Just when are you supposed to read the menu?

Just when are you supposed to read the menu? You’ve made reservations at a premier spot. You’ve heard and read so many positive reviews of the place and have researched whatever you can find about the menu and what to expect of your dining event.

You arrive and your initial expectations have been met with the very polite, knowledgeable and attentive host person. You’ve been seated at a comfortable table with you’re friends and have much to look at with your positioning to all of the goings on. You immediately begin to converse with the others at your table and your server approaches with perfect timing sporting menus and greetings while taking the first of the drink  orders

img_5147You continue your initial conversations and glance down at the menu. Suddenly the bus person arrives to bring water to fill the glasses on your table. Your conversations continue as each napkin is unfolded and floated across your lap. You, somehow wilding the menu above the table, try to pretend you are reading it. You have only made it past the first of two attempts at a visual eye scan of the menu and only noticed four possible  items, none of which match any of your immediate likes. You continue your conversations and place the menu back down because your first round of drinks just arrived and the ol’ . . . “salud” begins a dinner celebration to remember.

As a food writer and culinarian, I spend my fair share of time researching and reading food stuff on the internet. Food stuff is defined as anything I may have possibly learned in my education and everything that I also possibly missed in my education. When I get ready for a hot date at a good restaurant, especially one that I know has a seasonal menu, I try to get ahead of the service by learning a thing or two that may be expected once I get to the restaurant. Then, the menu is often similar and my time preparing makes for a bit of swiftness come ordering time. But even with the added preparation of researching your options, when is the right time to read the menu? I mean you don’t want to miss anything that is being offered and you also don’t want to miss any of your conversations without being distracted away from anything gluten or lactose free. So, just when are you supposed to read the menu?

While this may be something to ask of the overall experience with a particular restaurant, being prepared when the server arrives to take your food order can prove to be detrimental if your delay throws off your server’s timing. Now you may not see your server for a while until she rounds the turn the next time. This preparation can still be challenging and possibly something you want to parlay with a swift ordering of an appetizer, that should or could have been done with the initial drink order; and in some establishments, this may prove to be a carefully timed service with ordering of the main entrees’ as well.

“Wait, I still haven’t had enough time to really read the menu.” I mean carefully read the composition of some, if not all, of the offerings. In such haste, I can only hope the menu is small enough to get through possibly 5-6 appetizers, 7-10 main entrees and then selecting sides to accompany everything. Yes this whole process can be accommodated by a well trained staff to explain each item when taking the order; but you also don’t want to be the guy that     s l o w e s     t h e     w h o l e     p r o c e s s     down for the server to have them leer at you wanting to say, “to- to- to- today junior”. And the first ordering trip of the server to your table shouldn’t be the ‘warning shot across the bow’ either. The server has other tables that need to be attended to, not just you. You are not the only person in the restaurant today and don’t throw the server’s pace off. So, just when are you supposed to read the menu?

Of the several rude table methods that can possibly abound like texting on your phone inside of the open menu on your lap; or, the very offensive, holding the hand in the face of someone trying to ask of your conversations saying. “I’m trying to read the menu”. You can always wait until the server comes by with the warning shot. Perhaps you can break up the conversation happening at the table by saying, “let’s stop for a moment to prepare our order”. That’s just like putting a hand up in conversation, but is not as ‘in your face’ as the whole hand thing. Just remember, you don’t want the server returning with the warning shot.

Here’s something else to remember when preparing for your order and minimizing the time actually reading the menu, is to use time to your advantage. While arriving slightly late may be considered fashionable for you or your guest, arriving early can give you an opportunity to read the menu posted behind the restaurant storefront glass in the showcase. Arriving early also may allow you to borrow one of the menus from the greeter’s desk to view while you are seated in the waiting area while waiting upon your guests to arrive. Take a moment to read the ‘chalk board’ on the front door step as well where you’ll often times find the ‘special’. A couple of things to remember about the special. One, not all establishments believe the special should be truly ‘special’. Two, don’t ever order “the ‘rock-fish’ special” at a BBQ rib house. Something to think about, ordering fish at a BBQ house.

image_542595516671984Well, if you are like me, finding the peaceful moment to actually read the menu falls somewhere helplessly between conversations at the table. Unfortunately, only a few of those moments are focused on the menu compositions and ingredients because you just don’t have time to read everything. Having a well planned and well designed menu can help this process by simplifying the eye scan and the amount of time it takes for the customer to find the menu items of their desire . . . or the menu item of the restaurant’s desire (Menus 101).

Here’s another way to read the menu, and to get more coverage of the menu items in short fashion, is to guide your table conversation around the menu. Point to the Chateaubriand with Red Wine reduction and ask if anyone at the table would care to share the plate, and possibly share the Beet Salad appetizer. Now you’ve asked the table to start reading the menu, included some suggestions and other items to be cosidered and scanned in the short time you want to spend reading it. But listen to what others are saying at your table, because they may just point out the “espresso rub” on the rib plate you are about to order at 9pm. You don’t want your evenings mishaps to be replayed at 2am in the morning.

One of the things I learned in school was to learn to begin reading menus. I find it is not that easy to really read the menu, even at the basic level. There is so much information on there already, then trying to read and salivate at the same time is something that just wasn’t taught.

Dicks