Congrats man, you finally did it. You mustered up the courage to stop staring creepily at that hot girl in your bio lab and asked her out. Now you have yourself a date, you’ve got fresh threads, and newfound confidence. But there’s one problem. You’re a college kid, and your experience with restaurants consists mainly of places that serve food in plastic or styrofoam containers with self-serve soda fountains.
Here’s where I can help. As Pittsburgh’s self-proclaimed best server (visit me at Chaz and Odette and see for yourself), I’m here to guide you through the terrain of not just having a meal at a nice restaurant, but having an exquisite experience punctuated by great food, great service, and most importantly, a second date (all of which I personally guarantee if you follow my advice).
Now before I go any further, the places at which my advice will hold true are not places you go to on the cheap. If that’s your thing, then I hope your chain restaurant waiter isn’t a dick and that your mozzarella sticks taste good. The places I’m talking about are real restaurants with real executive chefs who create their own menus and actually truly care about the art of food.
At places like this, expect to spend somewhere in the ballpark of $100 plus for a two-person dinner. You can go to these places and order water and an entree each for $25-$35 and get out of there with a $60-$80 tab, but where’s the fun in that? This article is about getting the most out of your dining experience, and I promise you that if you actually listen to my advice and maximize your meal, it will be worth every penny. Here we go.
This is the most important step in the entire process. I know you’re a college kid and dropping a C note or more on a meal is a big proposition, so research and preparation are your most important tools when choosing your destination. If you are ambitious, you can consult local food magazines that employ real food critics who review restaurants.
However, we are millennials, and we’re more likely to head to Yelp to scope out potential venues. I have mixed feelings about Yelp: I do believe it is a good resource to see photos of a restaurant’s food and interior space, but the people who review on Yelp must have their opinions taken with a grain of salt because a lot of them have zero idea what they are talking about.
Once you’ve completed your research and found the restaurant of your dreams, make sure you call and get a reservation, especially if it is a weekend night. Nothing is worse (and makes you look like a bigger jackass to your significant other, speaking from experience) than getting turned away at the door of the place you really wanted to eat, at all because you were too lazy to use the phone you always have on you to make a five minute call to reserve a table.
Pro Tip: Check the Specials
Find out when the restaurant’s happy hour drink specials end and make a reservation for 10-15 minutes before they start, so that you can get that first (and second if you’re an animal) drink on special and save a few bones. Plus, you’ll be a part of the early wave of the dinner rush, so you’ll get the perk of the discounted drink without the peak happy hour crowd giving the restaurant its true dinner crowd atmosphere.
Your Time at the Restaurant
Once you arrive at the restaurant, you will be greeted by a host whose sole job is to make sure you are seated promptly and comfortably. Now, this is a general life tip, but I feel it is necessary to mention that the more amicable you are to people (especially people in the service industry), the more amicable they will be to you. With that being said, just be nice to the service staff because everyone in the service industry appreciates that.
Now that you’re seated, the real journey begins. You will be greeted by a server who’s going to act more like a cruise director. A good server will be armed with only two things: complete menu knowledge and confidence. This is where the meal gets interesting. Here’s where you should ask questions you may have about anything at all listed on the menu, wine list, draft list, and cocktail list.
Servers at real restaurants go through extensive menu tests, in which they are required to know the composition of all of the chef’s dishes. They also must have a complete understanding of the wine, beer, and cocktails offered and be prepared to make alcohol and food pairing suggestions for the dishes on the menu. This knowledge is gained through meetings, tastings, and conversations with the chef.
All this information then becomes a tool that the server will use to try and make your experience as pleasant as possible. Once you have picked the server’s brain a little and arrived at a decision for your order, just sit back and relax. Enjoy your beverage, the atmosphere, and your date. Know that your server will take pristine care of you and that they will be present whenever needed.
The rest of the meal now becomes pure pleasure. Enjoy all the food, savor it, and appreciate the art that you will be ingesting. Whenever you finish your meal, always opt for dessert, because it truly is an integral part of the whole experience. Treat yourself because you deserve it. I have never once regretted ordering dessert when dining out at a high caliber restaurant. It will assuredly be delicious.
The End (and the Tip)
Unfortunately, all beautiful things have an ending, and your meal will have one as well. The most important part about an experience like this though is that you enjoyed it. And if you truly enjoyed it, DO NOT BE A CHEAP ASSHOLE. Tip your server well. Tip at least 20% if they were on point, because you have to remember that a server’s livelihood depends almost entirely on tips.
Anyone who has dedicated the time to hone the skill of serving (and believe me, it is a skill) deserves at least 20%. Plus, is it really that big of a deal if you tip $22 on a $100 check instead of $15? Are those extra $7 going to break your bank? My guess is no.
Please reward good servers for providing good service. It will be greatly appreciated by your server, and it will be the perfect karmic ending to your culinary expedition. You may even receive breakfast in bed the next morning from your thoroughly-impressed date… if you’re lucky!