1. If I get great food, but bad service, I never go back. If I get mediocre or just okay food, but fabulous service, I always go back at least once. Whether it’s the best restaurant in the city, a greasy spoon, or a fast food chain, this is my most important rule. Why? Because great service is innate. Chefs (or just home cooks as you all know) can have a bad day, or try something they’re not sure of. All kinds of things can go wrong in a kitchen. But service? It should always be outstanding. I’ll give you two examples. Vancouver is a city full of trendy restaurants and a friend (whose partner is a service at a new trendy restaurant) recommended I try it out. I went with a female friend. We were treated with disdain. Neither of us has ever been back and I tell everyone who asks about my experience. Vancouver is also a city full of Starbucks. All of them are good, some of them are better. The Starbucks close to my office has absolutely brilliant staff. It’s that place where everybody knows your name and what you want to drink. Even if there’s a closer one, I go to that one because I love the experience.
2. Ambience is important and it should fit the type of restaurant. If you go into a greasy spoon, it should be a greasy spoon, maybe it has pictures of Elvis or somebody’s kids on the wall, maybe the booths are old-fashioned and a little bit worn, but a greasy spoon should be a place where you feel comfortable, where the menu reflects this. Breakfast, grilled cheese sandwiches, homemade soup. This won’t be true for everyone, but I’m not a fan – at all – of the new cold look in a lot of trendy restaurants. It isn’t inviting. So I tend to go back to restaurants which feel warm to me, even high end restaurants.
3. Trendy isn’t always – or even often – the best place to eat. Unless, of course, you’re one of the trendy ones. The food might be interesting (and almost always expensive) but the service tends to be snooty if you’re NOT a trendy one. that’s not to say that it’s not a great place if you – but if you’re not? You’re likely to feel a little uncomfortable. I eat out a lot, mostly with other middle-aged women. The servers at trendy restaurants tend to think of us as disposable. Too bad for them, because we’re great tippers. Which leads me to…
4. Women are generally better tippers than men, restaurants need to figure this out, if they haven’t, and treat you like second-class citizens, don’t go back. This rule is an addendum to Rule #1. Women understand what it’s like to be stuck in what some consider menial jobs. We tip well because we appreciate great service and we appreciate eating out.
5. When you get great service, let them know. If it’s exceptional, let the manager or owner know. Leaving a good tip is part of this process but feedback is appreciated. Don’t ignore the people who are doing this work for you and making your experience a good one. Working in the restaurant business is back-breaking, relatively low-paying work, letting a manager know that you had a great experience is important. And it makes you feel good as well.
6. When you get great food, let them know, and ask them to let the chef know. See #5 above.
7. When you’re by yourself, don’t hesitate about eating out. I’ve learned is that the best place to eat out when you’re a woman by yourself is a hotel bar. It’s safe, albeit a little expensive, and the food is often very good, and the bartender gives you someone to talk to. In your own city, there will be places that are comfortable for you – maybe not a hotel bar, but a restaurant that you’ve been to before or that you see everyday on your way to work. Eat out by yourself. You’ll find you get very attentive service and you’ll enjoy it. Sit by a window and people watch. Take your book and enjoy that glass of wine and dinner. It’s a treat.
8. Try something new, something that looks interesting, something you’ve never eaten before. In Vancouver, we have restaurants from all over the world – from Africa to Eastern Europe to every single country in Asia. You’re not going to like everything, but give it a shot. You might find something you absolutely love. One of my favorite restaurants in Vancouver I discovered because I fell in love with the exterior. It’s called Legendary Noodle and it’s on a street full of restaurants. Why did I pick this one? Because it was difference and because, when I walked inside, it made me feel as if I were in China. Tiny, artful, and the food is terrific!
9. Finally, and most importantly, enjoy yourself. Eating in a restaurant – whether it’s McDonald’s or the best restaurant in the city – should be a joy. Don’t go to a restaurant where you’ll feel uncomfortable. Don’t eat out with people (unless you have to for work) you wouldn’t want to spend a couple of hours with. Do go back to your favorite restaurants. Don’t hesitate to try out new places.
Celebrate the joy of sharing food with your friends and family. Celebrate the vast world of food and flavors that are available to you.