So, you got yourself a table. You’re all situated, and now you’re scrutinizing a menu. Hopefully the host did you the service of providing an appropriate variety of menus and enough food menus for each diner to have one. It’s always fun to get a separate specials, cocktail or draft menu, but more than one per table isn’t generally necessary for these. This post will be about how to order and the process of putting an order in with a server, a brutal landmine for service folks who’re just trying to get your meal started and push you down the road towards full and happy.
First of all, most servers will say, “Take all the time that you need”—and mean it. In fact, it’s annoying as hell when you have to stand there at a table while your guests hem, haw and oscillate between what you “always get” and “trying something new.” Some diners like to get all upset when a server says “I’ll give you more time.” That’s because we’d rather let you make an informed and confident decision. Take 15-20 minutes … shit, just take all the time you need to feel strongly about what you’re about to choose. Because once you choose it, there will be none of that “Wait, I change my mind” 10 minutes after your order’s in front of a chef or prep cook.
Every once in a while, no bigs—like if the house is full, and the kitchen’s backed up, but you want to switch the temperature of your burger from medium rare to medium well. Done. (After all, it’s way easier to go more well than more raw.) Or if you’ve ordered three courses and think maybe you’d like to cancel something from your final course. Easy. But if you order a steak at medium and it’s on the grill, then you decide you want chicken, do you realize what you’ve done? You’re making a kitchen—unless they have another steak ticket up that’s waiting for a fire—either throw out a beautiful piece of meat or resign it to a second staff meal for kitchen and front of the house staff.
Lots of servers are pretty good at playful menu-choosing chit-chat. They’ll answer every single question you could possibly come up with about a dish, and if they don’t know the answer, eagerly go get it for you. We’ll even, most of the time, have favorites and preferred dishes. I’ll happily shoot that shit with you. But at the same time, you shouldn’t grimace when I say, “I’m not a chicken fan, but it sells really well.” You asked for an opinion, and I gave you one. Feel free to absolutely not take any of this advice or opinion at all, but do feel free to not give any shits about how my feelings will be affected by your order. Like we say now, “You do you.” I won’t be upset unless you jockey for a table on a busy night and order hot water with lemon and a side of fries. Even then, if you’re in and out in a half hour with your $10 check, I’m not mad at you.
Here’s the thing about substitutions: sometimes it’s no big deal at all, and sometimes it is. Where it isn’t a big deal, it’s probably obvious: the menu’s huge, there are sides of things listed, and those same sides are included in the description of dishes. Want to switch out green beans because you see them as a side and don’t dig asparagus? You’ve got it. Interested in a non-grain or potato, but want some kind of salad or greens? No bigs. But when you go to a BYO or a fancier place with a smaller, tighter menu, a bunch of those dishes have been thought through, from herbs to dressing, and asking for sauce on the side or an altogether different sauce will sometimes make the chef look at the ordering server like she has just shoved a knife in his gut. The rule of thumb is generally “You can take things away, but you cannot add.” Please, please do not think that because you see all of the ingredients in a dish you’ve concocted in your imagination on the menu that you can order any combination thereof. That is the absolute worst. Getting requested with “Can’t you just ask? I see all the things I want here on the menu!” is like saying, “I know I can bully you around and waste your time and get you in trouble with your boss, so I’m just gonna do that.” Just always try to be reasonable. A quick study of the menu in your hands can yield great and reasonable requests–and servers can immediately identify the idiocy as soon as it presents itself.
You know who some of the biggest nightmares in the service industry are, though, right? Gluten and allergy people. Sorry, folks. Something happened in the last two decades and people believe it reasonable to turn an aversion into an allergy. Again, know your predispositions, study the menu, then bring your pointed questions to your server. We will love you for it. It’s now commonplace for restaurants to have a star system to annotate gluten-free options or to even have an additional gluten-free menu. But do not roll your eyes if the business you’re attempting to patronize doesn’t have an exclusive gluten-free menu; we will happily guide you down the menu with your safe options and even point out stuff that could be made safely without even a dash of gluten. Even more insulting? “I see that star next to this dish that denotes that it is gluten-free, but is it really?!” No, we’re fucking with you and are actually trying to send you to the hospital. C’mon.
