Saturday, July 06, 2013

Aussie cafes and restaurants

There is nothing worse than not knowing when you enter a strange cafe than if a waiter takes your order or you order at the counter. We are inclined to sit outside if it is warm enough, which makes it even worse. At least if you enter the cafe, you might see a clear indicator of whether it is waiter service or not.

If you see numbers on sticks on the cafe counter, it will certainly be order at the counter. You are then given a number to take to your table so that the waiter will know your table and deliver your food, and the same goes for if you see electronic devices to signal you when your order is ready. Some tables have a number attached to them and so you will need to know this number when ordering. Find a table first and note the number before ordering.  If you see menus on a counter, it is likely to be waiter service. If there is an extensive black board menu, probably order at the counter. There is no way of really knowing without looking.You just have to work it out for each new place.

Restaurants are much simpler. You step inside the door and wait for attention. Booking is not necessary unless you want to be guaranteed that you can get a table and booking is a polite thing to do if there is a group of you, so that staff can arrange tables in advance. You will usually be asked how many people are dining and shown to a seat and promptly given menus. Water may be delivered to your table, or you may have to ask for it. There will be wine glasses on the table or the staff will ask you how many glasses they should bring. Only ask for the number you want as there will be corkage charge.

What is corkage charge? Most restaurants allow you to bring your own wine, even though they sell wine themselves. Very few allow beer or spirits to be brought to the restaurant. They charge a fee for supplying the glasses and perhaps a chilling bucket for you wine. $2 per person who is having wine is very reasonable. In a a not too upmarket restaurant we went to once, four of us, we had four bottles and the corkage was $8 a bottle. $32 corkage is outrageous and in spite of the place being suggested for a return visit, we have refused. It is always worth checking the bill to see if the correct corkage has been charged. Remember the charge is only for people who drank the wine.

It matters little what the cuisine is and the way people eat in the country of the cuisine. Australians expect an entree and/or soup, followed by a main course and then perhaps dessert. There are many variations of course, but that is the basic. You could sum it up as something light, something substantial, something sweet.

When you order, the order will at times be repeated back to you at the conclusion of everyone ordering, often with heavily accented English. Stop your social chat and listen carefully. It will save botheration during your meal by making sure the order is correct.

Sometimes your food can be delivered too quickly for your pace or not matching each persons order time wise. If you want it to work perfectly and you don't think the restaurant is up to the task, order each course individually, ie, order your entree and wait until it is delivered before ordering your next course.

Your waiters should be friendly and helpful but probably won't call you Sir or Madam. You will get that if you go to an upmarket place which will be very expensive. The waiters are not your servants but your equal and they are doing some honest work for which they are paid a low minimum wage, but it is almost an adequate wage. Don't feel intimidated by them though. You are the customer and the staff are there to serve you. Ask about anything that tempts you on the menu, but you don't understand. I never verbally order anything that I don't know the correct pronunciation for. I will either point to the dish on the menu or if meals are numbered, use the number. 

Which brings us to tipping. Australians don't tip and there is no obligation to tip, except we often do tip. Five people dining for $33 each makes $165. A dollar or so extra each will make it $170. It is not really expected and it is not going to make your waiters rich, but just an acknowledgement that you have had a nice evening and nothing so far as your waiters were concerned went wrong. But if you don't tip, the waiters will not trip you as you are exiting the restaurant or chase you down the street. The more expensive the restaurant, the more a tip will be expected and generally the tip will be higher. But I don't really eat in fine dining establishments, so I am not so knowledgeable in that area.

12 comments:

  1. My parents once approached a Sydney restaurant cautiously uncertain whether it would be to their liking (ie not too expensive). Looking through the glass front doors they saw a waiter applying pepper to a diner's plate using the biggest pepper mill they had ever seen. This was sufficient evidence to them that the restaurant was not for them (ie too expensive) and they quickly rushed away to the nearest McDonalds.

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    1. They probably made the correct decision Victor. Monster pepper grinders seem to have disappeared now.

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  2. That sums it up well. I always check that there are a lot of happy customers sitting int he cafe or restaurant first before going in. An empty one usually means there is something wrong with it.

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    1. Diane I wondered if it was the same Australia wide and it seems it is. Yes, busy restaurants are usually better but sometimes for no real reason. I look for quiet noise places now.

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  3. It is important to know about local customs, isn't it, before we go into strange restaurants and cafes. That way no-one need be embarrassed by making dills of themselves.

    I was at a large dinner in the USA, and when the salad arrived, noone told me to eat it before the main course. So naturally I put it to the side, to wait until mains arrived. The other 14 people had to wait ages and ages for mains because the waiters wouldn't clear the plates until I ate my salad :(

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    1. I hate doing it wrong Hels. Not just for dining out, but generally I like to stand back, look for signs and the way things are done.

      I've heard about the salad thing in the US and for a buffet dinner, I usually eat like that, with a small plate of salad before the stodge. Surprising that no one told you to eat up your salad.

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  4. perfect summary!

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    1. Thanks M. Not my finest piece of writing, but I think I had the facts.

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  5. Very succinctly put Andrew. My motto is if you're not sure ..ask, communication is a wonderful thing. Of course that only works when there isn't a language barrier, then I resort to sign language which can be tres confusing :)

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    1. Grace, because we often eat in Asian and Indian restaurants, communication can be a problem, and often is.

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  6. If you want Indian in Sydney try Harris Park they have some pretty good ones, if it's Asian I like to go with my daughter in law she can tell whats in the various dishes, so there are no surprises.
    Merle.............

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  7. Merle, is she of Asian heritage or just knows about food?

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