Be the director of your dining experience right from the start, and you really can have it your way, all the way.
Here are four guidelines that will put you in charge:
1. Ask and you shall receive
The wait staff should know how a dish is made, what the ingredients are, even how big the portion size is. So ask, already. Then have it your way. If the burrito looks good except for the fact that it’s smothered in sour cream, ask the chef to hold the cream. If you’d like the grilled chicken breast without the skin, say so. If the vegetable side dishes are usually prepared with gobs of butter, request yours lightly sautéed in olive oil or steamed. Pizza tonight? The pizza chef should be more than willing to make yours with half the normal amount of cheese, or none, and an extra topping of vegetables.
2. Sign up for one course at a time
One of the pleasures of dining out is taking your time. Or at least it should be. Unfortunately, at too many restaurants, waiters snatch up one course and rush in with the next before you’ve had time to put your fork down. There’s a reason. Most restaurants want to turn tables around as quickly as they can, to squeeze in as many seatings in an evening as possible. That’s their business. Yours is to sit back, relax, and take the time you need to eat only as much as you want, and no more. If you’re worried about being rushed, order just one course at a time, not the whole meal. Start with an appetizer. Once you’re done, look back at the menu to consider what you’ll have next. A useful rule of thumb: Allot at least 20 minutes per course — the time your body needs to send satiety signals. Do you feel full? No reason to feel obligated to keep ordering.
3. Draw the line
Ask whether the kitchen can prepare half portions. Many restaurants are more than willing to do so. Some even offer half portions on the menu. If the dish you order turns out to be big enough to feed a small army, ask the waiter right then and there to divide the portions and set half aside for you to take home. Don’t wait until you’ve started to nibble. Don’t depend on your willpower to eat only half of what’s in front of you. This is supposed to be dinner you’re enjoying, not a test of your determination. If you know in advance that the entrees at a particular restaurant are outsized, ask in advance to be served only half and bring the rest at the end of the meal in a take-out container.
4. Rule the table
When you’re dining out, you’re in charge — not only of what you eat but of what’s on the table. Lots of restaurants start you off with a basket of dinner rolls. If you’re hungry when it hits the table, you’ll automatically gobble up mediocre white-flour bread smeared with butter and loaded with calories without even giving it a second thought. Why waste the calories? Tell the waiter, “No bread, thanks.” If you’re famished when you sit down, order something more sensible to take the edge off your hunger before you do anything else — a side salad, or a vegetable side dish, for instance, or a glass of spicy tomato juice. At the same time, ask for a glass of water. Heck, ask for a whole pitcher. Then you won’t have to keep the busboy busy filling your glass. Remember to drink plenty of water with your meal. And don’t forget who’s boss. If something arrives at the table that you don’t want, politely decline it. No one will mind.