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Standard Interviews: Les Murray, president of Toronto’s Festival of Beer
How To Dine Out (and Not Be a Jerk About It)
Eating out is an art. Here's how to master it.

Restaurant empty? Turn around now. (Photo: Flickr, Uwe Hermann)

Eating out is the very last vice, or at least the only one every 30-something will happily tweet about. Whether you dine at the bar, with a partner or in groups, the maternal satisfaction of eating warm food and being provided with loving service is the heroin that just keeps on giving.

Such nights of crave-quenching indulgences are blissdom, but evenings where nothing clicks are itineraries of buyers remorse. Very little makes people analyze their monetary exchanges like a surly waiter or a tough steak.

Having the perfect meal out, and keeping it that way, is a high-level skill (even if many restaurant goers aren’t aware of it). Here’s how to steer your night in the right direction.

1. Don’t go to the restaurant your boss loves. Use your own gut instinct instead, or at last a combination of good reviews, trustworthy second-hand experiences and a restaurateur or chef with history. If the menu is laminated, the waiter introduces themselves by name or there any exclamation marks after “a-la-carte!” – it’s time to bow out.

2. Avoid the worst table. There isn’t always a best table, but there’s always a worst. We’re talking about the one where the kitchen door hits you as each server passes through. If you can hear the toilet flushing and know whether it was a no. 1 or no. 2, you’re in the wrong place. Look around as you walk to your table, locate another table and politely ask your server to be moved before you’re seated.

3. Go Dutch on the bill, no matter how many of you there are. I die a little inside every time I have to watch people split up a bill in public. If more than one person is paying, the bill should always be divided equally. People who whip out their iPhone to divide their portion when the bill arrives (and who tend to forget about tax and tip, too) should be exiled to the Northern Territories to dig holes.

4. Can’t pronounce it? Don’t try. We’re not judging (maybe a little), and no one expects you to be a polyglot. If Italian isn’t your first language, save us all the embarrassment of sounding out vowels that don’t exists and just point. Like wiping off a wingsauce stain in the washroom, it’s the best thing to do in a horribly embarrassing social situation.

5. Atmosphere is everything. While a busy restaurant isn’t a key indicator that the food is any good, nothing screams problems like an empty restaurant. If you don’t know the location, scout your restaurant ahead of time (yes, I do that). Nothing kills a dinner like watching the staff mill around an empty room as you’re forced to whisper the week’s best gossip.

6. Make a reservation. Is picking up the phone that painful? No, you can’t just ‘swing by and see what happens’ and no, there probably isn’t ‘a spot at the bar.’ There is nothing cryptic whatsoever about the term “hotspot;” it means, just to clarify, that it’s very very popular and if they don’t take reservations, prepare to queue at six p.m. The weak link in the chain who drags everyone to the other end of town with no guarantee of seating at 9:45 should pay for the cabs from now on.

JJ Thompson is the founder of Compendium Daily and a man about town with a camera in one hand and a pen in the other. Follow him at @jjtho.

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