Tag Archives: restaurants

Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Tips and Rules: An Economist’s Take on Eating Out

When it comes to find­ing, order­ing, and eat­ing at eth­nic res­taur­ants there’s only one place to look for advice: eco­nom­ist Tyler Cowen’s Eth­nic Din­ing Guide. I’ve men­tioned Cowen’s guide before (if only in passing), but it’s time I ded­ic­ated a post to this treas­ure trove of din­ing advice and, espe­cially, the tips from Cowen’s Gen­er­al Remarks.

From an art­icle in The Wash­ing­ton Post, four strategies for find­ing good res­taur­ants and order­ing well (click through for details):

  1. For good value, avoid high-rent areas (those will be expens­ive or chains).
  2. Look for com­pet­i­tion (pos­sibly a sign of a large immig­rant pop­u­la­tion, provid­ing expert­ise).
  3. Know how to order ‘stra­tegic­ally’  from waiters.
  4. Be aware of the res­taur­ant cycle (from open­ing, to accol­ades, to mass pro­duc­tion).

Four rules-of-thumb for choos­ing from the menu (be aware of the excep­tions):

  1. Avoid “ingredi­ents-intens­ive” dishes, opt for “com­pos­i­tion-intens­ive” instead (i.e. con­tains sauces or com­plex ingredi­ent mixes).
  2. Appet­izers are super­i­or to main courses in some cuisines; be will­ing to have a ‘side-dishes-only’ meal.
  3. Avoid desserts, espe­cially Asi­an ones.
  4. Order for vari­ety, not quant­ity (order more than you think neces­sary).

And finally, from a recent art­icle by Cowen in The Atlantic, six rules for din­ing out:

  1. In the fan­ci­est res­taur­ants, order what sounds least appet­ising.
  2. Beware the beau­ti­ful, laugh­ing women (you’re there for food, not the scene/drinks).
  3. Get out of the city.
  4. Admit what you don’t know, and search/ask intel­li­gently.
  5. Exploit res­taur­ant work­ers (if you see expens­ive labour, think about what your return is… fam­ily-run res­taur­ants may offer the best return).
  6. Prefer Viet­namese to Thai, Pakistani to Indi­an.

Cowen can be a bit out­spoken on the top­ic of food, so bear in mind this com­ment:

It all makes per­fect sense if you like what Cowen likes, which is inter­est­ing food for a reas­on­able price without much ambi­ance. Which is not what every­one likes.

Wheth­er that’s what you like or not, you’ll still def­in­itely like Cowen’s book on the sub­ject, An Eco­nom­ist Gets Lunch.

Bribing and Restaurant Seating

Does brib­ing your way into a busy res­taur­ant work as well as it seems to in movies? Is it even possible? Bruce Feiler decided to find out by vis­it­ing some of New York’s most over­booked res­taur­ants with noth­ing more than a pock­et­ful of money (i.e. no reser­va­tions). His res­ults were not quite as expec­ted, find­ing that brib­ing hosts in order to get seated at upscale res­taur­ants is abso­lutely pos­sible and works more often than you may think.

Feiler­’s adven­tures, detailed in an art­icle for Gour­met, act as a more exhaust­ive guide than the Chow art­icle on res­taur­ant brib­ing, but the con­clu­sion is the same: $15–30 per per­son, passed to the right per­son, can to get you into most res­taur­ants without a reser­va­tion (or help you skip a long wait­ing list) – but be pre­pared to get turned away and even occa­sion­ally get burned.

