How to Mindfully Order Off a Menu- Over 50 Choices to Consider

Going out to eat in a restaurant is a luxury, where we typically spend at least four times as much money as we would if we were going to cook the same types of food at home.  But the difference being, we don’t have to buy the food, prepare it, cook it or clean up after so that‘s essentially what we’re paying for when we go out to eat.  Don’t assume the food from your local super market is the same food used in restaurant.  Remember the job of the restaurateur is to provide food and make money.  The customer’s health is not usually their priority.  That is why for our benefit we must know how to mindfully navigate a menu.    

Before even looking at a menu, assess the cleanliness of the establishment and keep it in mind because the Front of the House where guests sit is usually cleaner than the Heart of the House where the food is prepared.  If there are dirty dishes, insects or food being handled improperly consider going somewhere else to eat. 

Typically upon being seated, a server will welcome their guests and introduce themselves.  Take the time to introduce yourself as well to begin a dialog to remind the server their dealing with a real person.  The server then usually asks for the drink order.  Use the opportunity to test the waters.  If they bring a glass of water to the table, perhaps ask if it is filter water or tap water?  Honesty is key.  Then try ordering a drink with one additional request.   For example, ask for a straw or a lemon wedge for the water.   Wait to see how quickly the server responds and how accurate they are in recording the request.  If they misconstrue the drink order than it is likely they shouldn’t be trusted with a relaying a complicated food order.   In that case stick to the menu or retreat.     

I work as a cook professionally so I enjoy looking into other kitchens to see how it is set up and functioning.  If it’s an open kitchen I will just pop my head in.  If it is a closed kitchen, I will go to the bathroom to try to take a look through a window or swinging door along the way.  I recommend everyone who eats out to familiarizing themselves with professional kitchens so they can see the whole picture of where their food is being prepared, how it is being cooked and the cleanliness of the cooks. 

Some large chains of restaurants such as SUBWAY prepare their food in one centralized location that has very high standards of cleanliness.  The food is then stored and shipped to the individual restaurants.  If a restaurant prepares their own food in their kitchen, keep in mind that any fresh food item had to be washed, cleaned, prepared and served using safe food handling techniques.  Look to see if the cooks preparing cold food items are wearing gloves?  Gather any other information you can by looking around.  Remember cold food items need to be kept cold (example-ice under fruit platters) and hot food items need to be kept hot (example- heat lamps stationed by the food runners).

Take time to evaluate the menu while keeping a few things in mind.  1. The type of restaurant.  2. The location.  3. The expectations of the restaurant.   Engage with the server and use them as a guide in navigating the menu.  Ask them who they think is the best cook and what station they are working on? How knowledgeable is the server about the food?  Can they describe how a certain dish is cooked or prepared?  Have they eaten the food?  Does the menu specify using local foods?  Does the menu feature organic food, if not, assume they are using the cheapest produce available which usually means it was grown in another country where growing regulations are not so tightly controlled.  Avoid ordering Dirty Dozen foods that may contain high levels of pesticide and herbicide residue.  Is there a Special for the night?  If so, is the Special food in season or are they trying to sell something they got a deal on?   Not all specials are so special.  Occasionally, Specials are created from leftover food from another item on the menu.  On the other hand, if the restaurant has a specialty, you can usually assume they cook a lot of it and they cook it well.   

Think about all the options.  Is a particular food is made to order or prepared ahead of time?  For example, a Chili cannot be made to order it must be made ahead of time, stored properly and warmed back up when it is ordered.  Can the kitchen staff be trusted to do all three of those steps properly?  If asked how you want your food cooked evaluate what is being cooked.  For example, Pork needs to be cooked thoroughly but beef can be uncooked, ask for a recommendation if you are unsure.  I occasionally allow a cook to prepare the food however they think best if I have high expectations of the restaurant. 

One last thing before ordering is to assess how busy the restaurant is?  Are they selling a lot of food or is it sitting in the refrigerator for a long time.  Is the food you want to order a top seller or a highly perishable food that people typically don’t order?  Is there a Chef present in the kitchen?  Even if the Chef is not cooking they are responsible for the kitchen and keep the standards at a higher level because it is their reputation on the line.

Be clear with the server about your food choice.  Voice any concerns about the food and any food allergies.  If the food comes out under prepared or over cooked don’t be afraid to send it back to the kitchen to fix it.  If the food comes back a second time prepared wrong, try asking for your money back.  Never send food back to the kitchen twice.  Try ordering something different next time or go to another restaurant.   If you enjoyed the food take the time to thank the server and the cook/Chef if the opportunity allows.  Rarely positive feedback is ever sent to the kitchen, they typically only hear when something goes wrong. 

For me, the most important thing when I go out to eat is to have a good time.  I have no problem paying for the services but I do expect everyone to act professionally.  I believe the whole restaurant industry would be better off with a certain amount of disclosure.  Luckily, the menu can act like psychic medium transmitting information from the past, present and future to the kitchen staff and the guest.  May we all choose wisely!


Ten Weird Things You Can Do With Food

Beer in Your Shampoo- Put beer in your shampoo for silky, shiny hair.

Sesame Oil Pull- Swish sesame oil around in your mouth for several minutes in and around your teeth and then spit it out.  It helps with strengthen tooth enamel and decreases tooth sensitivity.

Coconut Oil Butt Wipe- Dab a piece of toilet paper in coconut oil then wipe your bum.  Helps clean your bum and moisturize dry skin.

Cucumber Face Mask- Cut long strips of cucumber.  Drape them across your face and eyes.
Vinegar Face Scrub- Rubbing a little bit of Apple Cider Vinegar will help bring ph balance to our skin.

Olive Oil Shaving Cream-Try applying olive oil to your skin for moisturizer before shaving.  Lot of antioxidants to help heal the skin.

Oatmeal Bath- Soaking in a oatmeal bath will help alleviate most skin conditions.
Herb Poultice- An age old usage of fresh herbs applied directly to the skin for healing.

Frozen veggies- Use a bag of frozen veggies as an ice pack for bruises.

Green Tea Bag Exfoliate- Rub a bag of used green tea to exfoliate skin.