to take control of divvying up the check. Allowing everyone to eyeball the receipt and guestimate what they owe often doesn’t end well. If people under pay and there’s still enough to cover the check, no one will fight to put more money in to ensure the server is tipped appropriately (FYI: if you have a large party that is taking up a lot of your server’s time, you should tip 20 percent or more). So nominate the math major in the party or take on the job yourself to ensure the check splitting goes as smoothly and speedily as possible.

Equality is Easy

The easiest way to split the check is to simply divide it evenly amongst the diners and agree on the percentage tip you’ll each leave. If you’re dining with a group of longtime friends who ate and drank approximately the same meal – everyone had two cocktails and shared a series of small plates – then this is an easy route.

Steak and Wine Vs. Salad and Water

Don’t split the bill equally if one dining companion pointedly ordered a side salad and water, while the rest of you split three bottles of wine and each ordered steaks. Your friend may be on a tight budget but still wanted to see you all, so don’t punish them for coming out. If you’re the diner with a limited budget, make sure you request a separate check at the beginning of the meal so you don’t need to explain your circumstances to the group.Continue Reading

Meltdown Averted: How the Pros Help Prevent Your Kid’s Restaurant Tantrums

kid's restaurant tantrums

Restaurant staffers work overtime to create a warm, welcoming environment. But sometimes minors can cause them major headaches, and threaten to derail the establishment’s carefully crafted dining experience. By thinking quickly and being proactive, staffers can prevent your kid’s restaurant tantrums and make sure everyone goes home happy.

The Picky Eater

Walking through the dining room of Betony in New York City one evening, executive chef Bryce Shuman noticed something awry. A couple was dining with their six-year-old son, who clearly wasn’t enjoying himself. The youngster hadn’t touched the food on his plate, wore a grumpy expression, and was distractedly playing with his iPad. His dissatisfaction was impeding his parents’ ability to have a good time and enjoy their meal. So Shuman decided to try to turn around their experience. He sent a staffer out to the nearest grocery store to buy a bottle of ketchup and frozen curly fries. When they brought out the nicely plated treat soon afterwards, the kid’s face lit up and he dove in. The parents looked equally pleased. “It was a good moment,” says Shuman. “So much of what we do goes beyond simply serving food and wine; it’s about making people feel great. So anything I can do to make that happen, I’ll do it.”

The Young & The Restless

Trummer’s on Main in Clifton, Virginia is used to hosting little diners, who usually don’t require much extra attention. But a few years ago, co-owner Victoria Trummer noticed a brother and sister – aged approximately five- and seven-years-old – were getting antsy during dinner and were itching to bolt. They had already finished their meal, but their parents’ entrees hadn’t arrived yet, so leaving wasn’t an option. The usual iPhone videos hadn’t worked as a diversion, so Trummer decided to come up with a better distraction. She and the kitchen crew assembled DIY sundae platter featuring scoops of vanilla and popcorn ice cream, candy, chocolate pecans, and housemade butterscotch. “The kids and the parents were elated,” she says. “The energy at the table and the dining room changed dramatically.” The experience help inspire the restaurant’s Petit Gourmand program, a high-end tasting menu for children that culminates with a make your own sundae that often makes the adults at the table jealous.

The Bored Ones

There’s an old saying, “When the mind wanders, happiness also strays.” This is certainly true with children in restaurants. Boredom can transform into a hissy fit in five seconds flat. That’s why Grace Abi-Najm Shea, co-owner of the Washington, D.C. area Lebanese Taverna restaurants is proactive in engaging children. If the smaller members of a party appear to need amusement, she uses a variety of techniques. Shea might take them into the kitchen to help make the eatery’s signature puffy pita bread. Another tactic is to bring them around the restaurant and introduce them to other guests, especially those with kids. If the children are a little older, she lets them play host and give guests their menus when they sit down. “The customers love it and the kids feel so important,” says Shea. “And the parents get a break, which is always nice.”Continue Reading