March 17, 2008


 I know that you have probably eaten at a restaurant before, but this one actually caused me a lot of stress, so I will address it here in case you need the help. When my family left Papua New Guinea we went to a mall in Australia. It was a pretty overwhelming experience, so many choices, so many people, and weirdly enough, I was disoriented by the fact that I was no longer a minority and no one stared at me. My family all split up for lunch so we could eat what we wanted at the food court. I chose a sit down Rock and Roll hamburger joint type place. It should have been very comfortable to me. But, I found myself starting to panic. I did not have a clue how to order, if I should seat myself, how to pay, and so on. The whole time I figured that everyone was probably staring at me and thinking what a weirdo I was for not being able to handle this little slice of America. They weren’t of course, but it was scary enough that I decided to leave and go to the Chinese restaurant; at least there the food was more familiar. In Papua New Guinea there are a lot of Asian expatriates and therefore a lot of really delicious Asian restaurants. My whole family must have had the same thought because we all ended up sheepishly back at the same restaurant, comfortably ordering the more familiar.

I’ve learned, through trial and error, how to look and feel normal in a restaurant. Let me share some of my secrets: when you first enter a restaurant it is important to keep your eyes open. Notice if there is a sign saying “wait to be seated,” notice if there are waitresses or people simply standing behind a counter, and notice if there is a visible cash register. These variables all affect how you pay which seems to be the most important and most confusing factor.

In a sit down restaurant where they seat you, you simply need to follow the waitress (or waiter) back to your table. If it is very busy, you can sit at the bar (you have to order a drink, but it can be virgin) until you are called, or you can sit on the waiting benches. Some places will give you a UFO type thing that will buzz when you are ready. Some will just call your name. Once you get a table, look over the menu, order, eat what is served you, and then wait for the check. I will not cover complaining about what you get and how to get it changed because I have never really done it, I am too timid. And there is always the possibility that you will anger your waitress, and then have your food spit in. You laugh and think I am making this up, but last week I sat with some former waitresses swapping war stories. The classic story was about an annoying man who complained and then sent his food back. So the wait staff all took turns spitting on his sandwich. Then they took his lettuce and stomped on it, then they ran part of it through the dishwasher. When they were finished having their way with his sandwich, they brought it out to him, and served it with a smile. He apparently said it was the best sandwich he had ever had. Salmonella lettuce with a side of hock-a-loogie hamburger. Mmm, delicious. Come on people, think of Hepatitis or at the least food poisoning. If you are more brave then me, you can simply say, “the food that you served me was __________ (fill in the blank). Can you please deduct it from my check. Thank you.” But if everything is going as planned and you’ve had your dessert, they will likely offer you the little black folder with the receipt inside. You can place your credit card (or debit card) inside and put it at the edge of the table. This will signal to the waiter that they can take it and ring it up. They will then return the folder to you. You should remove your credit card, and then fill in the amount you want them to withdraw for tip and the final total (including tip). Ten percent tip is minimal, twenty percent is fabulous. I usually do twenty simply because the math is easy. If the bill is 23.42, then I move the decimal place one place to the left, 2.34 to get ten percent, and then double it. So I would tip around 4.60 for a bill of 23.42. But fifteen percent really isn’t that hard. Just half the ten percent and then add that. In otherwords 2.34 plus about 1.15. So a fifteen percent tip would be 3.45. My math sounds a little convoluted, so if you have an easier method, please let me know. I am looking to stream line the whole process.

If you are at a restaurant where they seat you, but you can visibly see the cash register in the front, then you will need to take your receipt to the front and pay at the cash register. The other clue is that they often give you your receipt without a little black folder. They usually do this at small Chinese restaurants, diners, lunch places, and restaurants like that. And apparently the Rock and Roll burger joint that I almost ate at in Australia. Then there are places like Panera’s or coffee shops where you order your food from the menus behind the counter, pay your bill, get a number and then wait until your number or name is called. These are the easiest to figure out, but also the busiest and most stressful.

Even though Chinese food is delicious, I hope you are brave enough to branch out into the world of new and different foods and interesting restaurants. Have fun.


2 Responses to “EATING at a RESTAURANT”

  1. Nice writing style. I will come back to read more posts from you.

    Susan Kishner

  2. Miranda said

    Amy, with you I am willing to go to almost any restaurant – especially cool Indian ones. I love the way you write, and was laughing so hard at the “Salmonella lettuce and Hock-a-loogie hamburger.” 😀

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