Restaurant Etiquette: Children in the Dining Room

As the classic 1980’s ballad goes, children are the future. And there are many things that we ought to teach them well, one of which is how to co-exist in a shared space with other people.

Some of my favorite guests in restaurants are precocious little gourmands, but there are some things that adult companions of children would do well to keep in mind when dining out:

1The waitstaff are not childcare professionals. They are here to perform a job that involves carrying hot, heavy plates and trays full of highly breakable glassware. No one wants to see a child with a bowl of hot soup or a tray of martinis spilled on them. Not to mention that the restaurant is liable for the safety of all of their guests and staff during the course of the service. So should another guest trip over an unaccompanied toddler who is running through the hallway to the lavatories, it could be a horrendous collision. It is also worth noting that restaurants are not in the business of vetting their customers. Permitting unaccompanied children to race through a dining room with several entrances and exits is no different than permitting a child to race through a carnival or a department store.

2Make special needs known in advance. While restaurant staffs are not childcare professionals, we are in the business of working with the public and accommodating may different types of people. If your party needs space for a stroller, a wheelchair, or a more secluded table to help ease the anxiety of a young diner who is sensitive to large groups of strangers, etc, let us know in advance. We want you and your guests to be comfortable, and knowing in advance helps us plan for you.

3Ask if the restaurant offers a children’s menu before you arrive. While some establishments may not have a formal children’s menu, most any restaurant will have an informal array of dishes (plain pasta, lightly seasoned chicken with vegetables) that are designed to please the palates of young diners. If, on inquiring about a children’s menu the response from the restaurant is that they do not offer alternatives for children, or that they do not have high chairs or booster seats available then you know that this establishment is not attempting to be child friendly and your party may be more satisfied by taking your dinner elsewhere.

4 Most restaurants will offer crayons or coloring sheets for children, but not all do. It is a good idea to have some diversion available for the children in your party. Though if your diversion makes noise, such as a movie on a tablet or phone, please bring headphones. The table next to you may not wish to have the dialog to Finding Nemo as the soundtrack to their anniversary dinner.

5 If your child has reached her limit and needs to go, the most polite move is to request to have your food boxed and have the check brought rather than subject the entire dining room to the dulcet screams of a toddler meltdown.

Restaurant 101: Bussers and Backwaiters

Bussers and backwaiters are both dining room– “front of house”– staff in a restaurant. They perform service that does not include taking orders, pouring wine, or delivering drinks from the bar. They clear tables, refill water, perform bread service, and reset tables between guests. Sometimes they will ‘mark’ tables, i.e. reset them with clean silver, between courses (though some establishments reserve that task for servers.

Some more modern establishments will alternately use the term “Server Assistant” or “SA” in place of the older “busser” or backwaiter.

The terms are pretty much interchangeable and vary mostly depending on the style of restaurant; busser is more common in casual spots, backwaiter in fine dining, SA in corporate locations. In a way bussers and backwaiters are “assistants” in that much of their work enables servers to perform their tasks more efficiently. But I prefer the term backwaiter, because I think it is more indicative of their role as integral to the service. They may not be required to memorize the wine list and know all the allergens in the tortellini en brodo, but their work is no less important than that of the sommelier or the head waiter.

In most restaurants in the US you can ask any front of house staff member for help if you need a fresh glass of wine, or don’t care for your entree. But generally you will get these things faster if you request them from your server rather than the backwaiter. By all means catch the backwaiter’s eye if you have spilled something and need assistance, if you need more water or coffee, or if your table leg is wobbling. They are the head of the brigade and best equipped to meet those needs. But if you need to know if the cannelloni is gluten free, wait for the server.

Recipe: Mozzarella Stick Mac n’ cheese

Crust

2.5 cups Panko Breadcrumbs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1 tsp dried garlic powder

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 stick unsalted butter, melted (plus more for greasing the baking dish)

Macaroni

2 cups elbow macaroni

1 12 ounce can evaporated milk

4 tbs butter

2 eggs

1/2 tsp white pepper

1/2 tsp dried mustard

Pinch of paprika

2 cups Mozzarella, shredded

1/2 cup Parmesan, grated

4-6 slices provolone (or other melty cheese)

To serve: 1-2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce (homemade, or I like Bertoli’s Tomato and Basil)

Prepare the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a glass loaf pan with butter and set aside. In a large bowl combine panko, parmesan, dried garlic and basil. Gradually add melted butter and stir to combine with crumb mixture until the mixture becomes the texture of wet sand. Add more butter or olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time if the mix is too dry to hold together when squeezed. Press the crust mixture into the baking pan, taking care to pack well into the corners. Using 3/4 of the mixture, Fill shell with baking weights in a sheet of parchment and blind bake until crust is golden. Reserve 1/4 of the mixture for assembly.

