In the five years that The Infatuation has been in existence, we've written over 800 restaurant reviews. So it goes without saying that we know our way around a two-top. We often get asked how to ensure that eating out is a good experience. And here's the thing most people don't realize – the key to a good restaurant experience often starts with you, the diner.
What do we mean by that? Well, there are a lot of factors that you can't control when you go out to dinner. Maybe the waiter is in a funk, or maybe the kitchen is in the weeds that night. Most restaurants have off days every once in a while, and sometimes you happen to be there for one. But there are some things you can do to give yourself the best possible chances at achieving dinner satisfaction. And that's why we're here today. Call it strategy, call it planning, or call it restaurant hacks (actually, don't call it that), but whatever you call it, use the tips below and you'll find yourself having more good meals more often.
And just remember, if a meal ever does go awry for whatever reason, you can always just order a glass of bourbon – we prefer Knob Creek® — with your meal for guaranteed satisfaction. Let's just call that an emergency short cut. Use when necessary.
Know How to Get to the Good Stuff
Even the best restaurants have strengths and weaknesses, and every restaurant menu features a standout item or two. You could do a little research before you get to dinner, but let's be honest — you probably won't. Instead, ask the waiter for some help. But don't frame the question as "What's good here?" Be more specific, and ask what the "can't-miss items" or "crowd favorites" are. If the answer you get is "everything," you're probably not in great hands. A well-trained server in a good restaurant won't be afraid to guide you.
Don't Be Afraid to Eat at the Bar
So often are people deterred by the idea of eating at the bar in a good restaurant, as though the experience will somehow be diluted. That's a myth we'll happily debunk. There are a slew of great restaurants in which we prefer to eat at the bar, for a few reasons.
First of all, even if you can't swing a reservation, you can almost always grab a seat at the bar if you're willing to wait a bit. Second, it's a much more pleasant way to have dinner as a duo. We'd rather sit next to our date than across from them. And here's the thing you didn't think about — who's the most-likely person in the restaurant to be good at dealing with people? The bartender. Bartenders will almost always be more engaging than a server, plus they're that much closer to the bottle of Knob Creek® Bourbon. See what we mean about strategy?
Drink As Well As You Eat
Here's something we've never understood. You just showed up at a really good restaurant for what is sure to be a really good meal. It's probably some farm-to-table concept, and there's definitely some reclaimed wood in the room. There's a killer raw bar, some dry-aged steaks, and some insane-looking pork chop on the menu. The host shows you to your table, you sit down, and you decide to kick off your meal by ordering something — let's just call it basic — like a vodka cranberry. What are you doing? Here's a tip: if you're going to bother eating good food, bother with drinking something good too. There are plenty of things you can sip on that will bring out the flavors in your food and make your meal taste better. For one, Knob Creek® Bourbon with its big, full flavor and range of outstanding offerings can enhance almost any food order. If you're planning on ordering that pork chop, complement it by ordering Knob Creek® Smoked Maple to add a bit of sweet and smoky to your meal. If you're looking to bring out spicier notes, try Knob Creek® Rye Whiskey.
Do Your Thing, but Do It Discreetly
It's 2014. Technology has become so ubiquitous that a "smartphone" is now just a "phone." And that technology has made its way to the dinner table, most notably via the camera. But here's the thing: just because you can take a whole bunch of pictures of your food, doesn't mean you should. We are all for social food photography, but we'll also be the first to tell you that there is a time and a place for such a thing. It's your job to assess the situation and figure out what's going to fly and what won't. Some restaurants are more than happy for you to snap and share images of their food. Others prefer that you check all communication devices at the door for the sake of a more peaceful, refined dining vibe. Take the temperature of the establishment and your fellow diners, use your judgment, and don't be a jerk.
Tip Like a Pro
We know you consider yourself a good tipper. You never leave less than 20%, and that's on top of the entire bill — you're not one to nitpick over tax. Good for you. That's the way you should be. But here's a little tip that will make sure you are greeted warmly upon your next visit to your favorite restaurant: if you really want to go the extra mile, tip in cash instead of writing in the extra on the credit card slip. Some in the industry will tell you that it doesn't really matter, as they get paid out either way at the end of the night. But there are also some restaurants where that's not the case. So instead of leaving it to chance, make sure there's some cash on your table. Just make sure it's still at least 20% of the bill, assuming the experience was pleasant.
So there you have it — a few suggestions on how to make sure you are dining like a seasoned veteran, and more importantly, like a respectful and awesome human being. Take these into account, and you're guaranteed to have more great meals more often.
Oh, and feel free to thank us for this incredibly valuable dining/life advice. We accept any and all gifts, as long as they are in Knob Creek® Bourbon form.