Chow Town

Common-sense tips for a good dining experience

Lamb Ribs at the bar of The Rieger Hotel and Exchange
Lamb Ribs at the bar of The Rieger Hotel and Exchange Special to The Star

Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts about getting the most enjoyment out of your trips to restaurants. The first one can be read here.

There are a lot of variables that can impact your experience at a restaurant — the food, other customers, the day of the week, acoustics, temperature — but one of the most important is you. Yes, you.

I’ve had the good fortune of dining out quite a bit. I’ve observed a lot of behaviors, and I’ve gotten to know some people in the food service industry. And I’ve come up with some tips that I think can help anyone have a better experience at a restaurant.

▪ Call ahead if you have specific needs. Restaurants are in the hospitality business and they want you to have a good experience. The staff can do this easier if they’re prepared for your needs. Be courteous and call ahead if you have unique dietary restrictions, need good walker access for an elderly person, want to bring your own bottle of wine, etc. You might find that a place can’t accommodate your needs, and that’s OK. Better to find out before you go versus surprising the staff when you get there.

▪ Don’t be too demanding. The chef took a lot of time to put together a dish — to ensure flavors work well together, that it looks good and that it’s a good price point for the restaurant’s costs. If you’re going to ask for a lot of substitutions, maybe you should consider another dish that’s closer to your liking.

▪ Work out problems with the manager on duty. Your server is the first line of defense if something is amiss with your meal — food over/undercooked, wrong dish, a missed appetizer — but if he or she can’t, the proper thing to do is ask to speak with the manager on duty or the general manager. Don’t be a jerk about it. Just explain what happened.

I can tell you from the general managers that I know in the industry, they would much rather find out what was wrong with your meal at the time it happened instead of after the fact. Hey, I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, sometimes mistakes will happen, so how about giving a place a chance to make things right for you?

▪ Tip your server appropriately. And by appropriately, I mean at least 20 percent or more (10 percent and 15 percent is no longer acceptable — it’s 2015, folks). Whether or not you agree with the philosophy of tipping, this is the American system. You essentially agree to it when you enter a restaurant.

Also, if something went wrong with your meal, don’t take it out on your server by undertipping or not tipping at all. Take the time to ask to speak to the general manager.

These tips are all pretty common sense and common courtesy, and they’re all within your control. I find they work well for me, as I’m sure they will for you, too. Bon appétit!

Craig Jones is a live-fire cooking expert, the Grill Mayor for Food Network (2012), and owner of Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts. He’s also a certified KCBS BBQ judge, a master student of pizza crafting and an enthusiastic supporter of the greater Kansas City food scene.