In an effort to live a more balanced life, many of us have made a conscious decision to limit the number of evenings we spend at restaurants. When the opportunity arises, we go out for dinner with friends or family, and that’s great. But it doesn’t happen very often. If you aren’t in the habit of going out to eat on a regular basis, it can be challenging to find opportunities to do so. Unless you have a subscription to one of those meal-delivery services where they send you prepackaged food every week…but trust us, that’s not what we mean by “going out for dinner.” We’re talking about going out with friends or family members and having someone else serve us food under different circumstances than our own kitchen table. It may not come easily to some of us who are used to staying home most nights of the week—unless your home has so many rooms that you call it a house instead—but it can be done. Here are 10 ways to make eating at home more like eating out:
Make a reservation.
If you know you’re going to eat out, it’s best to make a reservation. This shows your commitment to the event and will help you avoid having to wait for a table. If you are going to a trendy or popular restaurant, you might have to book the reservation several days in advance. If you live in a large city, you might have to make reservations several weeks in advance. It’s a good idea to look at restaurants’ websites and social media pages to see if they are offering any special promotions or offers that might make your experience more enjoyable. If you’re going out with more than two people, try to make a reservation for a table for four or six. This will make it easier for the group to make conversation and have a smoother experience.
Try eating something different.
If you are going out with family members or friends who you see regularly and have had the same meal countless times, try eating something different. Maybe you’ve had the same pizza combination or pasta dish for years, but you’ve never tried the steak or the seafood option. If you’re going to a Chinese restaurant, maybe order a stir fry or a noodle dish instead of the same old General Tso’s chicken. If you are ordering Mexican food, maybe try an enchilada or a taco instead of the burrito or fajita you always get. If you’re going out with a group, make a suggestion to try something different. If they are open to it and are game to try something new, order something you wouldn’t normally get. If you are at someone’s house, they might also have a menu or suggestions for places that deliver nearby.
Enjoy the experience of eating in a restaurant, not just the food.
So many people eat at restaurants and then only focus on the food. Don’t forget about everything else that can make the experience more enjoyable. Keep an eye out for the décor in the restaurant and be mindful of the waitstaff. The décor is part of the experience, just like the food. Be mindful of the waitstaff and what they are doing and how they are treating their customers. If you see something or someone that you think is unfair or inappropriate, don’t be afraid to speak up. If you are going to a restaurant that has a bar, enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine or try a new beer. If you are going out with a group, go out in a group. Don’t be the person who sits in the middle of the table and doesn’t engage with anyone.
Bring something to read or to listen to.
If you are going out to a restaurant that may not be conducive to a long conversation, bring a book or a magazine to read while you are waiting for your food to arrive. If you are going out to eat with a group, be prepared to split the bill. Don’t be the person who expects someone else to pay their way every time they go out. Bring cash and leave your credit cards at home. If you are going out to eat with family, bring your kids’ toys or books or a tablet with apps to keep them busy. If you are going out to eat with friends, talk about something other than your lives and your struggles. If you are at a friend’s house, check to see if there are any restaurants that deliver nearby. If it’s late and you don’t want to go out, you can always order take-out.
Don’t be afraid to ask for simple modifications.
If you can’t eat certain ingredients or certain foods, don’t be afraid to ask for simple modifications. Ask them to hold the onions or the peppers, or request a dish without cheese. If a dish comes with something you cannot eat, don’t be afraid to ask to have it removed. This is something that is done regularly in restaurants and will not be frowned upon. If you have allergies, speak up and ask for what you need. Don’t be afraid to do so. It’s better to ask for what you need and not get it than the other way around. If you are at someone’s house and they are serving food, it’s OK to ask for adjustments. If you are going out with a group, let them know if you have any allergies or dietary restrictions. If you are at a friend’s house and they are serving food, let them know what you can and can’t eat.
Order dessert first and eat it slowly.
Dessert is the last item of the meal that is traditionally served. This can be an excellent opportunity to slow down and enjoy the evening. Ask your server to bring the dessert menu first so you can order something while everyone else is still ordering their main courses. Try to eat dessert slowly. Sip a beverage or tea. Let others at the table finish their meals before you begin eating your dessert. Ask questions about the dessert and others at the table. Let the person who ordered dessert go first. Talk about the meal and the evening. Don’t rush it. If you are going out with a group, share a dessert or order a few desserts to share. You can even ask for a dessert menu if you are at someone’s house.
Eat before you go.
If you are going out to eat, eat before you go. Eating a light meal or small snack beforehand will help you avoid overeating at the restaurant. It will also help prevent indigestion or heartburn. It’s best not to eat a large meal before you go out because you will want to end up eating more than you need and probably finish off the meal at the restaurant. If you are at someone’s house and they are serving food, eat before you go out. If you are going out with a group, order food before you go out or offer to take food with you. If you are going to a restaurant with a menu full of tempting choices, try to resist ordering an appetizer or starter.
Go somewhere you don’t normally go to shake things up a little bit.
If you are going out to eat with friends or family members, try to go somewhere you don’t normally go. You don’t have to go to a totally different city or neighborhood, but why not try that new all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet that just opened? Or go to the Mexican restaurant that you always go to but don’t normally go out of your way to patronize? If you are going out with a friend or family member and they suggest going to a place you normally go to, don’t be afraid to suggest going somewhere different.
Don’t forget: You can always order take-out or delivery when you get home!
If you are going out with a group, order take-out or delivery when you get home. This makes it more like going out to eat, but without the social pressure. Take turns picking a place to order from and you can try something new that you wouldn’t normally choose.