It can be fun when a server gets the “You choose” prompt because it might mean that a guest is truly “down for whatever.” But blindly guiding a stranger to a happy place without at least some preferences is pretty impossible. However, we really do enjoy an engaging table of diners who are curious, hungry and thirsty. Even pairing a beer or wine with your meal is a pleasure. But when you say you usually like white zinfandel, we’re screwed. Don’t take us to that place. It’s cold and scary and full of night terrors.
Well, alright! Hard to believe that it’s that time of year again. Last June, early in the month, we went and got baked (by the sun). It was so very hot. The 2014 Roots Picnic lineup, set to go down on the last day of May, gives us a few reasons for rejoicing (other than the visually pleasant flier for the 7th Annual event, c/o John P. Dessereau). Namely: Janelle, The War on Drugs and Snoop, backed by the Roots.
Not gonna lie, there are a handful of acts that aren’t very familiar, but they somehow ended up on the Roots’ radar. We’re talkin’ ’bout Jhené Aiko, Bad Rabbits, Roman Gianarthur and Electric Wire Hustle. But heyyy! Check out Action Bronson! And A$AP Ferg! And araabMUZIK and Chill Moody and Just Blaze! And a DJ set from the incomparable Biz Markie?! Hip-hop royalty sprinkled into your all-day sunsoaked Saturday on the waterfront? Nice.
There are some pre-sale ticket options going on today, but they’re available to the general public tomorrow at noon. They’re $40 ($53.50 with all the fees), and you can only snatch eight at a time. Rest assured, if that sounds cheap, you’ll hemmorhage money as soon as you step into the place. So, ya know, be prepared. Towards the middle of the afternoon, it started to feel like the whole event was a wait-in-line-for-overpriced-concessions game. Seriously, let’s hope the Festival Pier folks step up their set-up.
Quest was so busy, he made a lineup promo video while his hair was getting did:
This winter has been a long one, Philly. Although spring is fast approaching, months and months of 30-degree weather can take a toll on a person’s outlook. We long for warmer weather in this town. We are the sovereigns of pop-up gardens, sidewalk happy hours and tailgating. So much so, that for the past nine years, the good folks at the Brewer’s Plate have provided our winter-weary souls a taste of spring a month early. And not a moment too soon!
As the self-proclaimed “great-grand-pappy of the food and beer movement,” the Brewer’s Plate is celebrating its 10th iteration this week, combining locally brewed beer with fresh food grown in and around the Philadelphia region. Featuring outstanding local restaurants, chefs, distilleries, food artisans, brewers and wineries, this event proudly declares “buy fresh, buy local” to not only stimulate taste buds, but the local economy as well.
Fair Foods, a Philly-based non-profit focusing on connecting restaurant chefs with local farmers, is responsible for this incredible party. By shifting the public’s perception of fresh food, Fair Food has made amazing progress in protecting the provincial food system.
This year’s Brewer’s Plate promises to be the best yet. Chock full of celebrity guests and judges—including Brent Celek of the Philadelphia Eagles, restauranteur and “Iron Chef” Jose Garces and TV’s Marc Summers, to name a few—this 10th anniversary celebration will take place at the Kimmel Center, adding a little glitz and glam to an amazingly agri-conscious event.
The 10th annual Brewer’s Plate, Sun., March 9th, VIP reception 5:30pm, general admission 6:30pm. $65 – $125. The Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St. brewersplate.com
Sounds Like: The first solo LP from the Swede-born legend in 18 years gets the Four Tet treatment and a Robyn guest spot for a refreshingly percussive-heavy and triumphant return.
Free Association: She’s lingered in experimental obscurity in the past, but this one’s just great.
For Fans Of: ESG x Tricky + Digable Planets, Kelis/Queen Latifah x Bjork & the Slits, breakbeats.
Sounds Like: The Black Hippy rising star’s biggest and best yet is, frankly, hard; from the eye-opening first track, “Gangsta,” it’s a dynamic and varied ride of hearty, hardcore hip-hop.
Free Association: Don’t go looking for a good kid, m.A.A.d city – this one’s way darker/scarier.
For Fans Of: Dre/Snoop/Nas/2 Pac, Jay Rock/Tyler, the Creator/2 Chainz, syrup and spliffs.
