1. These days, restaurants are hungry for business, especially those in the higher price brackets, even in New York and other major cities. As a customers, you have the right to be greeted cordially, shown to the table promptly, and served graciously with food that meets your (reasonable) expectations. Anything less than that is cause to let the management know why you’re not satisfied.
  2. Almost all restaurants treat their “regular’s” better, so it pays to become a habitué of a place that you enjoy. It’s a good idea to recommend a favorite restaurant to friends and have them mention your name when making the reservation or when they arrive at the podium.
  3. If the server doesn’t mention the price of the specials, don’t order them or you might get a real surprise. This happened to me recently while dining with a friend in a well-known restaurant. The price of the special (a small portion of suckling pig and a few roasted potatoes) turned out to be $35.
  4. Order “local water” and you’ll save money and help the environment. Bottled water is a big money-maker in restaurants going for $6.50 and up per bottle. I’d rather spend my money on food and wine.
  5. To really learn about a restaurant, check out the trash area around back. If the staff cares enough to keep the trash area clean and organized, where no one usually sees it, they probably have enough pride to keep the kitchen (and bathroom) clean too. Also, if you see lots of processed food boxes (like frozen french fry boxes), avoid the place. On the other hand, boxes left from fresh vegetables, and, even better, from local growers, are an excellent sign.
  6. The standard tip these days is 20 percent, which is a lot easier to compute than 15 (take off a zero from the total and double the amount). If the service is less than adequate, by all means leave 15 percent. Even better, ask for the manager and tell that person why you’re not satisfied (being reasonable of course). If the service has been exceptional, make sure to tell that to the manager also.
  7. When eating lunch or breakfast, leave a bigger tip if possible, because prices are much lower so that these servers don’t make much money and will really appreciate your generosity.
  8. To help save the planet, avoid ordering critically endangered fish like Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna, orange roughy, swordfish and shark, letting the restaurant know why. If you’re not sure, ask the server. In good restaurants, environmental awareness and menu knowledge is part of their training.
  9. Restaurants that are open on Monday may be selling fish that arrived last Thursday (the markets are open on Friday but stocks are low so most restaurants get their biggest order on Thursday). So, that special of the day could either be the freshest fish or the leftovers that need to be moved out quickly. (I know because I used to sell those less-than-fresh fish myself when necessary.)
  10. Choose a chef-owned restaurant over one that features a well-known chef who is an employee. With today’s merry-go-round kitchens, the chef may well be gone the next time you dine at the restaurant and your experience may be completely different (not in a good way). When the chef is the owner, even if they happen to be off the night you’re dining, with their personal investment in maintaining standards, you’ll still enjoy your meal. In my chef years, the newspaper restaurant reviewer deliberately came in on my day off to make sure that my staff was well-trained enough to prepare the food up to my standard even when I wasn’t there. (We got four stars.)