What’s your recommendation when visiting another chef’s restaurant? Someone I know of or met once or twice but who I wouldn’t call a friend. Should I let the chef know I’m there or dine incognito unless someone recognizes me?
– Fine Dining Sous Chef, Philadelphia, PA
Protocol for visiting the restaurant of a friend is pretty easy—ask a server to let your friend know you’re in the house or text or email in advance to let them know you’ll be coming in.
When the chef or owner is an industry acquaintance but not quite a friend it gets trickier. Are you introducing yourself because you think the chef will be glad you identified yourself as a colleague or because you are hoping to be treated better than the other guests? Mike Traud, a cook at Zeppoli in Collingswood, NJ says, “I never like to tell a chef or server that I work in a restaurant. I think it is tacky when restaurant employees go out to eat and drop that they work in the industry to get free food. I have no problem if it comes up naturally in conversation or you go to a restaurant where you know a chef and they take care of you. But going out and looking for free food is poor etiquette. Also, it is nice to go out and not be recognized because you can truly see how the restaurant functions.”
On the restaurant side, knowing who you are serving can be useful information in providing a great experience. Adam Olland, General Manager of Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia says, “As front of the house, we want to know who is in our dining room because we want to cater to you. We are proud of what we do and look for opportunities to show it off. As such, we don’t feel it is pretentious to make us aware of your expectations. If someone loves the bread, then we will knock the flour off our baker and introduce him to the table directly.”
My advice is, after you have enjoyed your meal and settled the bill, to ask the server if the chef is on premises, as you would love to introduce yourself and personally thank her or him. That allows you the ability to network and thank the chef one colleague to another without acting like a mooch. If the chef wants to invite you back based on your industry affiliation and treat you well, you open the door for that, and if the chef chooses to leave it at exchanging pleasantries and accepting a compliment, that’s fine too.
What’s your practice when dining out? Feel free to leave your comments below.