Lucy Corry’s Blog: A guide for rusty diners
Been eating at home of late? Lucy offers an etiquette cheat-sheet for those venturing out of the kitchen.
There’s no doubt that the relaxing of New Zealand’s alert level is good news, especially for those making a living in the hard-hit hospitality industry. Sociologists and psychologists say the upheaval of the last six months has made us all socially awkward now – in the same way that astronauts, polar explorers, soldiers and prisoners feel removed from reality when they return ‘home’.
Does staying in my suburb, for what feels like weeks on end, compare to being in prison? I am not sure but it feels weird to be venturing into the big outside world after being cooped up at home. It strikes me that in the dark times of the last few months, some of us might have forgotten how to eat out.
While being waited on hand and foot comes naturally to some people, (goodness knows my pre-teen has it down to a fine art), eating out in a roomful of strangers requires more than showing up and opening the wallet. Here’s a little guide to refresh that rusty memory.
BEFORE GETTING THERE
I’m sorry, lovers of spontaneity, but I think the days of rocking up and getting a table whenever, are gone. Dining at the time and location of choice, probably requires a booking (this has absolutely been my experience in Wellington in recent months). This might sound terribly boring, like the sort of thing people who run life via a spreadsheet might do, but it’s liberating to know exactly where the next meal is coming from.
Awkward moments of standing on the street, while debating whether to wait in hope of a table coming free, will vanish. If plans change, however, it’s extremely bad manners not to let the restaurant know.
Is being a no-show at a friend’s dinner okay ? Or turning up an hour late with three extras? Please don’t do either to a business relying on customers to keep the lights on.
MAKING AND TAKING ORDERS
Even with homework done and a plan to go out, suddenly being ‘out’ can be a bit confronting. The lights! The noise! The other people! Be careful not to accidentally get drunk and obnoxious, or turn into that person who clicks their fingers at the waitstaff. Waving a credit card in the air is another no-no.
Be sensible about dietary needs, too. Do the decent thing and warn the restaurant in advance if a peanut might cause anaphylaxis. Don’t be the person who makes a fuss about needing gluten-free everything, but who then orders a giant full-gluten pudding because they’ve “been so good”.
This once happened at the end of a nine-course degustation in a fancy Sydney restaurant, where the chef had gone to some trouble to design a separate GF menu for one diner. When she saw what everyone else was tucking into for dessert, her intolerances were miraculously cured. Apparently the chef had to be physically restrained from putting her in the hospital with knife-related injuries.
Not sure what or how much to order? Ask. But if you smell a rat, don’t eat it. I still regret falling for a waiter’s enthusiastic endorsement of the house cheeseburger in a grim suburban hotel restaurant several years ago.
CHOOSE YOUR COMPANIONS WISELY
Taking the kids? Excellent! I’m a firm believer that eating out is an important life skill and the sooner children learn it the better. Some kids actually behave better in public (l know two holy terrors who are absolutely angelic when dining out). But if kids have been confined to home barracks for a while, they might be just as overcome as the adults. Start small – make that first outing somewhere with outside seating and lots of space.
STRIKE A POSE
Now, I’m as guilty of taking photos of what I’m eating as the next person, but we could probably give it a bit of a rest, don’t you think? Not everything needs to go on the ‘gram (I love getting somewhere and realizing that the lighting isn’t Insta-friendly, so I can put my phone away).
A quick snap is fine, but endless positioning of plates, or worse, people, is very 2019. These days there’s no guarantee when the next in-person catch-up with dining companions will be possible, so put them first.
If it was a good time, and the wherewithal is available, leave a tip. Or tell friends, especially the ones with deep pockets. Say nice things on social media. Most of all, be grateful that to someone else cooked dinner, made coffee and cleaned up afterwards. It might look like a fancy life, but the hospitality industry is a bloody tough way to make a living.