Sunday, August 15, 2010

Eight Tips Series: Dining Out

Photo:Lewis Johnston
Here are eight tips to get the most out of your dining out experience in the Netherlands.

1. Don't Ask to Sit in a Quiet Part of the Restaurant
This is a selfish request so please don't make it. It requires the waiting staff to walk further than strictly necessary to serve you. Sit with the crowd and enjoy your meal. In fact, most of the Dutch clientele think it is gezellig to seat themselves at the table positioned 10 centimetres from yours, despite you being the only customers in the restaurant. Squeezing past each other's chairs to visit the toilets is a kind of national pastime.

2. Expect to Take Your Time
Don't expect to grab a quick meal and head off somewhere else. If you want quick, try Mcdonalds or Burger King (and even then you might be pushing your luck). The ordering process, as well as the delivery times of your meal to your table is at best 'relaxed' in many Dutch eating establishments.

3. Get Your Drinks Order in Whilst you Can
You just never know when you will be able to attract your server's attention again to get a second drink. People have died of thirst trying.

4. Enjoy the Overview
Don't have high expectations that glasses and bottles will be cleared away as you empty them. That is needless extra work for the serving staff. Relish the challenge of creatively rearranging your table at every course to ensure you can fit your food on the table. Think about stacking high, as well as across the table, and don't be afraid to extend to the Dutch group's table next to you - they wanted your company after all. Look on the bright side - you can easily keep track of your alcohol consumption this way.

Photo: Stefan Gustafsson 
5. The Two Finger Rule
When you order a beer from the tap, your glass will comprise 2/3 foam and 1/3 beer. It should of course be the other way round with only two finger's worth of foam at the top of your glass. However, this is more fiction than fact. Live with it and order three beers at once.

6. Let Staff Know if Your Meal is Cold or Undercooked
If you are not happy with the temperature of your meal, or the degree to which it is cooked, start trying to attract your waiter to let them know. They will gladly (read: with rolling eyes) take your plate back to the kitchen to deal with the offending item by blasting it in the microwave and then returning it to you on the same plate that was taken away from you 15 minutes previously. Yes, your salad will also have been nuked.

7. Use Your Feet to Get the Bill
You may notice that most Dutch customers get up from their tables and make their way to the till at the end of the meal; this is because they know. They know there is no point sitting and waiting and trying to get a waiter's attention to get the bill. And in any case, if you are lucky enough to attract enough attention to ask for the bill, this is just step one of three. Getting the bill to your table is trickier than asking for it, and getting your money or card processed is even harder. You could be there hours, by which time it is time for your next meal.

8. Tip
Yes, the service may have been slow, your table a mess throughout the entire meal and you used your feet to get the bill paid but you are still expected to leave a tip for your waiter or waitress. They were in the restaurant whilst you ate weren't they?

Of course, there are actually great places to eat in the Netherlands, where service excels and the food is scrumptious - check out the list on the Smaak Politie site for good, clean places. Top notch Michelin star restaurants are also available such as De Librije which was featured on the last series of Master Chef shown on the BBC - if anyone has actually been there let us know how it was!

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