Dining in a foreign country can become a stressful task if you are not aware of how to behave in a restaurant. For instance, if you are visiting a restaurant in the US, you will have to tip 18-20% of your bill whereas in Europe a service charge is included in your meal and you can leave small tips. Tipping is considered rude in Japan.
Making your pick from a foreign-language menu is hard enough, and add to it is unfamiliar cultural quirks and practises, which can be overwhelming. That’s because a routine behaviour such as eating is more ingrained, and hence become more susceptible to cultural and geographical hints and habits.
It is really not possible to generalise how staff will behave inside a restaurant. Take for instance an Italian restaurant. In some Italian restaurants the staff will be reserved while in another you will find the owner mingling with the guests and even telling jokes. Be prepared to experience such disparity while dining abroad.
We give you six tips to help you dine abroad without creating any embarrassing situations.
If you are not familiar with what is written on the menu, Google
You are going to have trouble with a menu if you are not really fluent in a foreign language. You may not know the names of vegetables and countless species of fish or the style of preparation. If you are unsure what you are ordering you are at risk of ordering something you really don’t want to eat.
To avoid such situations, all you need is a smartphone, which enables you to access mobile translation sites and apps. If the internet is not working, use a phrase book, or simply ask. The restaurant staff will be happy to clear your doubts.
When there is no menu card
Most restaurants will have a menu. However, there are a few restaurants that write their menu on the chalkboard. And what if it is not written in English, but in Dutch or Spanish? In that case, only the staff will be able to help you. All the restaurants want you to have a great meal, so they will be only ready to help. Or if the staff speak a language unknown to you then you can just surrender and let them serve you what they think is best. The whole point of travel sometimes is to simply take your chances hoping for the best!
Stick to what’s familiar
When in doubt you can either ask around or if you are too shy to ask just stick to what is familiar. If might limit your options but that is better than ordering the wrong dish. This is especially the case when you are a vegetarian. So before embarking on a foreign trip it will do you good if you learn the names of a few familiar dishes or vegetable or fish or meat. Learn a couple of words, and stick with the dishes prepared using the vegetables you are familiar with.
Use uncomplicated verbal communication
The folks who are trying to help you might also find it difficult to communicate with you if you do not use simple language. Just ask them what is on the menu. And also ask them whether it is a vegetarian dish or a non-vegetarian dish. Will it be bland or too spicy? You have a better chance of being understood if you keep the conversation simple.
Study your surroundings before you try to order
Some restaurants can give you the chills. From figuring out what to order and where to go to place your order, you will find everything totally confusing. If you are dinning in a well-known US food chain like McDonald’s, you don’t have to worry too much about language and cultural issues. Get in line and tell the person in the counter what you want. If you are ordering in Subway, you will have to tell one person what kind of cheese, meat and bread you want; tell what kind of add-ons you want to another person; and then order your drink at a separate counter. Then you will have to go back to the register to pay before you can finally eat.
To get a sandwich you will have to go to three or four stations. There are also food chains which allow you to order on a touch screen. You will be given a paper slip with your order number. You can take it to the register to pay. You will have to take your bill back to the sandwich counter, and look for your number to appear on the screen above the delivery counter to get your order.
The ordering systems can be very different in each restaurant, so after entering the restaurant, take a minute to look around at how things work. Watch the other guests to see whether they head straight to the counter or wait to be seated or find themselves a table.
If you are visiting a popular tourist destination, restaurant staff will be familiar dealing with people from different parts of the world. If you are not a local they will know immediately. So chill. You’re not the first person to mispronounce every entree on the restaurant menu, and you won’t be the last. While you make them understand what you want, be prepared to deal with a few impatient customers who are waiting behind you. But since you are never going to meet them again, just ignore them.
This article is written by Manu Vipin, a journalist and travel writer, for Emperor Traveline. The leading travel agency in Coimbatore, truly specializes in your trip by undertaking international tour packages, Visa and passport services for wonderful travelling experience.