Eating out tonight?
Before you go, read this. It will make your meal — in fact, your whole night — better. Plenty of surveys ask diners what they think of the restaurants they go to, but here at Rachael Ray Every Day, we decided to do something a little different. We teamed up with the James Beard Foundation to find out what restaurant folks think of their customers. We sent questionnaires to 100 chefs, restaurant owners, managers and other restaurant-industry insiders to find out what you can do to have the best experience possible every time you dine out. Find out what they had to say, and read the whole story in our September 2016 issue, on newsstands now.
Illustration by Jordan Awan
97% are totally fine with menu substitutions. Very accommodating! But then we got down to exactly which substitutions. As the requests became more complex, the number who agreed they were acceptable understandably dwindled.*
Sauce on the side... 86%
An ingredient omitted... 62%
A side dish swapped... 57%
Cooked with no oil or butter... 52%
Made gluten-free... 38%
Made vegan... 35%
"If someone wants the steak well done and without butter, why wouldn't I do it?" says Andrew Hunter, chef at The Bay House in Naples, FL. "The problem is only when people redesign a dish completely and turn it into something it's not meant to be."
*In some cases, percentages add up to more than 100 because respondents could give multiple answers.
77% say you should
eat at the bar
If you can't get a table at the hot new restaurant, the best tactic, said respondents, is to scrap the idea of atable altogether and grab a stool! Not only is turnover higher and the vibe more casual at the bar, but there may be other perks. "I look at people who sit at my bar every night and might comp their drink or treat them to an entrée," says Lisa DiFebo-Osias, chef-owner of DiFebo's restaurants in Delaware. The second-best strategy to get in: Go very early or very late. What probably won't work is telling the reservationist it's a special occasion—only 3% of surveyees are as excited about your birthday as you are.
92% like to know
who their regulars are
The survey respondents take their relationships with all their diners seriously, but they say repeat customers get special attention.
72% check the reservations list for frequent diners
64% give regulars perks or special treatment
49% say becoming a regular will give you a better shot at snagging a reservation
16% say if there's a wait for a table, the host will give preference to repeat customers
So being a regular is clearly the way to go. How do you become one? "Dine often, be super cool to everybody, spend and tip well," says Brendan McGill, chef-owner of Hitchcock on Bainbridge Island, WA. "It will feel just like home whenever you walk in."
56% say seasonal dishes offer the best value. If you're eating corn in the winter, chances are it's from the freezer case, not the field. Two upsides of using ingredients when they're in season: They taste better, and meals that include them potentially cost less—for the restaurant, and thus for you. "I live in an area where produce is very accessible, so the cost of it is cheaper," says DiFebo-Osias. "There's also local fishing, so buying seafood nearby as opposed to getting it outside the Eastern Shore keeps our prices competitive."
"Is it OK to use your
cell phone in a restaurant?"
59% - YES
"Talking on the phone is rude, but is it something we would address on a restaurant level? Absolutely not," says Hunter. "That's the times we live in, right? People are live-tweeting their dinner."
41% - NO
"It's two hours of the day that you're spending with people whose company you supposedly enjoy," says Michael Cohen, manager of the 1770 House in East Hampton, NY. "It would be nice to give them your full attention."
"So what happens
when you Yelp?"
56% - Nothing
27% - It works! They make a change.
17% - The restaurant Yelps back.
"With Yelp, people go home and post, instead of addressing the problem at the restaurant. We try to encourage that interaction. We try to encourage that interaction," says Marilyn Schlossbach, executive chef and owner of the New Jersey-based Marilyn Schlossbach Group.
"Should I tip on
both food and wine?"
88% say yes
"We have an extensive wine list. It takes a lot of time and energy to develop the beverages and the cocktails and the beer. It's not like someone's opening a box of wine in the back and letting the tap go," says Adam Zieminiski, chef-owner of Cafe Adam in Great Barrington, MA.
"Is it OK to photograph your food?"
80% - YES
"I don't have any issue with it. In this day and age, it's free marketing," says Chris Jaeckle, chef and cofounder of Uma Temakeria in New York City.
20% - NO
"Our guests don't have the light they need to create good photos, and the food often ends up looking terrible," says Josh Even, executive chef of Tosca Cafe in San Fransisco. "People put images out into the world that don't represent how the dish really looks."
"Should I tip less at a casual
restaurant than at a fancy one?"
80% say no
"I don't think there should be any difference, whether it's a diner or fine dining," says John Washko, vice president of operations for Auberge Resorts Collection. "They're still providing service-- they're pouring water, they're busing tables. I don't expect as much of the food or the ambience, but you still rely on servers to give you a good experience.
Want more insider tips? Find out what they said is the most annoying diner behavior, how long you'll really have to wait and more on pg. 74 of the September issue!