Your Favorite Dish is Sold Out? Big Deal.

It’s difficult to remember what restaurants were like before people dined out to take photos of their food and invested hours online sifting through reviews weeks ahead of their reservation. The world was a much simpler place. The company you kept mattered more than the food you ordered. There was no such thing a Cronut. It used to be that a famous dish on the menu only became known through word of mouth or perhaps the occasional write up in the local newspaper. We didn’t get so emotional when a particular dish we loved was taken off the the menu or sold out.

Some restaurants still revel in being known for specialty items, broadcasting their prowess in flickering, neon humblebrags like: “Home of the Original Stuffed Clam” or “The Place for Ribs.” But there’s hardly a need for restaurants to flex anymore, the world has already seen it all on the ‘Gram. Social media has made having a signature dish a curse as much as a blessing. Now when we dine out, we’re not only comparing our restaurant experiences to our neighbor’s or friend’s account; we expect it to live up to the multimedia accounts of hundreds and thousands of strangers and, of course, the Kardashians. 

The most epic tantrums that occur nightly in restaurants come from guests incensed when popular items are sold out or signature dishes have been replaced on the menu. These meltdowns have intensified as guests spend more time and energy anticipating and planning their restaurant visits. The build up creates pressure which makes the explosions of disappointment even more combustible. “We made this reservation months ago and that dish is the only reason we came!!” they’ll say when the waiter delivers the bad news. Pacifying these irate guests is not unlike soothing crying children whose parents have just told them they can’t have dessert. 

sold-out-food

It’s a sensitive subject for restaurant managers and servers. We understand the reality that any dish on the menu can be sold out on any given night. That’s just how the economy of a restaurant works. It’s an imperfect science. If a restaurant only sells four orders of salmon on average every night, the chef isn’t going to buy ten pieces of fresh salmon every day just in case more people order it. Throwing away unsold food isn’t a good strategy for survival. Unfortunately, conveying this calculus to disappointed guests that had their heart set on a particular dish is difficult to do without seeming inhospitable

The fact remains though: Restaurants should do their best to make you happy but they don’t owe you anything. Food is perishable and supply chains fluctuate. An ingredient shortage often impacts the industry as a whole, not just one specific restaurant. You’re upset that your favorite sushi place is out of Uni but half of the city’s sushi bars may also have missed their deliveries. Many dishes take days in advance to prepare. It’s impossible to “whip up” a few orders of braised short ribs that needed to be salted days ahead of time and braised in red wine for hours.

Of course, guests are entitled to be disappointed that a dish is unavailable but it should never provoke outrage. When guests lose their cool, they’ve clearly convinced themselves that there is only one way to enjoy their experience. Approaching dining out anywhere with this kind of tunnel vision is self-sabotaging.

It’s actually a sign of your fluency as a diner to demonstrate how open you are to enjoying your meal despite missing out on a dish you’d hoped to try. Servers will work harder to make you happy. No one hates it more when dishes are sold out than the staff. Waiters’ lives are so much easier when they can give everyone everything they want every single night. Ask them for solutions. Understand that there is more than one path to having a great meal and always approach ordering with an open mind. You never know. You might end up liking your dish even more than whatever the Kardashians ate. 

Five Ways to Have a Better Relationship With Your Waiter

waiter relationships

I always find it amusing when guests ask my name the moment I greet the table. I also hate it. In their eyes, knowing waiters’ names is humanizing and their way of acknowledging that they see waiters as more than just servants. That’s all well and good, but asking personal questions can put the waiter in the uncomfortable position of having to divulge personal information before you’ve established any relationship. It’s a lot like dating. Coming on too strong can be a real turn off.

Of course, these guests’ hearts are usually in the right place, but the strategy often backfires. It can feel intrusive when friendly guests feel entitled to know more about their servers (Where are you from? How long have you worked here?). Asking unwanted questions may cause waiters to avoid your table. If you insist on knowing your server’s name, always introduce yourself first. It’s less threatening and reinforces that you see them as equals. 

Remember that good service is impossible without your participation. Take ownership of your role in building quality relationships with the people serving you, and you’ll see an immediate impact on the hospitality you receive. Big tips aren’t the only way to show your waiter you care. Here are a few good habits that will help you succeed:

Ask your server how his day is going? – It’s remarkably disarming when guests ask servers about their day. It breaks up the typical scripted dialogue and disrupts the phony pleasantries that define the usual introduction. Since most restaurant guests show little to no interest in their server’s role beyond providing them food, this is an opportunity to distinguish yourself. Asking about their day also shows concern without expecting intimacy. It’s a much more effective question for building solidarity than asking the server his name. 

