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4 Absurdly Specific Dining-Out Tactics From Eater Editors

The team divulges their top tips for better restaurant experiences (and one for eating at home) this week on Eater’s Digest

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Photo by Patricia Chang for Eater SF

Here at Eater, we’ve come up with more than a few tricks for elevating our dining-out game. From tips on how to enhance dinner party conversations, to the best thing to eat at the airport, our writers and editors have it all figured out. Everyone’s got their move.

On the latest episode of Eater’s Digest, we got into some of the most well-honed, oddly specific restaurant hacks. Put them to the test yourself, and let us know what you think.

1. Just ask for the table you want

Yep, we said it. Next time the host leads you past several open tables to a dark corner at the back of the restaurant, don’t be afraid to ask if you can snag one of the better options, says Hillary Dixler Canavan, Eater’s restaurant editor and proponent of this move. Try it next time you head out for an early dinner before the rush starts, and once you’ve got your legs under you, see if the same ethos can snag you a better hotel room.

The caveat: Be prepared to be shot down and take it gracefully. The host doesn’t owe you an explanation, either!

2. Treat weekend breakfast like a mini vacation

Having lived in Los Angeles and Texas, Meghan McCarron, Eater’s special correspondent, knows a thing or two about crazy traffic and long breakfast waits. To beat them both, she rises early on weekend mornings and heads to destination breakfast spots before the crowds show up. Instead of sitting in traffic for over an hour to try a new bakery in Long Beach, she can get there in under 30 minutes and enjoy a change of scenery, which feels like a mini vacation.

The caveat: There could always be traffic on the way home.

3. Never order coffee at brunch

When you need caffeine, you need caffeine. That’s why Eater’s Sonia Chopra caffeinates before brunch, not during. Ordering coffee during the notoriously bonkers brunch slam is too risky a game when you’re nursing a hangover or socializing before noon. It could arrive cold, or weak, or poorly poured (if you’re daring to order an espresso-based beverage) — or even worse, not at all. So the next time you’re quoted an hour long wait at your favorite brunch spot, don’t suffer in a stupor. Take it as an opportunity to go grab a coffee from some place where you know it’ll actually be great.

The caveat: Diner coffee doesn’t count! It’s in its own category, and with free refills you’re not allowed to complain.

4. Cross-reference photos from Instagram and Yelp

Before she checks out a new restaurant on her list, Eater’s editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt tempers expectations by cross-referencing the restaurant’s official photos with those from Yelp reviewers. Very rarely are the professional photos on a restaurant’s website or Instagram a true representation of the real deal. Yelp, on the other hand, in all its unfiltered horror, can give you a clearer (and likely overexposed) idea of what it is you’ll actually experience when you sit down.

The caveat: Sometimes Yelp is too real and can turn you off to a place that’s actually great.

BONUS: Flip your pie upside down

Eater’s James Park loves eating out just like the rest of us, but a nostalgic frozen favorite turned him into a pie crust pro. His everyday after-school snack, a frozen chicken pot pie warmed in the microwave, never gave him the right crust-to-filling-to-crust ratio on his fork. So he flipped it upside down on the plate, and voilà, the ratio issue was solved, as was the mushiness: James realized that the thicker top crust stands up better to the warm filling of the pie, remaining intact far more than the wimpy bottom crust. A simple flip solves the problem, delivering the perfect bite of warm pie sandwiched between two crispy bits of crust every time.

The caveat: It only works for frozen pre-packaged pies! Don’t you dare flip a warm homemade pie on its head.

Listen and subscribe to Eater’s Digest on Apple Podcasts (and subscribe to The Move newsletter).

Below, a lightly edited transcript of Amanda and Daniel’s interviews with James Park, Sonia Chopra, Hillary Dixler Canavan, and Meghan McCarron.

Amanda Kludt: So Daniel, we have a column on Eater called The Move. I love it very much. It’s where editors across the great network of Eater contribute little tidbits, little things, little hacks, often times counter-intuitive, sometimes bizarre, sometimes just very fun. And we want to bring them on to share-

Daniel Geneen: Little ways they improve their food-related experiences. So let’s dive into some of the best moves.

Amanda: Okay, James Park. Tell us what is your move?

James Park: So my move is to take your frozen chicken pot pie and eat it upside down.

Amanda: Why?

James: So my problem when it comes to eating that frozen chicken pot pie is that you never get the perfect ratio between the filling and the top crust in the bottom crust. In my opinion, that perfect bite for me is a little bit of crust in between sandwiched with the filling. But if you’re just eating a scoping out, you never get that kind of pleasuring bite.

