Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"Restaurant Week" Etiquette, or Don't try this at home!

Restaurant Week "Etiquette"
By Jim White

As a veteran of 12 "Restaurant Weeks" I have some observations and suggestions to share. To be clear, that is 12 annual "Restaurant Weeks" dating back to 1997, rather than 12 weeks in one swell foop as some restaurants do tend to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the combination celebration, fundraiser time period well beyond the official "week". But, that's a good thing all around. First of all, it gives you a chance to try more of the great restaurants that are participating. And, just as important, it helps raise more funds for the North Texas Food Bank and the Lena Pope Home. The effort raised nearly a half-million dollars last year. This year, with over 120 restaurants, some of whom are restaurant weeking until Labor Day, it's got to exceed that amount. This is where you come in.

"Restaurant Week" is a contact sport; not for the faint of heart--or digestion. By all means, DO organize your friends in groups of 4, 6, or 8, and encourage them to recruit others to go out to as many restaurants as possible. Invite friends and family to town. Telling them you're saving money on taking them out is optional. I'd stress the good cause angle and look like a hero in mom's eye. Next, divide and conquer--try some of the restaurants on the list you've never heard of. They're all good, and this is an ideal way to discover something new and exciting. Be SURE you have a reservation. While most of the restaurateurs would probably let you in if they have an open table, the rules say "you must have a reservation". This is a courtesy to the restaurant so they know how much to buy and prepare. "Hey, I woulda baked you a cake if I'd known you were coming!" Please make sure you KEEP your reservation. Worse than not having one, is making one and then not showing up. You just aced someone else from getting a table and stiffed the restaurant. Bad manners. Bad Karma. If for some reason you cannot keep you reservation please call and let them know. These are talented people, but they are not mind-readers. When you arrive, please let them know you are there for the Restaurant Week reservation you have. This will insure that you are offered the proper menu AND that the donation mechanism engages (I believe it's a simple process of counting noses, or heads, or mostly what you have one of). Nothing worse than wandering into the restaurant, asking to be seated, having the regular menu, paying more for it than a Restaurant Week meal, AND not getting that all-important donation generated to the Food Bank or the Lena Pope Home.

I encourage you to enjoy the food and wine pairing that most of the chefs have created. They have worked hard on this. It will enhance your meal. You may try this at home, once you have received guidance from the professionals. The other strategy that many people employ is to buy a better bottle of wine than usual. The logic goes something like this, "Well, we are saving money on dinner, so let's splurge and buy that wonderful Single Vineyard Chardonnay we've been wanting to try, or Estate Bottled Cab, or highly allocated Pinot." You get the picture. In the end, it all balances out.

Now, the critical factor after a wonderful three-course dinner, the Central Market "Fourth Course", and the great wine, is to be sure and take care of your server with a worthwhile tip. Twenty per cent is the recommended percentage, but of what total? Let's play a game of "pay it forward" here. Why not round up your dinner tab, say, 15-20 per cent (to about what it might have cost if you weren't getting the Restaurant Week special), add in that nice bottle of wine, and heck, even figure the final gratuity with the tax included, and figure your 20 % on that amount. THEN you are giving the hard working server, a reason to appreciate the fact it's Restaurant Week. He or she will treat the next table even nicer than they did you. And, you'll have a warm, rosy feeling inside because you have done something nice. Given the choice between being a big tipper, or a penny pincher, always go for the former. You will like yourself much better. The generous action will definitely get filed in your "Good Karma" folder of life.

The most important advice I have for you concerning "Restaurant Week" is: ENJOY! Bon App├ętit! Thanks for your support of the great causes and the wonderful restaurants participating. Gotta go! But remember, as we used to say on The KRLD Restaurant Show with Jim White, "If anybody asks you what you're making for dinner. Tell them RESERVATIONS, for Restaurant Week 2009!

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