Proper Etiquette for Whiners and Diners

Rdikeman at the English language Wikipedia

Now that I’m no longer working at a restaurant, it’s high time to get some things off my chest – and off the chests of thousands of servers, bartenders, hosts and other hospitality workers in North America.

Here are 7 tips to help you have a more enjoyable dining experience…(and may help get you better service!)

1. Stick to your reservation or call ahead to change it. You’re switching from a party of 4 to a party of 8? Please let the host know. With some advance notice, they may be able to find you a bigger table – but it’s next to impossible to show up unannounced with a larger party than expected and try to squish in somewhere.

2. Let the host seat you. It’s their job to make sure that servers get balanced sections – this means evenly distributed customers – this helps you get better service.  The server won’t be bogged down serving a bunch of tables all at once.

3. Don’t touch a server’s tray or anything on it. It’s hard, I know. It’s hot, you’re thirsty, and you see your waitress approaching with your drinks. Let her pass them to you! If you reach for your drink when she’s not expecting it,  you’re getting that drink in your lap. Hands off!

4. If your food is taking a long time to come out, don’t hold it against your server – she is clearly not the person cooking it. (Don’t hold it against the kitchen staff either – the cooks just probably got a very busy lunch or dinner rush and… wait, didn’t you just order a well done steak? Yeah, thought so.)

5. Though most restaurants are happy to offer separate cheques, for the server, they are a huge waste of time. Separate bills take forever to separate the order, print, and hand out to customers; and once that’s through, it takes a while to run 10 different credit cards. Advice: carry enough cash to pitch in, and put some of that high school math to good use. These days, everyone’s iPhone or Blackberry has a calculator. Use it.

If for some reason, you are mathematically-impaired, then tell your server at the start of your visit that you will need separate bills. People’s orders and cheques are much easier to keep track of this way. Also, be prepared to stick around a few minutes longer to settle up.

6. A note about gratuities. I’m not going to gripe about bad tips here. Most people know proper tipping etiquette – but there’s something you should know. In most North American establishments, servers get paid far less than minimum wage, because it’s expected they’ll make up for it in tips. By not tipping well (15-20 per cent is considered standard), or (GASP!) not tipping AT ALL, you are essentially costing that server their “wages”. Servers also have to tip out to the establishment on their sales.

For example – if a waitress sells 500 dollars in food and drink, in many restaurants, she will have to tip 1 per cent each to the hostess and bussers, and 1.5 per cent to the bar. So, assuming she makes 15 per cent tips on her sales for that shift (about $75), she will automatically be left with $60 for herself. Imagine if she only made 10 per cent tips (give or take $50), she would still have to tip out $15, leaving her with only $35 in tips for that shift. The difference of a few dollars from each customer makes a huge difference to the livelihood of a server.

If you are a tourist from a country (Ahem – U.K., Australia, etc…) that pays its servers minimum wage and you are not in the habit of tipping, get acquainted with appropriate tipping standards for the place you’re visiting. When in Rome…

7. Treat your servers with respect. This is hopefully a given for most people, but you’d be surprised at how people treat wait staff. Please do not snap at your servers to get their attention. Please do not yell “Hey Girl!” at your servers. Please do not tug at the trappings of their uniform to get attention.  You can tell a lot by how someone treats their server as seen here. Always remember the Golden Rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated.

Pasties, Pastries, Pavlova

 

American Doughnut Kitchen circa 1950's

 

Just about two months back in Canada and I’m already feeling the pangs of pastry withdrawal. These treats, both sweet and savoury, will be sure to get your belly growling!

Lamingtons (LAH-ming-tuns): Inch-thick layers of vanilla sponge cake, glued together with strawberry jam, then tarred and feathered with chocolate glaze and flakes of coconut. Lamingtons are so-called for Lord Lamington, Governor of Queensland  from 1896 – 1901. Legend has it the treat was something his chef whipped up for some guests, who were delighted at the mixture of a very British sponge cake and the tropical flavour of coconut.

Jam Donut: Move over, Tim Horton’s – I’ve found the donut of my dreams. These little delights are best enjoyed from American Doughnut Kitchen, a business that has been frying them out of a truck at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market for 60 years. A golden, chewy nugget filled with a gem of raspberry jam is so good it tastes like it’s good for you. Jam counts as a serving of fruit, right?

 

Vanilla slice and strawberry shortcake on Acland Street in St. Kilda

 

Vanilla Slice: Light vanilla custard sandwiched between sheets of pastry, dusted in a blanket of icing sugar. There are many different types of “slice”, such as coconut slice, caramel slice, mint slice, lemon slice . . . the list goes on. These pastries are not all the same, but they are all sweet, sugary indulgences, best enjoyed with a coffee.