Amanda: You don’t get enough crust?

James: You don’t get it because if you do that, the crust gets really, really soggy because while you’re eating that you’re kind of like scratching it and all the filling in the liquid is kind of making the bottom crust soggier as you’re eating it. Also it’s really hot, so you’re going to have to let it cool down. And during that process it’s kind of sogging up the bottom crust, which I don’t want. So the way that I discovered was that in high school—

Amanda: Oh my God. So you’re an expert.

James: I literally ate this every single day after school before dinner. So I just came up with all different kinds of ways of like ... What will be the best kind or how could I elevate the snack? So-

Amanda: And it’s to flip it.

Daniel: Flip it pre- or post-baking?

James: It was a very accidental. So it’s post-microwave. So just to make it easier, I just flipped it and I was like, “Oh, okay, that’s cute.” Because it’s flipped out of the tin can that’s served, I was able to slice it in a perfect ratio. And when I lifted, basically what it essentially becomes is the bottom crust becomes a top crust because you flipped it. So the bottom crust is not soggy, it’s sort of crispy, and the top crust is like thicker than the bottom crust, so it can actually hold up to the filling. So you were able to ... So you can really have the perfect slice where the filling becomes a sandwich between two flaky crusts.

Amanda: And you did get a lot of backlash when we published this with what?

James: I got an email from someone from Australia.

Amanda: Oh, the capital of meat pies.

James: This was something. So a lot of people ... The response was really [within] half an hour. Like, people were like blown away. They’re like, “Oh my God, why? Why have I never thought about that?” What I saw, which I thought was super cute, was they kept tagging me on Instagram after like flipping the pie. I’m like, “Oh, like I’m eating pie this way.” I’m like, “I really love it.” And I mean, I really felt like I added something to the community.

Daniel: To the discourse.

Amanda: You did. I will add that there’s one of my favorite pie cookbooks, Four and Twenty Blackbirds, they have a recipe for an upside down blueberry pie. So it’s the same concept where if you really like this bottom crust and don’t want it to get soggy, flip it over and then it’s the top.

Daniel: He’d flip it and he’d have it the right way up.

Amanda: Sure. Thank you James.

James: Thank you.

Amanda: All right. Hillary Dixler Canavan, what is your move?

Hillary Dixler Canavan: My move is to just ask for the table you want.

Daniel: Whoa.

Amanda: Love it. Explain.

Hillary: Basically, I believe that as long as you are asking in a spirit of politeness in a dining room that has plenty of empty tables, you should absolutely feel free to ask if it’s possible to move to the table that you would prefer. The answer might well be no and that’s totally fine, but as long as you’re asking ... There’s no harm in asking is sort of what I mean.

Daniel: No, I mean it makes so much sense because sometimes you want one table for the appetizers and one table for your main and then move somewhere else for dessert.

Amanda: Hillary. Can I tell you, I did this this morning thinking of you.

Hillary: How did it go?

Amanda: It went really well. I went to a breakfast meeting and there were going to be two of us and the tables for two were really close to other people eating. Then there was a giant table set up for like six people. And I said, “Can I just take that big table?” Obviously like that seems kind of rude to take the big table when you’re just two, and they’re like, “Yeah, sure, go ahead.” Because they knew that six people weren’t going to come in and it was great. I got spread out, we had a great meeting.

Daniel: Okay. My issue with the table that big for two people though is depending on how well you know the other person, you want to sit close enough that you can still hear each other, but you don’t want to sit too close. You know?

Amanda: We just sat across from each other. It’s just that we had privacy.

Daniel: What’s your biggest pull? Have you ever gotten the chef’s table or something when you’ve just been meant to sit at a little booth?

Hillary: No, but I think the most memorable instance of this, which I think really I had in mind when I wrote up this specific edition of The Move, was that when I went to Lukaku, which I had been waiting and hoping to go to, we were sat. I went for lunch with my colleague Monica. We were sat in this super dark corner of the larger back dining room when there was all these tables open in the beautiful front dining room that I had seen pictures of that were near a window that was very pretty and light. One of my biggest pet peeves is I really don’t like sitting in dark when it’s light out. We got seated and I asked the server, “Hey, would it be at all possible for us to sit at one of those tables over there in the front?” And he basically said, “Let me check.” And the answer came back that we had to wait until we were finished with our appetizers, but then we could move. And I was just like, great, awesome, beautiful.

Amanda: Great. I love that.

Daniel: Why do you think that people don’t typically ask for the table they want? You think people walk into a restaurant and assume what they’re given is the only possible table that they could have?

