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Monday, May 26, 2014

Re-learning restaurants

It always startles me to hear someone say they don't like to eat out alone. Give me a book and a menu in any restaurant anywhere and I'm content.  In 30 years of going to an office, I can count the number of times I ate at my desk or in a lunchroom on my fingers. Even working from home, Charlie and I  still go out for lunch a few times a week.
Given the choice of eating out or doing dishes, I see no choice. I prefer to do my grazing on the open range. 
Yet almost three months since my Vertical Gastric Sleeve, I'm still re-learning how to navigate restaurants. 
Some bariatric patients carry wallet cards signed by their doctor saying they can't eat much and should be allowed to order from the children's or senior menu. While that may work for some,  I'm not comfortable with making my solution someone else's problem. (And my day for those senior plates will come soon enough)
My healthier choice for myself should not mean my waiter or waitress gets a smaller portion of their tip.  Having served my time as a waitress in high school, I know that there are few exceptions to the universal rule that people who order the lowest priced items also (on a percentage of bill basis) tip less. In a perfect world restaurant employees would make a living wage without tips, but that rarely happens. Diners have to hold up our end of the deal. 
So I order from the regular menu and take the remainder home for additional meals, which for me is actually more cost effective than ordering a reduced portion.
I had a pre-surgery brainstorm to order my own box of take out containers from an online restaurant supply company to make the process as easy (and Styrofoam-free) as possible.  There were hundreds of choices but I compared form, function, materials and price to come to a square, clamshell-type , microwavable container made of recycled matter and a lidded cup for soups. I compared features and price and ordered a box of each... without looking at the quantity. I  now have more than 1000 pieces of each item and will not likely re-order in this century. 
With a life-time supply of take-out boxes, a cooler in the back on my car and calorie/protein/carb counting programs on my phone -- I thought I was all set. 
Texas -- where folks still have the freedom to text and talk on their cellphones while driving, as long as it isn't in a school zone-- does not have nutritional reporting rules for restaurants. Federal law is pending requiring menu nutrition information be available on menus and in framed on-site display in any restaurant with more than 20 locations.  The industry is fighting it with the argument of increased costs for redoing menus. etc. I'd be glad to see something scrawled on a napkin by the cook -- as long as I can get the numbers I need. 
I treated Charlie to lunch yesterday at one of his favorite steak houses, which happens to be part of a a large Texas chain.  It was one of those days where I frankly could not face another piece of grilled chicken.  My phone gave me the calorie count for the tenderloin tips I was considering, but had nothing about the sauce served with it - which sounded awfully good and possibly within my range.  I asked the waitress for the menu nutrition information and she went to get her manager. 
"We don't have that. We have to keep it a secret or we'll ruin it for our customers," he said with an awkward, forced laugh. 
Could he give me a list of the ingredients in the sauce so I could ballpark the totals? He said they were not allowed to share their recipes. Again he laughed. I didn't. 
Yes, there are more than enough non-dieters in this world to keep their tables filled, but why turn away the rest of us over something so simple? 
The number of bariatric patients has increased 16-fold in the past ten years. Add in other people on diets or with other medical dietary restrictions and it makes no sense to turn away our dollars. 
I don't expect mom and pop restaurants to have numerical information, but there always seems to be an owner or cook who will gladly tell me about what's in a dish. 
Back at the steak house, I tipped the waitress well anyway. She had no control over the policies.
But my tip for management -- hospitality is more than putting food on a clean plate. 
I need a restaurant I can count on. 

1 comment:

  1. Judi, an excellent post. You were right: our solution isn't someone elses' problem. My stepmother was a waitress, and although passed away, we NEVER still a waiter or waitress. Matter of fact, if they're pretty decent even, we'll ask for their name and tell the manager or fill out survey's and tell them that.

    Btw, I also have found it cost effective for leftovers. I can get several days meals out of one and I don't have to go chase for something. Cheaper on gas & less wear and tear on the car.