A Memorable Dining Experience
Eating at a restaurant is perhaps one of life's most precious activities. There are many reasons for this, but the most important one is that it involves simply sitting, talking, eating, and relaxing. Today's society has witnessed a significant (and ongoing) expansion in the food service industry, so it isn't surprising that we are constantly bombarded with new eating trends, or tantalised by new venues waiting to serve us their own diverse range of food. Individual dishes may come and go over time, but what often persists longer in the memory are the sights, sounds and smells of the restaurants we visit. Sometimes there are so many dishes available that there is a risk of overlooking other aspects of the dining experience. For example, when was the last time you took the trouble to drink in and remember every detail of your meal beyond the food itself: the decor, the atmosphere, the view from the window at your table? There is a considerable depth of awareness that we should aim to experience when dining out, starting by appreciating all the features of the eating space that confronts us when we walk in. This isn't a guide on how to behave in a restaurant, it's a thought process you can follow to help you reap the rewards of the beautiful surroundings you find yourself in as well as the delicious food you are eating.
Choose a restaurant. Go somewhere that you haven't been to before! It's understandable to want to go with someone you know, but if no one is available why not go alone? You won't have to share anything, which can lead to a hefty bill if you are intending to properly treat yourself. Scan through the menu, pick out something you wouldn't normally go for and take the risk. If the description is unclear simply ask the waiter. Of course if you know there's a dish guaranteed to please your tastebuds then feel free to stick with that. While it can be quite tempting to ask the waiter for a recommendation, this has the potential to narrow your choices significantly. Skip their advice and decide for yourself. As for the specials, don't assume they are something truly out of the ordinary: these dishes are usually made from stocks of ingredients that must be used up, and so there is no need to feel you're missing out by sticking to the standard menu.
Next, when your dish arrives, keep your hands away from your phone and take a moment to drink everything in. Look at the dish and appreciate the layout of each ingredient, as usually this has been given careful consideration by the chef. Without straying into overly-pretentious territory, is there an art to how it has been done? Absorb the interactions that each ingredients have with each other. Smell the dish (no need to dip your head down too far!) and allow the aromas to intoxicate you. Is the dish a pleasant surprise? Now that respecting the dish is completed, we can't let this moment pass without photo time. The reason to savour your dish before the ritual of recording its presentation is that often once we have taken our photo, we simply proceed to begin eating. This tendency to view the visual elegance of our food through a screen eliminates the opportunity to experience that split-second of beautifulness when the dish arrives. Must we take about 10 pictures of the same thing? A couple of snaps should suffice.
While you're eating, naturally engage in conversation if you have company, but also remember to look around the room. The ambience and feel should be observed to help foster a sense of being in the present moment. It can be rewarding to notice how waiters burst out from the kitchen, carefully conveying divine dishes across the room before gently placing them before us. When you eat and take the time to look around, you will see the vibrant, beautiful chaos that forms the atmosphere of the restaurant. This is something that is always there to be seen and heard and smelled if we open our senses to our surroundings when eating. You may also notice the contrasting levels of care displayed by the waiters when we are focused on their movements as opposed to periods when we forget their presence. Acknowledging the aesthetics of the place is therefore as important as enjoying the presentation of the dish, which take together culminate in a moment of pure bliss. A worthwhile task (not one that is always easy!) is to remember the names of your dishes, whether in your own language or another. It is, I believe, a skill that is crucial when describing the experiences we have had to others. Just as we wouldn't forget cities we visited on holiday, so you shouldn't forget titles of magnificent dishes.
As you are approaching the end of a meal, waiters often ask for your opinion about your food. More often than not, a typical answer will consist of the succinct conclusion that it was "great" or "good". This is not to suggest that it will automatically be your response, but it is generally the most common answer. I feel that as much as we should be grateful for the whole experience of dining, there is also in some sense a responsibility to give something back. In this context, we can do this by providing honest feedback. Even if it may be a little awkward to say that a dish was a little too salty, or lacking a desirable structure, your opinion will help ensure the next customer to select that dish will not find any fault. Even more importantly, feedback is a genuine gesture of goodwill that leaves us with a better feeling even after receiving a flawed dish, however tiny the flaw may have been. A positive comment is much more valuable when it's true.
Going to a restaurant these days seems like an everyday thing for most of us. However, there is a clear line between simply being present in the restaurant and actually treasuring the chance to be there. Of course at the end of the day you have the freedom to do whatever you please, but it seems a pity that the potential for a more meaningful encounter is often lost, especially taking into account distractions from phones and other gadgets, and the many other demands of day-to-day life. An unforgettable dining experience should begin the moment we choose which restaurant to spend the next couple of hours in until the moment we walk out of its doors. Apart from when haste is required, what a waste it is to simply arrive, wait impatiently for the food, and leave as soon as it's been consumed! Taking the time to make clear observations of your surroundings need not mean a devotion to slow-living. Instead it involves a small level of awareness of what takes place in often ignored slices of time, and the goal of truly living in the present. Next time you are eating out, hone these principles of a memorable dining experience and enjoy all the benefits from every penny you spend on the occasion.