Updated Guide to Dining

Translating your menu

A couple of years ago travel writer Mac Seligman sent a letter in which he wrote about how when you travel, what you expect -- or are led to expect -- is never what you get. To that end he'd prepared a list of "travelese," a compendium of terms that tell it like it really is. For instance "all the amenities" actually means "free shower cap"; "tree-lined boulevards" means "no sightseeing"; "secluded hideaway" means "impossible to find."

Mac is on the right track, obviously: It's all about semantics. And in my opinion the restaurant world could use the same kind of demystification. Because clearly if you've ever felt let down by a restaurant, chances are it's not the restaurant's fault. It's yours. Your expectations were too high. You misinterpreted. You didn't order correctly. Whatever the reason the eatery is absolved, and you're to blame.

But relax. The following glossary will be helpful so you'll never make the same mistakes again.

The Euphemism•The Truth

ContemporaryWear black Modern•Wear black Spandex Fashionable•Wear a little black dress Upscale casual•Wear black jeans Eclectic•Wear as little as possible Proper attire required•Wear underwear Sports bar•Valium for men Trattoria•Pasta: variations on a theme Café•Limited menu

Bistro•Would you like the beef or the chicken?

Brasserie•We didn't know what else to call it

Live music•Amateur night

Karaoke•Japanese for run far, run fast

Jazz brunch•Bloody Mary hangover cure

Complimentary valet•Tip big or kiss your SUV bye-bye

No reservations needed•Bring a book; we suggestWar and Peace

Reservations suggested•Reservations required

Reservations required•Enjoy a ten-dollar glass of wine while you wait for your table

Do you have a reservation?•I'm a god and you're not

Your table is ready•You're not worthy

Buffet•The three tenors: salmonella, lysteria, and e.coli

Daily specials•Yesterday's leftovers

Soup of the day•Yesterday's leftovers in liquid form

Fish of the day•The most inexpensive guppy on the market

Free-range chicken•One pricey bird

Organic•Grown in manure

Wild•Grown in bear shit

Hydroponic•Grown in pot

Biogenetic•Not grown in nature

Heirloom•Not grown anymore

Micro•Akin to bonsai, first cousin to nouvelle

Prix-fixe menu•You cheap bastard

Dessert menu•Bill padding

Side dish•Bill padding

Palmetto bug•Big discount

Free refills•Please tip the bathroom attendant

Evian or Pellegrino?•We'll need a down payment

Can I take your order?•Hurry up and eat so I can turn this table over

Executive chef•Rider

Sous chef•Horse

Server•Rider

Busboy•Horse

Bartender•Twelve-stepper

General manager•Swelled head honcho

No smoking•Our ashtrays are broken

No cigars or pipes•Marlboro addicts welcome

Fifteen percent gratuity added on•You must be a tourist

Fifteen percent gratuity suggested•You look like a tourist

Twenty percent gratuity suggested•You look like a sucker

 
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