Notice how some restaurants do not have salt and pepper shakers on the table? It’s not always about customer service. It actually has a lot to do with the customs and traditions of the place where you are dining. There are some areas in the world where chefs consider their dishes as perfect and the simple request of some salt and pepper is a big slap to the chef’s ego that might lead to unnecessary trouble. Dining is not only a gastronomical experience but also a cultural one. Here are some dining tips that you can adapt whether you are eating inside or outside of your comfort and time zones:
Study how people order their meals. There are some deli stores where you need to point and tell someone what you want in your sandwich while some are highly advanced that all you need to do is press a few buttons on the touch screen menu and keep your mouth shut. Some places require you to stand in line to get your order while in some places, you just need to sit down and a battalion of waiters will assist you. And we’re just talking about the dining places in English-speaking countries. Imagine the inconvenience of language barriers. Regardless of time zone, the best thing to do is to step back and look at the way people order when they enter the restaurant. When you think you have the hang of it, open the doors and step inside.
Talk simple. While it’s refreshing to be fluent in English in a place where people can hardly understand it, do speak in a simple language when inquiring about the menu. This is not the time to baffle everyone with your super English. Be polite.
No menu? No problem! Some dine-in and take-out places do not have menus. But they do have chalkboards and posters. You can either point to a picture of what you want to order or ask the waiter what those foreign words means. If all else fails, you can simply ask the host to bring you what they think you’ll like but make sure it’s nothing exotic, unless you want it that way of course.
Familiar comfort food. In every cuisine, there are always the familiar ones that you’ve probably tried or heard of before. If you’re dining in an unfamiliar and foreign place and you have no idea what to order, just stick t the things you know or have heard of before. Forget getting exotic. It’s better to have a taste of something familiar in an exotic land than tasting something traumatizing and ruining your whole vacation.
When in doubt, translate. You’re lucky if the restaurant has an English menu, otherwise, you might end up ordering something you don’t want or, God forbid, you don’t know. The best way to handle a foreign menu is by asking the waiter to assist you. However, if no one can translate or explain the list of items for you to choose, that’s where a traveler’s guidebook comes in handy. If you don’t have one but you have a smartphone, log on and have the Internet translate for you.
Breath in, breathe out. Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t take it on the staff when you’re having a hard time ordering for food. It’s nobody’s fault, really. Even if you mispronounced so many words on the menu, there’s always a part two. So just enjoy your food and immerse yourself in a fine gastronomical and cultural experience.