Hillary: Yeah, and honestly oftentimes that’s true. It’s just that unless you ask, you can’t be sure. But you know, some restaurants have very flexible seating plans. Sometimes there’s a no show. Maybe you can take their table. Or I think as often happens, if you dine very early in the evening, as long as you are kind of pledged to be done by a certain time, you can sit wherever you want. I just think also, I think a lot of people are very bashful about asking what they want for generally. And so, yeah. I think it takes a certain chutzpah, except that you’re asking for something very polite and very low stakes. Because when you get your answer, you will take it correctly. You know what I mean?

Amanda: And once you start doing this, you can apply it to other situations in your life, like hotel rooms.

Daniel: Oh yes. Builds the confidence.

Amanda: Yeah, totally. Great. All right, Hillary. Amazing. Thank you so much.

Hillary: Thanks for having me.

Amanda: Sonia, what is your move?

Sonia Chopra: My move is always get coffee before you go to brunch. So coffee at restaurants is often bad and when you go there and you get a meal and you wait for a long time and they serve you coffee that has been sitting around for a long time or it’s not warm or it’s just pulled poorly if it’s espresso, it just kind of puts you in a bad mood for the rest of your day. You’re already grumpy. Maybe you’re hungover. I don’t know if we can say hungover on this podcast.

Daniel: Yeah, we’ll bleep it.

Sonia: And so if you get coffee before then you’ve kind of set yourself up for a really nice experience. If you know you’re going to be waiting for a long time, you could even put your name down, go get coffee, come back, and you could just kind of have this lovely start to your day instead of being grumpy about bad coffee.

Amanda: Here’s something I’ll add because I was thinking that I didn’t really relate to this at first. But then I thought about how many times I’ve been to a breakfast situation where it takes a while to get my coffee and it’s like when you really need a drink when you’re out at night. “I just need my goddamn drink. If they could just give me my drink, I would ignore all the rest of these service flaws.” Sometimes you just need your coffee to move on with your morning.

Daniel: Well because it’s exciting. It’s a drug.

Amanda: Yeah. It’s a drug and get your drugs before you have to be dining with people.

Sonia: Especially ones we haven’t seen in a long time, pregame your brunch by getting coffee somewhere else. That’s the move.

Amanda: What has some of the backlash been?

Sonia: Some of the backlash has come from chefs who think that the coffee at the restaurant is very good. That might be true.

Amanda: Yes, in their defense, yes. Many restaurants have great coffee.

Sonia: Of course. Many restaurants are attached to coffee shops, many restaurants also do a really good breakfast programs.

Amanda: Not all restaurants.

Daniel: Yeah. I think it’s fair to say though that a coffee shop is going to do coffee better than a restaurant because the restaurant is not a coffee shop.

Amanda: Often times that is correct. Yeah.

Daniel: Yeah. Also, it’s fun to do something, I think to expand on the move a little bit. Don’t look at a 45-minute wait at a brunch place as, “Shit. We have to wait 45 minutes to get our food.”

Sonia: That’s a chance to go get coffee.

Daniel: That’s an opportunity to socialize with the person or whoever, even if you’re on your own with yourself, in a different locale before doing the thing you’re excited about. Nothing makes me happier than showing up two hours early to a Batman movie that I’m really excited to see because that line waiting is like, “I know at the end of this there is a light,” which is not the case in every aspect of life.

Sonia: I don’t know if I can relate to that entirely.

Amanda: What other backlash have you seen?

Sonia: I think somebody called me elitist because I mentioned itineraries in the piece. So if I’m traveling ... You know I work in food so I’m often interested in going to a lot of different places. So if you know that you’re going to be waiting on for brunch, you can kind of plan it so that you can stop at a place for coffee on your way and then you can hit two of the restaurants that you want to go to instead of just hitting one for a meal. So maybe you get a pastry, maybe you just get coffee and then you have this lovely brunch somewhere else. So I don’t think a lot of people can relate to that if they don’t plan their trips around food the way that I do and I think many people that we know tend to do so that was an interesting perspective, although I don’t think I’m elitist.

Daniel: Can I bring another caveat and that is like diner coffee, obviously bad. I mean typically bad, right? It’s a separate kind of coffee. But it’s part of the meal. It’s like you get coffee and then it’s like, “Sweetheart, can I get you a refill.” That is a component of the diner experience.

Sonia: I don’t think people go to diners for brunch. I think they go to diners for breakfast. Yeah, so I would say that that is separate. I did get that point I think including from you yesterday and also from a few other people.

