What's Cooking

Master the menu: trust staff picks for a great dining experience

on February 27, 2017 No comments

by Rebecca Harwood, food blogger and Italian culture enthusiast

My first night dining at il Giallo in Atlanta, I was impressed with the well-curated menu of both familiar and novel Italian dinner options.

However, the variety of appealing choices presented a personal challenge: I couldn’t possibly try everything that I wanted.

That is really saying something, because as an experienced diner trained in culinary arts, I typically know exactly what the menu offers, what I want from it, and how I want it. With a thoughtful menu, though, and someone like me involved in a long-time love affair with Italian food, decisions can be difficult.

I was torn on what to select from every category, including the wine. The first dining experience at a new restaurant sets the tone for your relationship with that restaurant forever! (As you can see, I take these things very seriously.)

Many years ago, I learned that a wise person always asks a wiser person for help. In this case, it was my server.

The restaurant staff wants you to have a great time!

Your server wants you to have a wonderful dining experience at least as much as you do. Servers work hard to insure your happiness, and it has been my experience that they are not only willing, but thrilled to help make it happen for you. They can do this by guiding you through the menu and finding the best fit for your appetite on any given visit.

It’s not just about the servers, though. The relationship between a guest and a restaurant is often carried through the entire staff culture, including the management and chefs as well. I was assured of this at il Giallo when I walked by the chef making fresh pasta to order on the way to my table. Fresh pasta is a beautiful thing, but it is also a rarity in a fast-paced American life.

I knew if the kitchen’s commitment to my taste buds was this high on the priority list, my server would be invested in my experience as well.

Your server knows the menu!

Once seated, the freshly made focaccia bread and some crisp cold water helped me and my companions ditch our hangry moods and focus happily on the choices ahead.

Our server Josh stopped in and spent some time going over the daily specials and generally familiarized us with the menu. Reading through the many fresh and inventive options was fun all by itself.

This is where my dilemma began. We’d managed to get the wine list down to a final four, but that was about all the progress we’d made on our own (unless you count emptying the bread plates, which we did relatively quickly). With my confidence in the staff’s support for my experience, I decided to ask our server for the inside scoop on what he liked best, and the rest is history.

He started by offering a wine none of us had tried before that seemed to be in the realm of all of our personal preferences, then he recommended a dish from each section of the menu.

Both his reasoning and descriptions were informed and enticing. We provided him with our needs and he presented the best solutions. Everything he suggested ended up being the favorite all around, and I wasn’t even surprised. After all, he eats at the restaurant quite often.

Get to know the restaurant and make your own preferences known!

Trying a new restaurant is so much fun, and your server can help it be an even more successful experience than going it alone. Think of him or her as your guide, familiar with the terrain but still letting you take the journey for yourself.

A good server will spend some time to get to know you, but it’s also wise for you to get to know the restaurant and the menu yourself. Each visit may be a new experience, and your past visits will shed new light on your path, even if you still need to consult your expert server.

Try to be clear about what you like and what you don’t, and ask for advice from someone who knows. If you feel strongly that fish needs to be a part of your meal, tell your server to suggest something from the sea. If pasta is the sweet comfort you need, tell him to skip the fish and tell you a story of magical noodles from a few steps away.

Either way, asking someone who knows the finer points of the menu could make a huge difference on your overall dining experience!

il GialloMaster the menu: trust staff picks for a great dining experience

Join the conversation