Last December, my friend, Julian, took me out to dinner at Le Petit Greek. The restaurant, located in Larchmont Village, was Mediterranean and Greek and was quite, well, bourgeoisie. The moment that Julian and I stepped into the restaurant, we were greeted by the wide smile of a middle-aged man, who would be our server for the night. The server wore a sleek black suit with a red tie, wore a rather large watch, and had watched us... carefully, from the moment we neared the entrance. Soon enough, we found ourselves looking at a menu full of foreign words--words that we could not pronounce without sounding foolish. The menu did not inform us of the added ingredients and nutrients but told us that we needed to take Greek lessons. After enduring our perplexed expressions and strange sounds made by twisted, knotted tongues, our waiter was amused, but not surprised. He then proceeded gallantly reciting the foreign menu, hiding a slight smirk. Though my friend and I laughed and brushed off this minor incident, as a) the food was incredible b) our conversation was endless and c) we had a long night ahead of us, the short seconds of heat rushing up my rosy, burning cheeks could not easily be forgotten.
A few weeks after mine and Julian’s dining experience at Le Petit Greek, I found myself in yet another situation like such--this time, in Las Vegas: the city of sin and food. My mother, being the food expert that she is, made reservations for us at all of her favorite restaurants and spared the rest of us commoners from having to use chef terminology that I could never seem to remember. Thank my dear mother; the problem was not when we all dined with her present. No, the problem was when my cousins and I had several hours to spend entirely by ourselves, and we made the spontaneous decision to go into The Sugar Factory. From the moment we stepped in, I was brought back to Le Petit Greek. The main courses were nowhere as phenomenal, but the desserts took us to the moon and back. And the issue with the intimidating waiters who somehow managed to achieve a level of enlightenment that was above the average person’s reach--and the price tags--were brought back to life as well. At first, we all tried to be oblivious to the tags and ordered brashly, pretending to be the celebrities that we saw on the walls of the restaurant. We attempted to act calm. However, when our servers came with 2-foot-long smoothies with chocolate oozing out and cream overflowing the top, decorated with quaint cookies, glossed with another layer of chocolate, and a scoop of mint chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream stacked on top of each other and on layers of tiny, decorative donuts, we could not hide our amazement and shock. And when the bill rolled in, we also could not hide our shock and regret.
So how exactly can we, the commoners, the people who do not make ten grand a day, do not speak ten different languages, or are not world-class chefs, enjoy and indulge in these moments of high dining?With the school year resuming and returning back to my usual lifestyle, I have now had some time to ponder upon this subject. After collecting my thoughts, I now realize that there is no secret way to indulge and enjoy all dining experiences. In fact, the ways are quite simple.
Firstly, let’s take a look at our friend, Joe. What would happen if Joe walked in to watch a concerto with his bathing suit and flip flops? (This scenario has been slightly exaggerated, but you get the point.) Likewise, to a certain degree, you should watch your attire when heading to a restaurant. That way, you are automatically telling the people of the restaurant that you are respectful of the culture established there. Once you establish that you will be mannerful, the other side--being the restaurant/servers--is more prone to return this respect back to you. For instance, the night that Julian and I were dining at Le Petit Greek, we were dressed well, not because of the restaurant, but because we would be going to a dance hosted at the school Julian attends. I was in a champagne red dress with a black coat and Julian in his best-fitting suit. Frankly, I think we were allowed in only because we had worn such attire. The reason this experienced, pretentious waiter smiled at us, gladly read us the menu in a proper accent, and asked if we would like red wine, white wine, or the chef’s best champagne, (which we declined) is probably mostly to do with the clothing we chose on putting on. So rule #1: Wear appropriate attire.
However, that simply isn’t all. #2: Keep basic etiquette. Return smiles, say please, and perhaps the most essential tip: do leave tip. (In Los Angeles, the recommended amount of tip is 15% the cost of your meal; most receipts will display this at the bottom.) As obvious as it may be, these factor into a critical part of one’s dining experience. In the case that you will be returning to this restaurant, this part will help build relations between you, the owner, and server, and chances are, they will provide much better service (i.e. give extra drinks and larger portions). Even if it is a one-time experience at a certain restaurant, if you have a smile and are well-mannered, the servers are most likely to share and recommend their favorite item on the menu, or just be more helpful generally. In fact, at restaurants like Le Petit Greek, I firmly believe that it was our smiles that made up for our ignorance. All in all, you will have a better time when you give your servers a better attitude.
#3: Do your research. If you can, it also wouldn’t hurt to do some research before going to the restaurant. What kinds of food do they serve? Does a restaurant meet your dietary restrictions? (You don’t want to be that person who asks for everything off their burger except for the lettuce and bun.)
Finally, and most importantly, remember to enjoy the company of your friends, cousins, siblings, or whoever you came to dine with. My conversation with Julian is what made the food taste even better, my laughter shared with my cousins and sister is what made our pretty wasteful night out still shine bright in my heart and in my memories. It really isn’t just food that you’re paying for; you’re purchasing the experiences and memories as well--because those memories are a huge portion of the reason why dining out is so enjoyable. If those memories include our dearest friends and family, ultimately, you do not have to seat yourself at a sophisticated, 5-star restaurant that made it to Chef Magazine; all that matters is the attitude of your heart during the moment you’re biting into that creamy escargot.