Listen attentively to the specials – Today’s diners are so distracted by technology it can be difficult for waiters to keep their attention. You’d be surprised how rude restaurant guests can be when their waiters are trying to convey information about the menu. Interrupting a server’s presentation—even if it’s unintentional—sends a message that you devalue their participation in your experience. Set a positive tone. Put away your cellphone, listen to their spiel and ask thoughtful questions about how the new dishes are prepared.

waiter

Acknowledge when you enjoyed a dish they recommended – Recognition is rare when you wait tables. No one who works in restaurants is in the business for the appreciation. It’s a thankless job. But once in awhile when a guests says, “I really loved the dish you suggested,” it feels good. Next time the waiter comes back to the table to check on you, give credit where credit is due.

Offer to pour your server a taste of your bottle of wine – Waiters are rarely given the opportunity to taste high-end wines from the bottled list. If you order a nice bottle, ask your server if she’s ever tried it before. If she hasn’t, tell her to bring a glass! Pour the wine yourself so she doesn’t feel apprehensive about how far your generosity goes. Make a toast to great service!!

Ask your waiter to order for you – This is the ultimate gangster move. It takes a lot of trust to go to this extreme, but taking the leap of faith can pay dividends. Trusting blindly sends a message to servers that you feel comfortable in their hands. The worst service experiences are the ones where guests cannot give up control. Handing the waiter the steering wheel is empowering and will help fortify your relationship the rest of the meal. If you’re disappointed with the choices, share the blame. You had the same chance of being unhappy with your food if you ordered on your own. Ride or die together. 

Why You Should Never Order White Truffles in Restaurants

On the surface, people who sell white truffles to restaurants aren’t quite the merchants of luxury one might expect. No Rolex watches, no Cartier jewelry. They fly under the radar like undercover cops or the neighborhood weed dealer. It isn’t unusual to see them dressed down, in sports caps and hoodies, nonchalantly wheeling around their nuggets of buried treasure in carry-on luggage like doe-eyed tourists who fly Spirit Airlines.

Their contraband is meticulously sealed in airtight containers to ensure no truffle aromas might seep out and blow their cover. When you’re shlepping around tens of thousands of dollars of rare earth candy, it’s unwise to make a spectacle of yourself. Unlike most business deals between chefs and their purveyors, the anonymous exchange of truffles for money is shady af.

Oddly, it’s difficult to authenticate the provenance of truffles, which adds to their mystique. Even though you’d expect that chefs would insist on buying the genuine article, the truffle industry lacks a proper ombudsman in the way that consortiums govern Italian wine production with A.O.C designations or Italian cheeses are assigned to a specific D.O.P. Truffles trade on trust.

This means there is always a chance that you’re being sold truffles advertised as from Alba that are actually from Slovenia or Istria, among the very few other places in the world that have soils conducive to unearthing these wild little tubers. White truffles cannot be cultivated. Nature decides for herself where they randomly spore, and she doesn’t make them easy to find.

Provenance aside, the most important reason you shouldn’t order them in a restaurant is freshness. Assuming you aren’t sitting over a bowl of fresh tagliatelle in a restaurant in Piedmont, the truffle you’re eating is likely well past its prime. While the importation of white truffles has become more efficient through the years, they’re still among the most highly perishable agricultural products. Even the most fastidiously preserved white truffle will have lost most of its potency within just a few days.

White Truffles

Chefs in upscale restaurant must front thousands of dollars to put truffles on their menus and sales can be very erratic and inconsistent. Unlike other products chefs would dispose of when spoilage is an issue, they’ll do anything possible to usurp old inventory of truffles before serving the freshest ones. They’ll never admit they do it, but they do. Chefs love serving truffles because they’re a profit machine that requires little effort. Buy them, shave them and overcharge.

Sommeliers in high-end restaurants face a similar predicament when opening expensive trophy bottles. If they perceive that certain wines may be slightly off or borderline, they may try to serve them anyway hoping that the guest will not object. Wholesale cost on an $800 bottle that was purchased by auction five years ago cannot be recouped.

All of this means that the truffles on your hundred dollar pasta dish are likely not the freshest ones the chef has in the kitchen. If the aroma is flat or newspapery, you’ve been suckered. Of course, all chefs aren’t guilty of compromising their standards. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to know which kitchens are trustworthy and which aren’t.

The best way to avoid being served inferior truffles is to dine at restaurants that do more volume. The more they cycle through product, the fresher they’ll be. But it’s never guaranteed. Chefs prefer to buy larger quantities of truffles to get better pricing. That can lead to an unwanted surplus when sales lag behind expectations.

Beware the bait and switch. You might see sexy “show truffles” on display, filling the dining room with their musky smell but those will often not be the same ones the chef is shaving over your dish. Ask your servers if the truffle will be shaved table-side. If they say no, insist they do. Politely ask to smell the truffle beforehand. If its aroma is not potent when you smell it, its flavor wont be when they shave it over your food. Remember, generously covering a dish with shavings of an old truffle will only make it taste more like an old truffle.