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How to Be a Better Diner

Be empathetic, communicate and other tips for being more respectful restaurant customer.

The Washington Post

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(Kailey Whitman for The Washington Post)

Chefs and restaurant owners want you to know they truly appreciate their customers as the pandemic continues to result in fewer food choices, shorter hours and higher menu costs.

“We’re charging full price,” says veteran Washington restaurateur Ashok Bajaj. “People expect full service,” even though dining establishments across the board are struggling to find and retain help and details like leaky restroom faucets can now take months to fix.

Is there anything customers can do to help? I asked a cross-section of Washington restaurant professionals to suggest ways diners might be better guests. Here’s their wish list:

  • “Be empathetic,” says Angel Barreto, executive chef at Anju in Dupont Circle. While many establishments look lively again, he says, “we’re still coping,” sometimes with issues that aren’t always obvious, such as businesses trying to pay workers a living wage or supporting relief efforts far from home (see: Ukraine).
  • “Make thoughtful decisions when choosing a place to eat,” says Christianne Ricchi, chef-owner at I Ricchi in Dupont Circle. More than ever, she says she believes “little restaurants” — independent ones — “give color and a sense of community” to their neighborhoods.
  • Be honest about special requests. “We do our best to accommodate everyone we can,” says Yuan Tang, the chef and co-owner of Rooster & Owl on 14th Street NW. But, please, he says, “an honest conversation goes a long way” toward helping a kitchen modify a dish if time and supplies allow. Is the allergy or dietary restriction you raise a true one, or do you simply not care for an ingredient? Tang has watched diners who tell him they can’t eat gluten devour bread he sends out.
  • “Let us do our jobs,” says Bill Jensen, the wine maestro at Reveler’s Hour and Tail Up Goat in Adams Morgan. Mentioning you like, say, a California cabernet, is helpful to a point, but Jensen thinks he can be more helpful when diners share a theme or their mood. “I want something timeless” or “I just got a raise” lets a sommelier get more creative and might lead to a diner being introduced to something new and different.
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    (Kailey Whitman for The Washington Post)

  • “If you’re not going to come, please cancel,” says Bajaj. His oldest restaurant, the Bombay Club, recently had 210 reservations on the books, with 35 no-shows — and no apologies from those who failed to honor their commitment, despite confirmation calls.
  • Remember your itemized receipt before you leave the restaurant, if you need it, says Amy Brandwein, chef-owner of Centrolina and Piccolina in CityCenter. Especially now, strapped managers don’t have the time to sift through weeks or months of past receipts  to fulfill a diner’s request. “It’s tough,” says the chef, adding that such hunts can take someone 30 minutes.
  • “Respect our policies,” says Michelle Grant, co-owner of Era Wine Bar in Mount Rainier, Md. There are valid reasons the restaurant seats no more than eight people together in the main dining room and restricts separate checks to two per party: “Service is important to us,” she says, and with limited staff “someone gets left behind” if rules meant for everyone’s benefit are disregarded.

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This post originally appeared on The Washington Post and was published May 17, 2022. This article is republished here with permission.

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