Meanwhile, prepare macaroni filling–

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook macaroni noodles 7-8 minutes, until partially softened. Drain and return to pan. Over medium heat, add butter to noodles and stir until melted. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, mustard, white pepper and paprika. Add egg mixture once butter has melted and stir until mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat. Stir in mozzarella and parmesan.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees f. Fill the panko shell halfway with macaroni mixture. Layer in provolone slices down the center, pressing gently to pack the macaroni noodles together. Add remaining macaroni until the macaroni nearly fills the pan, about a 1/4 of an inch from the rim of the pan. Top with the remaining panko breadcrumb mixture, making sure the breadcrumbs reach the corners of the dish. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the crust is golden and the center is bubbling.

Allow to cool 10 minutes. Loosen the edges of the casserole with a dull knife. Place a serving dish over the top of the pan and– using potholders– carefully invert the pan onto the dish, shaking the pan slightly until the crust releases from the pan. Top with your favorite tomato sauce, and serve!

Restaurant Etiquette: Mothers’ Day Brunch

Things to keep in mind when brunching out on Mothers’ Day.

1. It is Mothers’ Day for everyone. Your party is not the only party who loves their mother (or mothers). Chances are there will be many, many special requests for particular tables, quiet tables, tables that are not near the kitchen or the bathroom or a draft. You can increase your chances of getting all of your requests met by booking your reservation well in advance and booking for an early seating before the restaurant fills up.

2. Prepare for a pre-fixe. And if you know that members of your party have dietary restrictions or allergies, ask to have this noted on your reservation.

3. Be mindful of modifications. As with most services when a restaurant is busy, you and your guests will likely be more satisfied with a dish that meets your needs without requiring modifications. On rare occasions at some restaurants, modifying a dish on a busy service may result in your table’s order being cooked after a run of orders that did ordered everything as-is*. (*Most every restauranteur will deny this happens. “No one does that!” They will cry. All I am saying is that after 14 years in the industry, I have absolutely seen this happen. So do with that advice you will.)

4. Prepare for the children. For the children in your own party, prepare age appropriate entertainments (coloring books, a surprise treat, an ipad with games), but be careful about toys and games that make noise (as your neighbors at the next table may not enjoy their eggs benedict punctuated by sproings and rat-a-tats). Most restaurants will have some diversion for little ones (crayons and coloring sheets), but some won’t. Do not rely on the service staff to watch your children, as well. If your toddler is restless and wants to look at the fish tank, by all means let them look at the fish tank, but go with them. The service staff is doing their best to keep an eye (as they know to expect many children on Mothers’ day as well), but they are carrying heavy trays of hot food and beverages. No one wants to drop a cup of coffee on a curious primary-schooler.

Recipe: Cherry Clafoutis

Recipe Video here!

Cherry Clafoutis

3 cups dark, sweet cherries (fresh or frozen), pitted and halved

1 tsp lemon juice

2 tsp flour

Pinch cinnamon

3 eggs

1 1/4 cups milk

1/8 tsp salt

2/3 cup sugar, separated into 1/3 cup portions

1 tbs vanilla extract

1 tsp almond extract

1 tbs butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place cherries on a foil lined baking sheet and roast until soft, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and toss with lemon juice, 2 tsp flour and a healthy pinch of cinnamon. Set aside.

In the pitcher of a blender, or a large flat bowl with an immersion blender, combine milk, eggs, 1/3 cup of sugar, salt, vanilla, and almond extract. Blend on high until combined, about 1 minute. Melt 1 tbs butter in a heavy bottom, oven safe skillet. Pour in a 1/4 inch layer of custard and cook over medium heat until set. Remove from heat.

Add half of the cherries, sprinkle with 1/3 of the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar, then pour on the rest of the custard, finish with the remaining cherries and sugar.

Bake in 425 degree oven until puffed and golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-30 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes before serving in wedges.

Restaurant 101: 86

If you’ve seen any film or television show set a restaurant, you have heard the number ’86’ thrown around like a verb by restaurant staff.

It has two meanings.

The first one is “We’re out of” as in “86 the meatloaf” means “We are out of the meatloaf.”

The second meaning is little more ephemeral. As in “That guy at table 12 is 86.” This means two things in itself– one, “that guy” is going to be ushered from the premises pronto, and the manager or owner wants the staff to get a good look at him, because an 86’d guest is usually not to be served in the future.

Restaurants are loathe to lose a customer, so generally the 86’d person would need to behave absolutely heinously to be 86’d.

There are several theories as to where the slang usage originated, but the one that makes the most sense to me is as a synonym for… dead. As the parameters for a grave are eight feet long and six feet deep. So the meatloaf is dead; it is 86. And when a customer behaves foully, they can become dead to the restaurant; just as if they were eight feet across and six feet deep.