Having spent the past 20 years in a kitchen, I’ve seen just about everything you could imagine when it comes to customers. There are some people who just get it and have learned the ropes when it comes to going out for a nice dinner. But many people could use a little dining help. This guideline is for them!
Chef Paul’s Dining Do’s and Don’ts:
Do: Visit a restaurant mid-week. Chances are it won’t be as busy as the weekend, and the team will have time to ensure your experience is top notch. Try to keep in mind that weekend dining is optimal for tourists!
Don’t: Visit your favourite restaurant on a Sunday or Monday. Why, you ask? Well, the reality is that the head chef and general manager are likely off that day, which means the sous-chef is at the helm of the kitchen, and he is making the most of his opportunity. The same goes for the front of house. The top salespeople are given the best shifts, leaving the part-time servers to look after customers on calmer nights.
Do: Take the time to make a reservation if you want to dine at your favourite restaurant. Chances are if the location is busy, you will require a reservation to get in. This also helps the team to properly prepare for your arrival.
Don’t: Berate or yell at the hostess when you arrive for your reservation, and still have to wait a few minutes for your table. Please understand that we allocate a certain amount of time for guests to enjoy their meal, but sometimes they end up staying longer. Unfortunately, this is not in our control and we can’t simply tell them to get up and leave. In fact, I have arrived at many great restaurants and have waited for 15 to 30 minutes because my table wasn’t ready. Some teams might even buy you a drink at the bar while you wait!
Do: Take the time to inform your server, or even the manager, when something isn’t right. Often times we are quite busy, and although we strive for greatness, we’re not perfect. If you address your concerns in a respectful way, restaurant employees will be glad to solve the problem to ensure you leave satisfied.
Don’t: Tell us everything was great to our faces, only to head home and write a scandalous review of your experience, on every public forum you can find. This tends to be the result of someone lacking in culinary knowledge or experience. I can’t tell you how many times I have read foolish reviews, like “The hollandaise sauce was just too buttery” or “$12 for fish tacos seems really expensive. I had them in Mexico and they were 3 for $1.” This stuff drives me nuts! So do everyone a favour and leave the restaurant reviews to the food critics.
Do: Make a point to tell your server of any food allergies or specific dietary concerns you may have. Professional restaurants will take these very seriously and follow the proper steps to ensure your health and safety, but keep in mind we can only share in the responsibility of your well-being. If you have an allergy of any kind we MUST know what it is in order to prevent any cross-contamination.
Don’t: Make light of dietary restrictions or allergies. I can’t tell you how many people come in to our restaurant and proclaim they have celiac disease, while they guzzle down a beer and tell me it’s okay to cook their fries in the deep fryer. If you don’t really have a dietary restriction, making light of this disease, which adversely impacts just shy of 1% of the population, only hurts their chances of being taken seriously at restaurants in the future. Furthermore, while you think eating gluten-free bread is healthier than regular bread, I have news for you; you are simply replacing one starch with other starches, which are used to make something that resembles bread. Think about low-fat dishes we find at the grocery store; the fat has simply been replaced with sugar to make it palatable, causing people to unknowingly consume more fat.
Do: Trust that the menu the chef has created is their best work. Chances are that if their name is attached, they’re proud of what’s on the menu.
Don’t: Come in to their restaurant and decide to tear apart the menu, mix and match items to create your own concoction, and then complain that the food isn’t good. Understand that chefs are a cross between an artist and an assembly line worker. The art comes from creating a dish that is truly great, and being able to recreate that same great dish over and over again. When you change a chef’s creations, you are losing out on that.
Do: Last but not least, take the time to try a restaurant out for yourself before you pass judgement. In today’s world of instant information, people are so quick to love or hate something because of what complete strangers are saying, and they overlook real gems worth trying. At the very least, rely on friends and colleagues who share similar standards and dining habits for feedback. They will likely provide a much more accurate portrayal of what to expect.
Chef Paul Shufelt is a business partner and executive chef of Century Hospitality Group. He’s competed in the Canadian Culinary Championships and Best in Chow Burger Wars, has been featured in Avenue magazine and is leading a fundraiser for the Canadian Culinary fund.