If you’re like most people, you’re eating out more than ever. With a little effort, however, you can have almost as much control over what you eat when you dine out as you do at home. The following tips give you the tools you need to win at the restaurant game.
#1. Get a Little Something on the Side. Salad dressing is not the only topping that can be served on the side. You can make the same request with sour cream, sauces and most seasonings. Unless the dish is premade, such as frozen lasagna, having the kitchen omit a sauce or serve a topping separately is perfectly acceptable.
#2. Ask Until You’re Satisfied. Perhaps the most effective method of getting what you want in a restaurant is to ask questions. Whether your question is about ingredients, preparation methods, price, portion size or substitutions, don’t settle for a half-baked answer. If your server seems unsure of the answer to your question, have him or her ask a manager.
#3. Know When to Go. If you have special instructions for the kitchen, you may want to eat out during nonpeak hours. Between 7:00 and 8:30 pm, most good restaurants get very busy, and your special order may take a little longer or, if you end up having to send it back, a lot longer. Try going before the dinner rush.
#4. Fib a Little. What’s the best way to be sure the oil is left out of your pasta primavera? Tell your waiter you are allergic to an ingredient in the oil, or you have a dangerous reaction to oil because of a medication you’re taking.
#5. Use Threats. Politely ask your server to tell the kitchen you will send your food back if it’s not prepared to your specifications. This ensures the kitchen will make it right the first time. Remember, it’s usually the fault of the cook, not the server, if your food is not prepared properly.
#6. Try to Be a Kid Again. Many restaurants have a special children’s section on the menu that you may be able to order from. If not, ask the waiter or the manager (if necessary) if you may have a half order of something. Managers are usually eager to please.
#7. Don’t Be a Softie. When the dessert cart comes around, don’t feel bad about saying, “No, thanks,” even if a waiter pressures you. The same goes for unwanted appetizers, drinks or “extra” side dishes. You will not hurt the waiter’s feelings by saying no.
#8. Save on Liquid Calories. Choose water with lemon, diet soda, unsweetened iced tea or coffee instead of sugar-laden soft drinks or calorically dense alcoholic beverages. Making smart choices like this will save you a lot of calories.
#9. Be a Regular. If you go to the same place often and get to know the staff by name, your requests and questions are more likely to be taken seriously. Who knows, maybe you’ll even have a dish named after you!
#10. Tip Generously. Like it or not, the restaurant business is a service industry where you are the boss. If you take care of your waiter or waitress, he or she will take care of you.