Restaurants on their favourite people

Published on June 20 2019.

Photo: Lesa (photo: Daniel Mahon)

You’ve read lots about everyone’s favourite restaurants, but what about restaurants’ favourite people?

What’s a dream diner?

“Tall, good looking, well-spoken, tips heaps,” says Travis Howe of Carlton Wine Room.

Jokes aside, is there an art to dining well? More than knowing the best restaurants to visit and which fork is used for which course, are there things that patrons do that make waitstaff, chefs and restaurateurs happy?

We asked the people who clock dozens of hours in dining rooms and kitchens each week about the habits that can make dining out as enjoyable as possible.

Restaurants love people who want to be served

At Di Stasio Città and Café Di Stasio, the dream customer for maître d’ Chris Young is the diner who’s prepared to sit back and let a restaurant do its best work.

“It’s somebody prepared to allow you to create whatever they want to experience,” he says. “They trust you and then they walk away at the end of it with a big smile and say ‘See you next week’.”

Adam D’Sylva, executive chef at Coda and Tonka, loves the people who sit back and relax, letting wait staff clear the table.

When you’re in a large group, going with the flow will make you even more likeable, according to those in the know.

Remember that birthday lunch when the first 20 minutes was taken up by everyone trying to decide what to order? Let the restaurant do the work for you. Set menus, a couple of bottles of wine for the whole table and a wave of snacks when you sit down to set the scene are just a few of the tricks they have up their sleeves.

“When big groups act like a group rather than a series of individuals, that’s what we like,” says Travis Howe. “People sharing their food, sharing the wine, allowing them to sit back and have a conversation while we look after them in the background.”

Restaurants love people who mention dietaries when they book

For those among you that don’t eat fish or are staying away from dairy, most restaurants can easily accommodate you – if you let them know before you arrive. It’s also the best way of guaranteeing that you’ll eat something as delicious as your fellow diners, rather than yet another vegetarian risotto.

“We embrace cooking food for people that have an allergy, and we see it as a challenge to deliver a great meal for them,” says Scott Pickett, the man behind Estelle, Matilda and Lupo. “But just give us a heads-up so we can prepare and maybe even order something special. On the fly during a busy service makes it tough.”

Restaurants love people with an open mind

Christian McCabe, co-owner of Embla and Lesa, loves it when diners head to dinner with an understanding of where they’re dining and what the venue is known for.

“Before getting upset that there’s no vegan food at an American barbecue joint, or no hot chips at a wine bar that specialises in cooking over fire, think about what the place is trying to do,” McCabe says. 

“It may be that the reason they are so good at what they do is that they specialise in that thing.”

Young agrees. If people know what sort of restaurant they’re going to, there’s less room for surprises.

“Sometimes you’ll get people who say ‘Have you got steak tonight?’ and when you tell them you don’t, it’s like ‘Oh! What kind of restaurant is this?’”

For Howe at Carlton Wine Room, a great table is one that’s open to trying new things, regardless of what counts as new for you and your posse.

“Like ‘I’m going to try this gin because I haven’t had a G&T since 1983’,” he says.

“It’s really nice to be able to provide a new experience for someone.”

Restaurants love people who don’t steal

This one’s fairly obvious but stealing the flatware, glasses, napkins and trinkets is not considered kosher. Yet it’s surprisingly common.

“Lots of good quality steak knives go missing,” says Adam D’Sylva.

Restaurants run on tight budgets and while breakages are accounted for, inventory going missing eats into already slim margins.

Restaurants love people who love to be out

“More generally, my advice would be to relax and be open to a good time,” McCabe says. “Good service is a reflexive process. We do our best work when our guests are willing participants in the experience, and this is always the most fun for everyone involved.”

So what are you waiting for? Go forth and dine, making the most of these insider tips.

This article is presented in partnership with OpenTable, a Festival partner in 2019.