Pavlova: No summary of Aussie dishes would be complete without a mention of pavlova, arguably the country’s national dish. A meringue dessert, with a crispy, crunchy exterior and soft, light middle, it can be garnished with any type of fruit, but my pick would be passionfruit.

Sausage roll: Moist pork mince (aka ground pork), carrots and apples wrapped in puff pastry. These are pretty much the best snack or light yet fatty lunch item ever. Available at nearly any local bakery or coffee shop, these are a convenient snack food, delicious with dabs of tomato sauce, or rather, ketchup!

(Tomato sauce, sometimes referred to in rhyming slang as Dead Horse by the locals, is much like ketchup, though less salty.)

 

Meat pie and very clever tomato sauce packet

 

Meat Pie: Small pie crusts filled with ground beef in a sweet gravy, served with tomato sauce. Hot pies are the food of choice to warm up at Australian Rules Football games!

Pasties (PAH-stees): Commonly a half-moon shaped pastry stuffed with potatoes, carrots, peas and other vegetables and herbs, are Australia’s answer to health food. Okay, okay. Just kidding. But they are often one of the only vegetarian savoury pastries available at any bake shop.

So there’s a few tantalizing starters to your tasting tour of Australia. Word has it, you can get authentic Aussie-style sausage rolls in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market. Any ideas where to find some more of these treats on home turf?


Down Under: more to find than Uggs

I was flailing uncontrollably, boyfriend in tow, from shop to shop. My first visit to an Australian mall left me dribbling, drooling and virtually speechless. Here are some popular local brands to check out if you’re heading Down Under.

Witchery is full of classic, elegant designs for women. The shop has an array of layering pieces, affordable yet quality jewellery, shoes and bags. What I love about this shop is that although each piece is unique, everything coordinates. It’s so easy to create outfits that go together yet don’t scream “Witchery!”

Best buy: An End of Financial Year Sale bargain – a classic caramel-coloured trench. Who needs Burberry?

Mimco is the place for Australian accessories. The brand designs hats, hair accessories, jewellery, shoes and supple leather goods like handbags and wallets. The store is the label on the lips of pretty much every Aussie girl, and though their chic goods are in the same snack bracket as Coach in Canada, their end of season sale prices and shops at Direct Factory Outlet make the brand more accessible.

Best Buy: A shiny acetate headband with a sleek art deco design and sparkly crystals.

Peter Alexander = love. The Australian designer creates all things cozy in his range of sleepwear. Products range from wide leg flannelette pyjama sets to lacy nighties. A big plus is the range of styles in the same fabric or colour palette, which makes it easy to mix and match.

Best Buy: Cotton waffle pyjama sets or onesies. So comfortable, breathable and warm, they’re the next best thing to sleeping in the buff!

Country Road has great basic pieces as well as pyjamas, shoes, accessories and homeware. In addition to their bold sweaters and comfy casualwear, they have a line they refer to as “urban career” which suits any office environment with flair.

Best Buy: The shop’s ubiquitous canvas duffle bags, durable totes that come in a range of patterns and colours. Australia’s staple school carryall or overnight bag.

Metalicus started using nylon stockings as the primary fabric for their garments. Thank goodness they worked out the kinks and snags and came up with the most form-fitting body con clothing in the world. There are several other outfitters mimicking Metalicus’ sleek fabrics and bold colour schemes, but this is the real deal. Metalicus prides themselves on their clothing’s potential for layering.

Best buy: Layering pieces like long sleeve tees, dresses and thick ruched stockings.

The longest flight you’ll ever take: some beginner’s tips

Now that I’ve been in Australia for a week, feet firmly planted on the ground, I can begin to offer my tips for surviving a 20-hour flight.

If you can, pack a light carry-on. This means, only bring essentials onto the plane. Was I happy I brought a change of clothes in case my luggage was delayed? Yes. Did I enjoy carrying it around? No.

If you can manage, don’t drag a bunch of toiletries with you, instead use hotel shampoo, or buy these items when you reach your destination. If you’re going overseas and if you’re a Shoppers Drug Mart fiend like me, you’ll probably be thrilled to check out the area’s selection of beauty products!

You’ll want to pack some things to keep you entertained, like an Ipod, a book (something that will absolutely thrill you – think Dan Brown or John Grisham), magazines, crossword puzzles etc., along with any valuables like your laptop, camera and jewellery.

