Ozzie in Oregon


In a restaurant

Last updated:    January 12, 2008 (PST)

napkins with silverware, range of sauces

The language and culture of American food is probably the most difficult for me to get used to.  Even after two and a half years, having to cook anything in the kitchen is an ordeal for me, partly due to the different types and brands of food, types of utensils, measuring units and how cooking is generally done here.

And that is not getting into ordering at a restaurant, particularly an American family restaurant.  During the first year, I'd look helplessly at Steve when the waitress listed the choices of salad dressing or potato "sides", and let him finish giving my order. As Steve and I tend to eat Asian food when we're out, I continue to get caught out when I'm dining with friends, by unexpected questions from waiters or strange names on the menu.

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Where I come from...

Over here...

Oz steak restaurant US steak restaurant

You may or may not be offered water after you first sit down. If you are, it will probably be brought in a nice wine bottle with glasses. No ice.

Invariably you will be served iced water as soon as you are seated. The waiter will pour it into glasses from a pitcher, and continue to top it up throughout the course of the meal.

The cutlery is laid out with knife and spoon on the right and fork on the left. The serviette may be folded into an attractive shape and placed in the centre.

At some restaurants, the silverware (knife, fork and spoon) is placed on a napkin at the right of the place setting.

A salad is something you eat with your main meal, and it is usually offered as an alternative to veges.  An American is probably going to be disappointed with the limited choice of salads.

A salad is a course on its own, served ahead of the main meal in its own bowl. You are expected to add a dressing of some kind.  There will probably be choices of Ranch, Blue Cheese and something else.

An entree is something you may order before the main course. It could be soup, a salad or a small portion of food.

An entree is the main course! If you want something else first, it will likely be an appetizer or a soup. It is common for entrees to come with soup and/or salad.

You use a knife and fork for the main meal, unless it's something like a pasta dish. You use the knife to cut the meat and veges or salad, and apply combinations of them to the fork. Perform until end of meal.

A knife is used only for something like steak. Even chicken can be cut with the side of a fork! It you must use a knife, take the time to cut everything up while you're at it, so that you can use the fork for the rest of the meal.

Placement of knife and fork mean something. A knife and fork resting on the side of the plate indicate that you haven't finished. Placement of knife and fork together vertically on the place mean that you have finished, and the waiter is at liberty to take your plate. 

After being used, the knife is usually placed on the right-hand edge of the plate with the blade facing away. When the meal is over, the fork can be placed anywhere on the plate, but is often placed diagonally. The waiter will probably ask if you are "done" before removing your plate.

Side orders are not something I'm familiar with.

There are all sorts of side orders or "sides", including onion rings, fries, curly fries or even "hush puppies".

You may want to ask for a doggy bag. Most restaurants allow this, especially Asian restaurants, and the food will be put in circular or rectangular plastic containers known throughout Oz as "Chinese food containers".

Due to the larger portions, you are very likely to ask for a "box". This is most commonly a styrofoam container, and half the time you will be given this and be expected to put the extra food in it yourself. Chinese restaurants will supply you with tiny cardboard buckets with metal handles.

At the end of the meal, signal the waiter for the bill.

Be sure to always use the same waiter who has been serving you.  At the end of the meal, signal the waiter for the "check". When paying, allow between 10% and 20% extra for a tip.

Occasionally you will be given a sweet or mint at the end of the meal, especially if you order coffee.

You will quite often be given a mint or a piece of "candy" when the "check" is brought back. In Chinese restaurants, you will get a fortune cookie. There will often be a bowl of mints or candy of some kind for you to take as you leave.

How I have learned to cope

Yes, using a knife and fork to eat ribs.....
Ozzie in Oregon