What else did Feiler learn from his exper­i­ment? Here are his “ten tips on tip­ping” (read: brib­ing):

  1. Go.You’d be sur­prised what you can get just by show­ing up.
  2. Dress appro­pri­ately. Your chances improve con­sid­er­ably if you look like you belong.
  3. Don’t feel ashamed. They don’t. You should­n’t.
  4. Have the money ready. Pre­fol­ded, in thirds or fourths, with the amount show­ing.
  5. Identi­fy the per­son who’s in charge, even if you have to ask.
  6. Isol­ate the per­son in charge. Ask to speak with that per­son, if neces­sary.
  7. Look the per­son in the eye when you slip him the money. Don’t look at the money.
  8. Be spe­cif­ic about what you want. “Do you have a bet­ter table?” “Can you speed up my wait?” A good fall­back: “This is a really import­ant night for me.”
  9. Tip the maître d’ on the way out if he turned down the money but still gave you a table.
  10. Ask for the maître d’s card as you’re leav­ing. You are now one of his best cus­tom­ers.

100 Tips for Providing Perfect Restaurant Service

Bruce Buschel–author, co-cre­at­or of a music­al, dir­ect­or and producer–is open­ing a sea­food res­taur­ant in New York. In his Small Busi­ness column for The New York Times he offers 100 tips to ‘res­taur­ant staffers’ (wait­ing staff) on how to behave front of house (that’s the first 50 tips; here are the second 50).

I (unex­pec­tedly) found myself agree­ing with every item on this list. If only all res­taur­ants were like this.

The series ends with a fit­ting quote that we can all learn from:

Your most unhappy cus­tom­ers are your greatest source of learn­ing.

via Kot­tke

In Defence of Fixed Service Charges (or: Why Only Tip for Service?)

Tip­ping: that most con­ten­tious of issues that–depending on your location–can be illeg­al, required, or the most hein­ous of etiquette crimes. It’s a com­plic­ated busi­ness (as the Wiki­pe­dia entry indic­ates by the size of the Tip­ping by region sec­tion), and an odd and occa­sion­ally uncom­fort­able tra­di­tion.

As a self-pro­claimed ‘socially awk­ward Bri­ton’ Dav­id Mitchell laments the remov­al of the auto­mat­ic, fixed ser­vice charge at D&D Lon­don’s group of res­taur­ants primar­ily because, as The Browser sum­mar­ised it, “they min­im­ise embar­rass­ment, and you some­times get a bar­gain”.

Mitchell goes one fur­ther, of course, won­der­ing why is it only the ser­vice we com­mend and rep­rim­and through tip­ping?

Tips are embar­rass­ing and stu­pid – they’re ves­ti­gi­al hag­gling in a soci­ety that has oth­er­wise moved on. If you’re going to a res­taur­ant to be served and eat a meal, why is the price of the deliv­ery open to nego­ti­ation but not that of the food itself, the ambi­ence, music, heat­ing or use of the fur­niture? All of these things can dis­ap­point or delight. It’s illo­gic­al to fix the price of one ele­ment but not the oth­ers.

Observations on Dining

Ben Cas­nocha com­piles a list of griev­ances and obser­va­tions on “res­taur­ants, tips, and bread bas­kets”. For example:

If I were a res­taur­ant man­ager I would spend 30 minutes with each of my waiters explain­ing the research around how to max­im­ize tips from pat­rons. For example, leav­ing a mint with the bill or draw­ing a smi­ley face on the bill have been shown to increase tip. Research also sug­gests that the tip amount is only mar­gin­ally con­nec­ted with the actu­al qual­ity of wait ser­vice. Bot­tom line is that many waiters miss out on easy psy­cho­lo­gic­al hacks that would increase their tips.

And this; one of the four rules-of-thumb from Tyler Cowen’s recently updated Eth­nic Din­ing Guide (via Kot­tke):

Avoid dishes that are “ingredi­ents-intens­ive.” Raw ingredi­ents in Amer­ica [and likely the UK, too] – veget­ables, but­ter, bread, meats, etc. – are below world stand­ards. Even most under­developed coun­tries have bet­ter raw ingredi­ents than we do, at least if you have a U.S. income to spend there, and often even if one does­n’t. Order­ing the plain steak in Lat­in Amer­ica may be a great idea, but it is usu­ally a mis­take in North­ern Vir­gin­ia. Opt for dishes with sauces and com­plex mixes of ingredi­ents. Go for dishes that are “com­pos­i­tion-intens­ive.”