- LOOK around. And smell. You see a dish you like the look of being carried around, you ask what it is or work out what it is on the menu (if you’re feeling clever). But try not to appear stalker-y. It’s probably not ok if you lean so far into the next table that they can tell what you had for breakfast.
- Discern what kind of place it is. If it’s a less-than-average place, the impressive-sounding dishes probably only sound impressive so you’re probably just better sticking with what you (and they) know.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the wait staff questions. That’s what they’re there for. If something on the menu is confusing, you can avoid awkwardness and embarrassment later by asking if that fish is pan-fried or poached.
- Read the fine-print. It’s easy to end up with too much or too little food if the dish is complete or if you have to make up the dish yourself with various side orders (THAT’S why it was so cheap!).
- Don’t be THAT foodie and insist everyone orders something different. If someone else is having what you’re having, it’s ok to have the same thing. Your mates don’t give a crap about your food blog agenda and if you want to really enjoy it for the sake of enjoying things, go for what you want.
- Look at the whole dish, not just the main element of meat or fish. Accompaniments can make or break a dish.
- If the vegetarian dish looks good, go for it. Don’t feel obliged to get a meat dish because you feel like you’re getting more for your money because they can be just as good. Usually cheaper, too.
- An obvious one, but read reviews of what’s done well at the restaurant before you go, and ask wait staff what is most popular there.
- Don’t be boring. If you can have it at home easily, don’t bother (unless it's a speciality or somewhere so amazing that tripe looks appealing). Go for something you’ve never had before (but order wisely if the restaurant’s quality doesn’t look great).
- Try not to get a vision in your head of what you’re expecting or you may be sorely disappointed. I went to one of my favourite places for home-y cooking and had ‘penne, salmon and avocado’, imagining a cold salad-type thing with an oily dressing but they served it all hot, INCLUDING the avocado, slathered in some kind of tomato-y sauce. It was grim.
Of course, if you go to a chain affair like Wahaca or Wagamama and they assume that you have difficulty even ordering or reading their menu (not to say that I don’t love Wahaca. I really do. I just fine their ‘Have you been here before?’ spiel more than a little patronising).
*Disclaimer: Some people are just crap at ordering. I accept no responsibility for this.