Also,

Pack things that will keep you comfortable. This is it. You’re in it for the long haul. This means you need sustenance, and this means more than 100g packets of stale corn chips they give you on the plane. Bring your favourite treats! I brought a bag of Jelly Belly jelly beans (not only are they a delicious treat, but in the dark you can play a game of Guess the Flavour!), Maynard’s Wine Gums, Tangy Zangy Sour candy sticks, a couple granola bars and those Sun-Rype Fruitsource things that are like fruit leather, but in bar form. You’ll want to have some healthy food for nourishment in between plane meals, but also some snacks that will keep you happy!

Comfort is also about hygiene. You must come to terms with the fact that you won’t be showering for a while. Pack deodorant, a toothbrush and toothpaste in your carry on. Shower right before you leave for the airport. Be sure to bring some travel wipes with you… Wet Ones, baby wipes, whatever. They’re great for washing your hands at your seat but also for wiping your face and keeping your skin hydrated in the dry cabin air! Plus, you never know when the mood for a wet-wipe shower will strike!

Wear clothing that will make you comfortable. I wore a comfy cotton t-shirt, Lululemon pants, and nice socks (so you can take your shoes off on the plane without risking embarrassment). And ladies, a comfortable bra is key. I also happen to have it on good authority that for guys, you’ll want underwear with a bit of “wiggle room”, but not boxer shorts, because they “ride up”. Take from it what you will. Basically, you’ll want to feel like you’re wearing pyjamas…without looking like you’re wearing pyjamas. Slip-on shoes are essential for jaunts to the bathroom. To save room in your suitcase, wear your biggest sweater or sweatshirt on the plane.  A big scarf is also useful to have because you can use it as a blanket or roll it up for extra leverage where you need it – my seat had absolutely no lumbar support!

Request the seat you want. Sort of speaks for itself, but if you like to curl up and sleep or enjoy the view, then ask for a window seat. If you’re the leggy type, ask for the aisle. For my flight to Sydney, I had a window seat near the middle washrooms, which was pretty perfect because I was right on the wing (meaning less motion-disturbance), and I could hop to the bathrooms whenever I wanted. Also in the centre of the plane you’re right in the middle of food service, meaning you’ll probably get your choice of meal.

Make the most of your free space. I was fortunate enough to have no one in the seat next to me, so I took advantage of the extra stretching room. I also got up to walk around or go to the bathrooms whenever the lady in my aisle seat got up – it just saved her having to get up as often!

On a flight as long as this, you’ll want to stretch out and move around as much as you can. The in-flight entertainment system had a serenely calm yoga-airplane-stretching video, but I found it didn’t get me moving enough. My tip? Go to the bathroom and have a dance party. Just shut yourself inside and have a little shimmy-shake. Do a couple lunges and twists and you’re good to go for the next few hours.

Sleep. If you’re going anywhere with a time-change, TRY YOUR BEST TO SLEEP. I cannot stress this enough. Get an eyemask, some earplugs, grab a pillow and be diligent. My schedule was to keep myself busy and tire myself out from Toronto to Vancouver, and get to sleep ASAP on the flight from Vancouver to Sydney. This worked pretty well, I got about 7 hours of sleep: 5 in a row and two more after watching Tom Cruise’s 1993 blockbuster, The Firm. Awesome.

Drink water. Once you get past security, buy the biggest bottle of water you can find and keep it with you at your seat. But don’t just have it with you, drink it! Also, get a glass of water whenever beverages are offered.

When it comes to plane food, use common sense. If you are given a choice of meal, consider the options. For example, for breakfast, we were offered an omelette, or waffles. My mind flashed to food preparation: do I really want a bland, wiggly omelette that’s been sitting in a heater for 12 hours with condensation pooling on it, or a hot, moist Belgian waffle? I went for the waffle. The thing here is that it’s plane food. Although plane food technology (is that a thing?) is getting better, it’s still nothing like a restaurant or homecooked. Think not in terms of which food you like better, but which food will probably be better prepared, “plane food” style. You’ll be glad you did.

So there you have it, folks, some advice for your next adventure. What’s the longest trip you’ve ever taken? I’d love to hear some of your tips!

Down Under

So what was the first thing I did in Australia? I went to the local milk bar (aka convenience store) and got BURGER RINGS.

Part Cheeto cheese puff, part Humpty Dumpty sour cream and onion ring, these are little meaty, barbeque-y, ketchuppy rings of delight. Except they don’t really taste like hamburgers.

Anyways, just letting you all know I’m here in Australia for the next two months, so I’ll be coming up with some posts about life Down Under!

See you soon!!