(Kill Rock Stars)
Sounds Like: Their proper sophomore’s a rich, full-flavored synth rock record that dangerously dabbles in the cheese of arena rock but never abandons a more endearing indie flavor.
Free Association: Thought these guys might be one to watch, but this one’s a lil’ whack.
For Fans Of: Suckers + Wild Beasts/Cymbals Eat Guitars, Two Door Cinema Club x Fall Out Boy.
(Bone & Bloom)
Sounds Like: The Pennsylvania Academy of Music-trained Lancaster native’s one of the brightest unsung talents in the freak-/anti-/neo-folk universe and her seventh is outstanding
Free Association: Listen and pick out at least a dozen artists who could call her a spirit mother.
For Fans Of: Joanna Newsom x Kate Bush/Joni Mitchell + Regina Spektor, Laurel Canyon.
Guilty of Everything
Sounds Like: Probably the best guitar rock LP of 2014! The Kensington-raised Domenic Palermo’s had ups and downs, but here his quartet’s opus of crushingly beautiful feedback assault triumphs.
Free Association: What an inspiration to see salvation found in creativity and dedication.
For Fans Of: My Bloody Valentine/Explosions in the Sky, Whirr x Deafheaven, Kenzo heroes.
Close to the Glass
Sounds Like: The first from the Germans in six years is an excellently fleshed-out spin on their typically glitchy and chill ambience, this time with way more feedback freakouts.
Free Association: If you love them for Neon Golden, you might think “This is the same band?”
For Fans Of: Mogwai/Pinback/Stereolab/Radiohead, TV on the Radio x Hot Chip, severity.
I got to do something really cool Friday night. I got a Photo Pass and it was my first time with a decently capable borrowed camera “in the pit.” Of course, nearly all ten media pawns crowding into the same 12-15 square-feet had huge, killer cameras, but I was just pumped to boogie within spitting distance of Ms. Annie. Standing about eight feet from The Fierce One, I got front seat access to the first three songs of her thoroughly badass set: “Rattlesnake,” “Digital Witness,” and “Cruel.” Wearing a slightly macabre short dress with fabric manipulations that might’ve mimicked blood, she tore through song after song from all four of her records nailing every solo along the way. The packed-in capacity crowd was affably excited, yielding a pleasant morsel of local pride: the good people of Philadelphia know a good thing when they see it. From some of the things I’ve read about this new record and tour, there’ve been whispers of her aesthetically aiming at leadership of a new world order. A cult-leading superpower here to snatch up our minds and turn us into enlightened funk humanoids. This pale pink platform triangle really pulls it all together (from the album cover to the stage). When she stood on the highest level and blasted through the last third of her set, I was ready to sign up and waiting for her to say “I’m here to recruit you.”
In the wake of this drivel circulating on the Faceplace recently, it seems this series of posts are relevant and seek to eradicate ignorance.
So, now you’ve got a table. Please don’t be rude about your table space maintenance. If a host asks you if you’d like to check or get rid of your jacket, take him or her up on it. It’s not obligatory to tip, but it’s pretty much always welcome. It’s nice to not have a jacket in your lap or on the back of your chair, and sometimes, restaurants have copious coat-checking space (or just a bootleg stand-alone rack kept in the basement) just for that free and nice service. It’s particularly mind-boggling when diners think they can use neighboring tables to store a purse, winter accessories, a briefcase, phone, pile of books, etc. You’re just going to get asked, nicely, to move your things when that table’s needed. And again, even if the table next to you’s empty, wait 10 minutes, and it may be no longer.
One thing that can always freak out a host or a server is when you sit down and start moving your table all over by dragging it or nudging it an inch or five. Combining tables without permission can also get hairy. Here’s the thing: There’s usually a logic to the very placement of every table in a restaurant. They’re mapped out and positioned to optimize access to the table from the perspective of a server, busser or food-runner. When you force us to contort in weird ways to pick up your empty plate or fill your water glass, we’re silently resenting you. You should usually just wait for your server or host to mess with table orientation. Ninety-five percent of the time, concern over table positioning is with you in mind. We want to be able to do everything for you so you can just sit and enjoy. Five percent of the time, it’s more of a traffic concern–don’t make every single diner and employee in the restaurant hit their hip on your chair because you insist on sitting two feet away from your table. Please. We typically think that if you’re dead-set on giving your legs all the space they need by pushing out your chair, it’s directly proportionate to your potential for being a dick.
