Dear Salty Waitress,
Sometimes I am conflicted between two choices on the menu. Or, I am too preoccupied by conversation to know what I want before the rest of the table decides. In these instances, I will ask for whatever the chef or server recommends. Is this indecisiveness too much pressure on the kitchen and staff? I rarely send the food back. Is this annoying? How should I proceed in the future?
I can sympathize. Just this past weekend, I almost ordered two brunch entrees because I couldn’t choose between crab cakes Benedict and blueberry pancakes. I want sweet and savory, ya know? Anyway, enough about my existential crises—but someone should really make a half-eggs-Bennie-half-pancake combo, just saying.
There’s nothing wrong with leaving certain decisions to the kitchen, especially when it comes to details like meat temperature. (If you don’t have a strong aversion to slightly pink duck or lamb or beef, it’s a good idea to order your meat the the doneness as the chef recommends.) Or if there are two specials and you’re really torn between them, the server might feel that one dish is more exciting than the other. If you happen to catch Maryland blue crabs in season, for example, your server might point out the narrow seasonality of those crustaceans and encourage you to order those over, say, a pork chop special.
But leaving your entire order up the staff is a big gamble, unless you’re a regular they know quite well. Best case scenario, they recommend something and you like it. Hurrah! But what about the flip side? Say the server recommends the mushroom ravioli, and after you take a few bites, you find them under-seasoned and bland. What can you do? Trying to send it back might be met with… a less-than-enthusiastic response. You made that bed when you handed control to someone else, so you don’t have much chance to pipe up with your displeasure.
The exception may be, as I said, in a restaurant where you truly have a relationship with the chef and you can trust whatever comes out of the kitchen. I’ve known a few regulars who could come into the restaurant and say, “Let the chef cook for me,” but that’s rare. I also think it’s sometimes code for: “Have the chef do something special for me, because I am special,” which can be taxing for the kitchen on a busy night. That freedom might be a fun exercise for the chef on a slow Tuesday night, but on a Saturday, I often felt the kitchen would rather the table just ordered off the menu. And you better be a completely open-minded eater if you do this, by the way—no “Let the chef cook for me, except no shellfish—lobster is okay—wine sauces on the side, no steamed vegetables, and I’m allergic to mustard.”
In the future, I think it’s best to present the server with two dishes you’re torn between: “Would you recommend the lamb or the veal?” rather than just blindly asking them to choose your meal for you. I might be able to carry 12 wine glasses at a time, but I’m no mind-reader.
Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.