Monday, December 5, 2011

A Guide to Group Dining

There is a reason why many New Orleans restaurants open for lunch only on the final four Fridays of the year. The holidays are when most groups decide to get together to celebrate, and peering through the dining rooms of the French Quarter on a Friday in December, you are likely to see co-workers toasting to another year on the books, old friends reuniting at annual holiday gatherings, and smug-faced regulars wondering why these amateurs have decided to disrupt their weekly three martini lunch.

Dining with a large group can be both joyous and perilous at times. It's hard to please everyone, and even after you make it past the initial hurdle of choosing a restaurant which is acceptable to all, there are many choices left to be made. Below are 5 tips to assist those organizers of large holiday gatherings with the goal of a merry time for all. Obviously, the smaller your group, the less tenuous your situation and more freedom you have in creating a lunch or dinner specifically tailored to your crowd.

Don't Skimp on the Wine - Serving cheap wine will either (a) force your co-workers to drink faster in order to easily hide the taste, or (b) cause some to open their own tab at the bar to order liquor. Both of those possible outcomes could result in a big payday for your insurer's labor and employment defense team. Might I suggest that you instead try to spend a little bit more on the wine selection. Doing so will gain respect at the office and may even slow down consumption if everyone at the table is savoring every last drop. If dining with friends, go big or go home.

Less is More - Sure, it would be nice if everyone could order whatever they want off the menu. I know that Sally only eats boneless, skinless chicken breasts and Lloyd is allergic to all vegetables unless they are cooked in bacon fat. But things just get too complicated for the kitchen when the table of 18 orders 4 medium filets, 3 medium rare filets, 3 trout, 3 pork, 2 shrimp, 2 mussels, and 1 vegetarian dinner that the chef has to create on the fly because he has not seen one on a duplicate since 1984. When that happens, everyone's food suffers. Stick with 2 or 3 options at most for each course.

Choices not Combinations - Surf and turf is one of those ideas which sounds great in the abstract but usually falls short in reality. Sure, most people will get excited when their plate arrives with both a crab cake AND a petit filet, but their expectations are soon dashed when they realize that the filet is as tough as shoe leather and the crab cake cool in the center. Instead, make them choose one or the other. Sharing plates with their neighbor can be a team building exercise.

Require Variety - I'm sure Restaurant XYZ's whipped potatoes are fabulous, but serving them with both the steak and the fish is just plain lazy. Avoid repeating components of different dishes. At the same time, substitutions can create havoc, so Ken from the sales department will have to decide which he wants more: the gnocchi served with the veal chop or the gratin dauphinoise which accompanies the drum.

Separate Checks is Not an Option - Judy from accounting only ordered a salad, and she doesn't want to bear the financial burden of the 6 scotches ordered by Phil from human resources? Too bad. On the busiest lunch shift of the year, the last thing that a waiter wants to do is figure out exactly who ordered what. The second to last thing that he wants to do is run 15 different credit cards for your table. There are 3 acceptable methods for paying the bill at a group dinner:
  1. Everyone brings cash,
  2. The organizer pays with his/her credit card and then everyone else mails him/her check, or
  3. Credit card roulette.
Any other tips that I have forgotten?


Grammatologist said...

re: "she doesn't want to bare the financial burden of the 6 scotches"

bare: to uncover
bear: to take on the burden
Bayer: take 2 and call in the morning

Alas, @nolawineguy is on twitter hiatus and will apparently be unable to razz you further.

Peter said...

And I swear that I thoroughly proofread this time...

fmcgmccllc said...

excellent list, I also think at times a seating chart is good, even if no more than pull names from a hat and put it on a card.

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