Friday, March 13, 2009

Dinner at 7 - For 14 - Rules for Dining Out

I have several rules about dining out, and I only have these rules because over many years of dining out, certain things start to become apparent - and that's when they become rules. Pretty simple, I think. It's like clichés - something is defined as a cliché, when it's actually the truth. But no digressing - back to the dining out rules; at the top of my list is to never dine out in a "fancy" or even a "fancy-ish" restaurant with more than a party of say, six (I like 4). There are a few reasons for this, not the least of which is the servers generally think they're going to get stiffed or under tipped in one way or another; as a matter of fact, the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs actually has rules about tipping policy for large parties, and here they are:

  1. The fee must be listed on the menu in 10-point type or larger.
  2. The fee can only apply to groups of 8 or more.
  3. The fee cannot exceed 15 percent.
  4. Charges for two persons splitting one meal, or a per-person minimum charge are allowed as long as the fee is conspicuously disclosed to the consumer before the food is ordered.
Geez, that's a lot of rules, so it must be important, right? Another reason, at least in my mind, is that kitchens are usually not up to the task of cranking out, say 8 entrees all at the same time, all cooked and served properly. It's just pure physics. And having worked "the line" at a fancy-ish restaurant, and not being able to even get two entrees to come out correctly and at the same time - well, that's why I'm writing this damn blog.

A third reason, as if I need one, is the whole dietary restriction thing. One person may be a vegetarian, one a vegan, someone else only eats pork, this one can't eat pork, that one can't eat shellfish - unless it's with pork...get the picture? FWIW, Significant Eater eats everything - well, everything except oatmeal, but that was a topic for another post, wasn't it?

BTW, if you think you're actually going to have a conversation with anyone, think again. Oh, maybe with the person sitting next to you, but just try to talk to someone across the table. In a NYC restaurant. Good luck with that. Secretly, I think that's why big families like to go out to eat together - that way, no one has to listen to anything anyone is saying.

So, what to do when the rules must absolutely be broken? After all, aren't rules meant to be broken, or is it records that are meant to be broken? Hmmm. In my mind, the places that are best prepared to feed large parties tend to be the ethnic or singular - cuisine type places. Asian food, especially Chinese, lends itself well to large party a matter of fact, it can even be more fun that way - think of all the things you get to try. Most Chinese restaurants have a few large round tables that seat a lot of people. That's how Chinese families roll...and the food doesn't require a lot of last minute prep. Sure, there's stir-fry, but that takes all of 2 or 3 minutes. There's deep fried, but that's also quick. Other things are braised, roasted, and generally prepped in advance - there's not a lot of last minute fancy-dancy plating going on to muck up the works. And there's usually something for everyone - I mean, one of our favorites, Congee Village, probably has hundreds of items on the menu.

Pizza, or restaurants where the main focus is pizza, are also good for breaking the rules. Especially pizzerias where the oven is cranking in at over 1000° F - takes less than 2 minutes to bake a pie in there. And you can have your sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, whatever and make everyone happy.

A couple of other tips: a cocktail or two before dinner can help immensely - that's why the reservation is made for 7 PM - since I never drink before 6, I need the hour. Also, there's Xanax, but it must be legally prescribed, so it helps to have a good doc. Seating is quite important - never, I repeat, never place yourself in between kids who might be drinking 8 or 10 cokes over the course of the evening. Did I mention drugs, because after 8 or 10 cokes, you mights as well be doing meth.

Most of all, sit back, relax, enjoy - it is dinner after all, and as Lidia always says:

Tutti a Tavola A Mangiare!
(Everyone to the Table to Eat!)

See you at 7.


  1. 1. After a xanax and manhattan or two, who cares if you can hear the conversation? I also recommend a darvon with a fresca.
    2. One should never dine in a restaurant with children. Period.
    3. Try eating Greek or Turkish-the mezze's lend themselves to groups (same with Lebanese, etc.), and there are many vegetarian options. Stay away from Turkish Moussaka though-no bechamel dammit!

  2. Turkish moussaka has no bechamel - who would have thought that?

    What I wouldn't give for a large polo mallet.

  3. Well obviously YOU didn't know either, zippy, so I wasn't the only clueless one. From now on it's Google on the cellphone for everything. Also, nice Woody reference.

  4. Although it did give me an excuse to chat up the Turkish hostess. Tessekur Ederim.

  5. My mother-in-law, may she RIP, always insisted on a round table, you could see other people, but you couldn't talk to them. Actually, that's kinda smart.
    Another rule: don't go with people who won't split the whole bill. I only had soup and you had the double broiled pork chops with foie gras on the side!
    Another Another Rule: Only go with people who enjoy food. We used to (note the past tense) go out with a woman who always insisted that she wasn't hungry. why did she come???
    Not a Rule, a Question: Do you have to be polite and respect vegetarians?