What I Ate in Montreal

Last weekend I ate Montreal. Really, I feel like I ate my way around the city. Sure, my family and I walked around and shopped around, but mostly we just ate out! Without further ado, here are some morsels for you to savour.

Where: Justine Bistro à Vin (4517 Rue Saint-Denis) A few steps down from the plateau’s shopping and dining hub is a small, intimate wine bar, specializing in French cuisine. My first course brought me back to an amazing summer in the South of France – where I first discovered my undying love of goat cheese, or, chèvre.

What: A pile of delicate greens tossed in a mellow vinaigrette. Halved grapes and apple matchsticks are a perfect contrast to a salty, cheesy croûte.

What: Filet mignon, cooked to the rare side of medium-rare, accompanied by potato gratin, sauteed mushrooms, snow peas and a warm garnish of minced zucchini and red peppers.

Embarrassing note: I had to maintain very strict discipline to prevent myself from digging in before I took a photo. Any lapses in presentation are entirely my fault. Also, please blame any blurriness on my excitement for food, and thus, my shaking hands!

What: Crème Brulée. Ramekin still warm from burning the sugar crust, it’s heaven. My go-to dessert on any menu. My mum noted at dinner, “If crème brulée is on the menu, I have to have it.” Well put.

Where: Bières et Compagnie (4350 Rue Saint-Denis), a lofty, spacious pub that carries more than 100 types of beer, both local and international. They also serve an array of mussels; from marinière and Moroccan to tandoori and Thai.

What: A beef cheeseburger with a wine-mushroom sauce served with a lightly dressed salad, amazing golden frites and a choice of homemade mayonnaise. I chose tandoori. For about 13 bucks, this is a huge plate of food and a great deal. To drink, a bottle of  Unibroue’s Éphémère Cassis, a blackcurrant-flavoured white beer. Delish!

Where: Ong Ca Can (79 Rue Sainte-Catherine E.), a Vietnamese restaurant in Montreal’s Latin Quarter. Dark walls, high ceilings and clean decor give it a fine dining atmosphere, but prices are still reasonable, ranging from $13-20 dollars an entrée.

What: Eight ingredients soup, with shrimp, crab, button and shiitake mushrooms, shallots in a salty-sweet broth.

What: Pork brochette rolls! I had been suffering a craving for do-it-yourself fresh rolls since January, so this was very exciting for me. Pork skewers came with an enormous bundle of herbs and vegetables (basil, mint, lettuce, carrots, sprouts, cucumber, daikon radish), rice paper, and a sweet peanutty dipping sauce. I really enjoy the process of making these rolls, as I’m a notoriously fast eater and it helps me slow down and enjoy my meal!

What: Fried banana with peanuts and honey syrup. Oooooh, so tasty. Although I really wish this was served with vanilla ice cream, because the hot-cold sensation plus the already amazing flavours make this dessert otherworldly.

Where: La Petite Marche (5035 Rue Saint-Denis), an extremely noisy Italian and French restaurant. This place was absolutely packed for Sunday brunch.

What: A brunch plate with rolled crêpes filled with strawberries and cheddar cheese, served with berry coulis, maple syrup and two eggs, any style. La Petite Marche has a wide selection of brunch platters, all at $12.95. You choose a main item, from Eggs Benedict, an omelette or crêpes, and every dish comes with roast potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, ham, sausage, bacon, a slice of toasted baguette, fresh fruit and a small orange juice.

So that sums up my recent trip to Montreal.

What have you been eating lately?

Tunes on Repeat

As per my last post, I was searching for a great album and I’ve found it! Thank you, Jónsi.

Sigur Rós vocalist, Jón “Jónsi” Thor Birgisson, gives us Go, his solo debut. Sung mostly in English, it’s a bit of a change for those who are used to Jónsi’s lyrics in the band’s native Icelandic or his made-up language, Hopelandic. The idea about Hopelandic is that the listener is invited to interpret the lyrics themselves.

My concern was that English lyrics would detract from the sumptuous melodic landscapes that Sigur Rós has built their career on. Yet here Jónsi bends his beautiful falsetto with such mastery that you pay more attention to how he is singing instead of what he is singing.

“We should always know that we can do anything” – Jónsi, Go Do

The instrumentation on Go is vibrant and whimsical, very much like Sigur Rós’ Takk…, though here Birgisson experiments with more electronic sounds. This music fills you up and makes you tingle. If Aurora Borealis had a musical equivalent, this would be it.

With Go, Jónsi transcends labels of pop, rock, electronic, folk and ambient, instead he combines them and acheives music that is powerful, joyous, and sheer bliss to listen to.

Go listen to this.