- I’ve dined out a lot over the past three years.
- Now, I realize my approach to certain aspects of the experience might not be the norm.
- Here are some of my tips for everything from landing reservations to ordering a meal you’ll enjoy.
I dine out in restaurants pretty regularly these days. Whether it’s for my job as a reporter, for socializing, or for trying something I’ve had my eye on for a while, I’ve gotten pretty good at navigating my way around the experience.
After chatting with friends and coworkers about some of my restaurant habits and rules of thumb, I realized some of the things that are second nature to me are sometimes not even a thought to other people.
Here are some of the practices I live by that have helped with everything from landing tricky reservations to leaving satisfied with what I’ve ordered.
Pick up your phone and call the restaurant
My No. 1 tip for getting a reservation somewhere is calling the restaurant directly. While it’s not a sure thing and some restaurants don’t pick up their phone, more often than not I’m able to secure a table this way if I can’t get one online.
Reservation apps like Resy and OpenTable are great and you should always check there first, but they’re not always completely reflective of the number of open tables a restaurant will actually have on any given night. So when I want to make a 7 p.m. reservation at a spot that’s on everyone’s radar, I call.
Typically, I’ll give them a ring just a few minutes after they’ve opened, as they probably won’t be answering the phones before then. I also will go into the call with a range of seating times that work for me so they know I’m open to being flexible — sometimes the 6:30 p.m. slots are full but they notice they can seat me at 6:45 or 7:15.
Ask to sit at the bar
Is there a restaurant that you’ve been wanting to try but can’t get in? Or maybe you’re walking past somewhere that is super popular or a celebrity favorite and you have a craving but no reservation. If there’s a bar or counter, walk in and ask to sit there.
I do this quite often and I usually have an amazing experience, whether I’m dining solo or with friends.
Sometimes bar seating is also by reservation, so this won’t always work. But most of the time, in my own experience, it’s first-come-first-served.
Not sure if a restaurant takes bar walk-ins? See tip No. 1 and call to find out.
If you’re new to dining solo, take it in strides
Some of my favorite days and nights are the ones when I took myself out to eat or treated myself to a sit-down cup of coffee rather than grabbing it to go.
But, like most things, it can take practice and some getting used to, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Bring along a prop like a book, magazine, or notebook if that will make you feel more comfortable. And remember, no one is looking at you as much as you might feel like they are.
Look up the food on Instagram
I’m not one to post everything I eat, but getting catfished by food is heartbreaking. We all have our strange, particular preferences for the way certain foods are prepared (for me, I won’t order chicken parmesan unless I know what it will look like). So if you’re trying to satisfy a craving, I recommend doing your research first.
If you’re using Instagram or Google, be sure to look at the photos the restaurant is tagged in or diner-uploaded photos, not just the styled promotional shots the eatery posts themselves.
But don’t just stick to the Instagram-famous items
Similarly, though, don’t just order the same dish you’ve been seeing all over social media. If that’s what you came for, then sure. But I implore you to really look at the whole menu and then make your decision; there might be something that surprises you. Read the dish descriptions, ask your server if there are local specialties in anything, and look up any ingredient name that you’re not sure of instead of simply writing it off completely. Think about it — what do you like?
I love to ask a server about what they recommend, but that won’t be my deciding factor. If they’re consistently pushing only the most expensive things on the menu and attach no personal emotion to their recommendation, it’s not something I typically trust blindly. (That being said, some of the best dishes I’ve ordered have been from staff recommendations.)
Also, keep in mind that a dish might not look very flashy or have been aesthetically designed for a social-media audience, but the flavors could rock your world.