Bill Bryson in his book The Lost Continent lists seven rules of restaurant dining. For those of my readers who are unfamiliar with his work, these are:
- Never eat in a restaurant that displays photographs of the food it serves. (But if you do, never believe the photographs.)
- Never eat in a restaurant with flock wallpaper.
- Never eat in a restaurant attached to a bowling-alley.
- Never eat in a restaurant where you can hear what they are saying in the kitchen.
- Never eat in a restaurant that has live entertainers with any of the following words in their titles: Hank, Rhythm, Swinger, Trio, Combo, Hawaiian, Polka.
- Never eat in a restaurant that has blood-stains on the walls.
- Never go into a restaurant ten minutes before closing time.
As someone who spends a significant proportion of his life away from home on business, I find it hard to disagree with any of them. You’ll be able to spot me easily if I’m in a town that I’m unfamiliar with as I spend an inordinate amount of time pacing up and down the high street, trying to find establishments that break none of the first six rules. Sometimes I spend so much time doing this that I fall foul of the seventh.
A couple of recent experiences have suggested to me that Bryson has missed a couple of the more important rules, so I’m offering them up here by way of public service, hoping to add to the collective knowledge of long-suffering travelling consultants everywhere.
My first new rule is:
- Never eat in a restaurant where you have to pay for the food before you can eat it.
I’d argue that this is self-evident. The only places that make you pay up-front are the ubiquitous burger and chicken palaces (and they barely qualify as restaurants in the first place, despite what they might claim on their signs) and carveries. Carveries always have a chef on duty wielding sharp implements who seem to take great delight in cutting meat so thinly that you can still see your plate through the slices. Take my advice – when you’re faced with a disappointing portion of food in a carvery, you should never complain to the chef wielding the knife. I’ve often thought that Bryson avoids these places anyway as perhaps they’re the ones that are most likely to have blood-stains on the walls from customers who did, following the lead of Oliver Twist, have the temerity to ask for more.
My second new rule is:
- Never eat in a restaurant where the chef won’t let you take pictures of the food.
This seems to me to be nice counterpoint to Bryson’s first rule. In 1989 when The Lost Continent was published, digital camera phones, twitter, facebook, snapchat and all of those other seemingly indispensable features of life today didn’t exist, so I can forgive him for overlooking this rule. The thing is, if you’re eating on business expenses and you happen to find yourself in such a place, the chances are it may have a few Michelin stars to its name. If this is the case, there’s no way your manager will ever authorise your expense claim.
I suspect that there may be some other rules of restaurant dining that I’m not aware of, so I’d be very happy to know what yours are! As I do much of my studying with a book or iPad propped up on a restaurant table somewhere in the country, I take these rules rather seriously. Perhaps a little too seriously if I’m honest. But who can blame me – after all, a poor restaurant decision might make all the difference between a good and a bad assignment mark …