Food without memory is just digestion

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Ten ways to ensure a successful dining experience!

Following on from my eccentric and perhaps pompous view of restaurants to avoid, Gentle Reader, it strikes me that one should make some suggestions about how you can ensure that your excursion will be successful. Of course, one could simply offer the observation that you should follow the advice in this blog - but that might be too self-promoting. Instead, permit me to proffer instead the following 10 point guide:

1. Planning Any decent dining experience demands planning. It may sound rather obvious, but one is always surprised at the number of people who start with location, and then consider what restaurant options might be available and who might be invited. Actually, your Humble Correspondent is not without guilt in this respect although I hasten to add that my location "frame" is generally only 'inside the Yamanote Line'. In my view, the hacks have it right when they run through the "Who, What, When, Where, and Why" routine. Take this approach and you'll find that the whole thing falls neatly into place.

2. Reservation Always make a reservation. Any restaurant that does not take reservations does evil at two levels - firstly, by not affording its patrons the appropriate degree of respect by ensuring that they won't be disappointed; and secondly by failing to understand that regular customers are much more valuable than fly-by-night-ers. If the venue does not take reservations, it is a sure sign that it is either it is far too busy for a quiet luncheon or dinner, or not busy enough to require them (and thus you should flee!). If curiosity is still nibbling at your mind, go by yourself and determine which of these alternatives is true!

3. Preferences Do your utmost to determine whether your companions have any dislikes or allergies - this should not impact your restaurant choice, as you are the host and by now you have already determined a venue. However it is important to make sure that you advise the Maitre d' or Chef if any special needs should be addressed. This is appropriately polite towards both your guests and the restaurant, and is simply a matter of good manners.

4. Directions One recalls with some fond nostalgia the days of formal invitations - which often came with a dress code, a set of directions, and occasionally even a map to the designated venue. In these more electronic days, this is sadly no longer a very frequent occurrence. But let this not deter you, Gentle Reader, from doing your guests the courtesy of providing advice and directions ... in a language with which they are both familiar and comfortable! This should include some indication of how formally or informally you will be dressed ... to quote the Bard, clothes maketh man and Hell hath no fury like a woman under-dressed!

5. Welcome While your Humble Correspondent is often guilty in the breach, one should refrain from long-winded speeches and scholarly dissertations at any gathering. It is tedious and - frankly - boorish. But at the same time, it is important to welcome people warmly to an event and introduce them to one another if necessary. It helps to establish the right relationships between people, provides boundaries for new relationships, and confirms one's own status as host ... and referee.

6. Menu Choices It is the height of impoliteness, Gentle Reader, to choose courses on behalf of your guests unless you have advised in advance that it is a set course menu (and you have followed my advice in 3 above!). However, when dining a la carte you have every right as host to share your experience (briefly! See 5 above) of both Chef's precocity and peccadilloes -and you should! After all, people are at the restaurant at your suggestion. At the same time, avoid discoursing about your preferences.

7. Wine The safest course when confronted with choosing wine is to rely on the sommelier, unless you have pre-arranged a selection matched to the food and you have advised your guests appropriately. Or when you have arranged the event to feature the wine ... and even then you should make sure the sommelier knows which wines will be served in which order. If guests are providing wine (always a splendid idea in my humble estimation), it is good form to ask for a brief introduction and an indication if and where other guests may acquire some of the same.

8. Witty Conversation Your primary function at this event, Gentle Reader, is to act as host - it is therefore important to maintain at least a facade of sobriety and to gently guide conversation both towards and away from entertaining topics of conversation. Your contributions should thus be engaging rather than definitive, and you should take pains to ensure that all parties at least have an equal opportunity to participate. Above all, be tasteful and witty - and avoid the loud "parade ground" volume that is a feature of your Humble Correspondent's vocal range.

9. The Account Some may call me stuffy, Gentle Reader, but it is only polite that you meet the costs of the feast unless you have a pre-arrangement with your guests or you have advised them of the approximate cost beforehand. This helps avoid the embarrassing shuffling of credit cards at the conclusion of the meal, or a look of surprised consternation when you ask for a king's ransom to pay for your extravagant choices at 6 and 7 above!

10. Thank You's Regardless of how you assess the success or failure of the event, it is obligatory to thank a number of parties. First and foremost, your guests - not only does this indicate the respect and esteem in which you hold them, but it also has the salubrious effect of providing a demure and sensitive way to bring proceedings to a close. Do not fail to thank the chef and the restaurant staff (in that order), as well as any individual that may have made a notable contribution to the evening.

One hopes that these suggestions help you ensure your next excursion is a success. If so, then it is solely due to my efforts. If not, then - on the contrary - it is solely due to your own desultory performance.

Pip Pip!

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