Amanda: Also, but you can still get your diner coffee in addition to your good coffee. I could also drink a whole coffee on my way to the diner and then also have coffee at the diner.

Daniel: Okay. If we’re going to talk about elitist things, have you had a delicious brunch experience where they do have an amazing cold brew and they bring you like an amazing house-made oat milk on the side and you just pour that oat milk in and watch the fat just like slowly drip through the dark black coffee and it’s like, “Wow, I’m excited to have this while eating my pancakes?”

Sonia: That sounds beautiful. But this is a move that I have actually put into place in my life. So I don’t often order coffee at brunch any more.

Amanda: I would double, I would double down. I can consume so much coffee though. I’m elitist in that I trained myself in this way.

Sonia: I don’t think it’s elitist to drink two cups of coffee though.

Amanda: You’re right. You’re right. Sonia, I love this movie. Thank you so much.

Sonia: Thank you for having me.

Daniel: I’m so glad to be in the presence of such a elites here. Up next. Meghan McCarron. Meghan, what is this breakfast related move that you have for us?

Meghan: My move is that I like to get up really early on the weekend, at least by weekends standards, hop in the car and drive somewhere that would usually be a really long time in traffic, but on a Saturday or Sunday morning every road is clear and just go have breakfast. I live in Los Angeles, I used to live in Texas and both those places, big car culture and also there’s a lot of really wonderful places to eat that are scattered all around where I live. And on a Wednesday afternoon, I’m probably not going to want to drive from where I live in Culver City, all the way down to Long Beach where there’s a really easy freeway that you can take there, but it could take up to an hour, hour and a half in traffic. Right? But if I get up on Saturday morning at 8:30, suddenly something that would take an hour and a half you could do and maybe half an hour.You know, should American infrastructure have been created this way? No. But since this is the world we’re living in, this is a great way to experience how a freeway is actually supposed to work. And so one Saturday morning, recently I drove down to a really cool new bakery in Long Beach, picked up a couple of loaves of sourdough, got there early enough to get a special little flatbread pizza they were making. And then also Long Beach has a really lovely dog beach, so we took my dog to the beach. So those are the kind of like nice leisurely dreaming kind of breakfasts you can have when you’re taking advantage of the fact that everyone else is maybe still asleep.

Amanda: Love that.

Daniel: So basically the move is to go on tiny little breakfast vacations on the weekend when there is no traffic, but use the food as an anchor and a destination.

Meghan: Yes, I love that. You know, another thing I like to do is go out to the San Gabriel Valley in the mornings and eat all the exciting breakfast options out there. There’s a bakery, a Taiwanese bakery called Huge Tree Pastry, I think it is. Or it’s Huge Tree Bakery. There is something to just does feel like a tiny vacation when you are out for breakfast in the morning, you’re getting, food that is usually you would never have for breakfast during the week because it’s too far away and you have this sense of discovery and leisure and you still have the full weekend day ahead of you. It’s just, yeah. It is like a tiny vacation in a way that like a lunch or even dinner trip doesn’t feel in quite the same way.

Daniel: No you get back from a lunch and your day’s basically done.

Meghan: Yes, exactly. And then you’re like, “Ah, now I should go back to work.”

Daniel: It’s like when you go to a 4:00p.m. movie and you get out at 6:30 and you’re like, that was my entire day.

Meghan: Well, right. And especially now when it gets dark so early, it’s like another ... Even in California it’s still gets dark early, which can be a bummer even if it’s warmer out. And I think yeah, especially if short days get you down, it’s a good way to enjoy even more of the sunshine in the morning.

Daniel: And for me it actually makes a lot of sense because I need deadlines for things and the traffic getting heavy again is enough reason to get out of bed early to make it to the place and back.

Meghan: Yeah. And sometimes also the breakfast move is great because the other deadline is, it could be something really popular that runs out. I first developed this methodology eating barbecue in Texas. My favorite thing to do in Austin was to get up really early and drive out to Snow’s, which is in a pretty rural part of Texas. It’s only open on Saturday and Sunday, I think. Currently it’s rated the number one barbecue in Texas, but it’s always sort of between one and five. Yeah. So you have to get up early. You have to get out there early. You get in line, you get the brisket, you get a big styrofoam container of potato salad. The pit master, whoever’s working the pits that day, they may bring you a Lone Star at 10 in the morning and you are definitely on vacation then for that moment, right?

Amanda: Sweet. I love that.

Daniel: Then you have the rest of the day ahead of you to feel awful.

Meghan: Or accomplished?

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