Side-sitters: What’s wrong with you? You’re that much in love, and you have such a spatial disposition that you insist on a table where you can be hip to hip? You’re a target for scrutiny now, lovebirds. We’re ALL talking shit about you in the service station. Now, with pretty much anything, an advance notice or request and nearly everything can be accommodated. But to walk in on a Friday night and turn your nose up to tables that don’t maximize your intimacy requirements? The host now wants to destroy you. You really need a quiet table for six at 8pm on a weekend? Stay at home. There is no such thing in Philadelphia, except at terrible businesses where no one spends money.
The other thing people love to complain about as soon as they sit down? Temperatures. It’s freezing! I’m boiling! It never ends. There are definitely some situations in which it’s completely acceptable to say, “Hey, we’re kind of cold. Would you mind turning up the heat a degree or two?” But then there’s always the thing you do where you make sure you’ll be comfortable when you go out: It’s winter, so have a sweater. It’s summer, so don’t wear a sweater. Is it also not obvious that your climate control needs affect everyone else in the restaurant? The servers who are comfortable in a heated room in a t-shirt through February are moving around a bit more than you, yes, but if you’re freezing with a sweater and a scarf on, something’s wrong with you, and it’s not our heating and cooling system.
Regarding the constant party-size changers: It’s cool to have a flexible number of guests in certain capacities. Your reservation’s for four, but you have three? Cool. Called for six, but now have five? No biggie. Made a reservation for two, but invited two more couples at the last minute? No idea where we’re going to put you, and you’ve just fucked yourself and your friends. Thinking your party may shrink, expand or fluctuate periodically through your meal? Let us know–we probably have an ideal table for you. It’s really hard to wait on a table where everyone’s coming and going at different times. That seems completely lost on a large swath of Philadelphians.
And finally, this is less table and more bar space maintenance, but have the decency to maximize seatings at a bar. A bartender’s money-making is far more dependent on his actual bar patrons than the amount of drinks he or she is making for the rest of the seated restaurant. And when you sit at an empty stool such that a twosome walks in and can’t find two seats next to each other because you’re too scared to sit right next to a stranger? Get over it, and move one spot down. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to strangers or kindly ask them to shift a stool. They’ll usually oblige. To walk into a bar where there are several empty stools but no two that are next to each other, and you turn around and walk out, is one of the saddest adult human behaviors a service person can witness. We want to serve you and enjoy the business. If you’re too much of a wimp, any of us are willing to do that “dirty work” for you.
With its origins firmly routed in 18th-century Spain, the traditional styles of flamenco have spread across the world for generations. With specialized dance academies popping up in several different nations, the appeal of this beloved and intense form of dance has proved to be a lasting one. Fortunately, for local fans looking for a full-blown flamenco experience, nirvana’s here via the second bi-annual Philadelphia Flamenco Festival, on tap through March 16.
Inspired by the Festival de Jerez in Seville, Spain, local choreographer, Elba Hevia y Vaca, Pasion y Arte’s artistic and executive director, developed the 16-day fest with the purpose of bringing contemporary flamenco to the area the area while shedding light on its cultural evolution. Featuring a star-studded collection of reknown flamenco artists, this year’s event will feature four dazzling performances showcasing innovative new work by the award-winning Israel Galván and his sister, Pastora Galván, as well as master dance classes helmed by Rosario Toledo, lectures and informative panel talks in various Philly venues.
After an hour-long opening reception sure to set things off in true style, International House Philadelphia will host a screening of Carlos Suara’s riveting 2011 live-performance film Flamenco Hoy, which also highlights the musical and vocal treasures as unique to the artform as the dance itself, followed by a discussion led by Hevia y Vaca.
Opening reception for the Philadelphia Flamenco Festival and screening of Flamenco Hoy, Monday, March 3, 7pm. $9, $7 for students/seniors. International House of Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut St. 215.387.5125. philaflamencofest.org