Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Art of Dealing with Waiters and Waitresses – Be Assertive

My experience in the French Quarter trying to stick with Eat to Live taught me that if you are not a pain in the ass in restaurants, you probably will not get what you want.

I am amazed at how unhealthy restaurant food is. In New Orleans, they even know how to ruin a perfectly good salad. It is truly an art to order a healthy salad. We went to Muriel's on Friday night with another couple. Muriel's is supposed to be one of the French Quarter's finest restaurants. In Atlanta, I have cherry picked the restaurants that will be friendly to my needs. But in a strange restaurant, I am an anomaly they would rather not deal with, especially on a busy night.

And, busy it was at Muriel's. They only had one healthy looking salad on the menu and that was covered with some sort of strange cheese that I had never heard of. The waitress was young and inexperienced and when I asked her to hold the cheese, she looked at me like I was a space alien. When I asked that no salt be sprinkled on the salad, she said, "Sir, salt is not sprinkled on salads." I told her that I thought so too, except at lunch I ordered a plain house salad in a Bourbon Street restaurant and it came covered with salt. I asked whether that was a New Orleans tradition, but she didn't catch the humor. The waitress dutifully took down my order, but I could tell she was not looking forward to her encounter with the kitchen over my peculiar order on a busy night.

When the salad came it was the saddest salad I'd ever seen in a four star restaurant. The salad came with iceberg lettuce (the menu said romaine) and a few pathetic looking shaved onions on the top and dressing (inedible) on the side. I should have asked that some other interesting ingredients be substituted for the cheese. The kitchen was not creative enough to volunteer it. So, next time I will tell them in detail how I would like the salad. I will go beyond saying what I don't want and also tell them what I do want. That will undoubtedly extend out the evening as my dinner partners stare at me. But, so be it.

At Muriel's ordering the salad was the easy part. The only other possibilities on the menu were pasta primavera and a vegetable plate. I opted for the vegetable plate because, although I eat white pasta sometimes in a pinch, it usually comes with heavily salted sauce. When I make sauce at home it has no salt (and tastes better as a result). I asked the waitress (who at this point was wishing I would leave) how the veggies were prepared. She said they were grilled. I asked if olive oil was used in the grilling. She said yes. I said hold the olive oil and make sure there is no salt on the vegetables. At this point my dinner partners were ready to hide under the table. My wife has been through this before so she understands, and in fact, she is better at this than I am. She usually tells me afterwards that I have not been aggressive enough. I asked the waitress to also bring me a side order of grilled asparagus – same rules apply. She told me that wasn't necessary because the vegetable plate came with asparagus.

When the veggies arrived they were the saddest most uninteresting veggies I'd seen in a long time. And there was no asparagus.The chef took my "no salt" directions to mean "no spices" at all. My dinner partners could not believe that was what I was having for dinner, as they dug into their shrimp and crawfish dinners doused in heavy gravy. One of the other things that sometimes happen in these situations is that the waitress brings my steamed veggies to one of the women at the table. This is probably because in their experience a man has never before ordered a meal like this.

The steamed vegetables I got were bland and tasteless (over steamed). I decided not to send it back even though my wife encouraged me to do so. My iceberg lettuce salad with no other veggies, my bland steamed veggies, two non alcoholic beers, and no dessert cost about $40. Oh, I did order the side of asparagus, which I had to pay for at this point. When I ordered the asparagus out of sequence, the restaurant manager came over to ask me whether everything was okay. When I explained the saga with the asparagus he went over and had a private conversation with the waitress, who then treated me like pariah the rest of the evening.

In fairness, some restaurants are very accommodating. On Sunday night we went to Sophia's. Sophia was a lot easier to deal with than Muriel. I had to be very specific about what I ordered, but seemed used to vegans and prepared to serve their every need. I got a delicious beet salad and a vegetable plate that, while bland was much more interesting. That meal cost more like $60.

I have pretty much decided to avoid restaurants unless I have no choice. My home cooked meals are much better and a fraction of the cost. Also, at home I am very cooperative. I bring me what I want with no hassle and no extra cost.


kneecap said...

Boy, that says it all. It's bad enough to get lousy food but then to have to pay so much money for it is to rub salt into the wound. I was hoping that being assertive would have a more successful outcome. I've tried asking, "what can you do for me?" after explaining what I can't eat but that doesn't work so well. They usually point to a salad on the menu and say, "You can have this without this and that and that," as if I couldn't have figured that out too, and then I get an iceberg salad with nothing on it and pay full price. So I realize I need to be the one to make the suggestions. How did you find your good restaurants in Atlanta--by trial and error? Yeah, in the end, I have to agree, I just don't like eating in restaurants anymore.


dino48 said...

Yes, yes , yes, what a perfect picture. Even some non vegan friends have decided the way to a great meal , made to your liking it is to DIY. Service is so scarce these days and price no longer means satisfaction. Great story.

Anonymous said...

Please do a restaurant a favor and just stay home! you pain in the ass!