How To Eat

15 11 2007

This site almost exclusively discusses the best in Cheap Eats, however, that posses some problems. For the uninitiated that are used to full service and high class restaurants its like a guy from New Jersey trying to pump his own gas for the first time-scary, difficult, and messy. However, hope is not lost. ACommonLoon from the Thorntree Message board at has posted a useful guide for eating at a New York City Diner. Thanks ACommonLoon!

How to Eat Breakfast in a New York City Diner
Travelers often arrive in a new city confounded about the local customs, nobody ever wants to look the fool who makes it painfully obvious they’re “not from around here”. Maximum immersion into the culture of the place being visited is a key desire. So here’s a handy guide to help you through one of the three most important meals of the day, if your wanderings ever happen to bring you to New York City. Sure, sometimes you just want a world famous NY bagel, perhaps a pastry from a corner bakery, but no trip to NY is complete without taking at least one breakfast in a NY diner.Where to Sit
My, those big booths with the vinyl padding look like a comfy spot for a leisurely breakfast, don’t they? Forget about them. You’re not sitting there. The authentic place to sit is at the counter.
You’ll notice all those solo patrons sitting there with their nose in a book, magazine or newspaper. You are not to initiate conversation with any of them, ever. New Yorkers don’t come out to a diner only to have a quiet breakfast interrupted by some clueless tourist. Keep your mouth shut and your face buried in your own reading material. If you’re with company, it’s alright to speak with them, but keep it low. Little above a whisper is best. Show some consideration for your fellow diners!If anyone lifts their head up from their NY Post and grumbles about the mayor, governor or president, you have one available option. Whole-hearted agreement. There’s no room for discussion here, trust me, just agree.

There are two general types of breakfasts one eats in a NY diner. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll classify them as egg dishes and cake dishes. Now you might be mortified to observe the guy sitting next to you douse his chocolate chip pancakes with half a jar of maple syrup, but a sure fire way to earn an enemy for life is to comment to your companion how you “can’t believe Americans eat such sweet stuff. And at breakfast yet!” Expect to be glared at with an icy stare for the rest of the meal if you can’t keep your thoughts to yourself.

If not the pancakes, you just might want to give the French Toast a try. At least we don’t call it Freedom Toast in NY. After half a slice you won’t be able to stomach another bite. But come on, you ate the horse sashimi in Fukuoka and the freaking roasted guinea pig in Guayaquil. And told all your friends back home what the adventuresome culinary experience it was. A chunk of fried bread slathered in butter and sticky syrup isn’t going to kill you.

Then there are the egg dishes. I never cease to be amazed at grown adults who order a plate of eggs and ask “does that come with toast?” Of course it comes with toast! Have you never been in a frigging diner before? And it’s always someone who takes forever to figure out what they want, who told the waitress they “needed a few minutes to decide”. And what do they order? Not the pancakes with raspberries and pecans. Not the swordfish omelette with shallot marmalade. But bacon. And eggs. With those people, it’s always bacon. And eggs.

Don’t be “that guy”. Act like you’ve been here before. You want bacon and eggs? Fine. But you better waive off the menu and place your order immediately. Bonus points if you let the waitress know how you’d like your eggs prepared before she has the chance to ask. And toast? There’s white, whole wheat and rye. Don’t ask “will I get toast with that” like some sorry amateur.

Omelettes are a popular choice at NY diners. There will be a dozen varieties on the menu, maybe more. You want something not on there? Knock yourself out, but once you go with your own made-to-order combo, all bets are off. The waitress gets to charge whatever she wants. No whining that your sausage, tomato and cheddar omelette cost seventy-five cents more than the price on the menu for asparagus, truffles and Serrano ham. That’s just how it works here. Deal with it.

There is actually a third class of breakfast available: cereal. You’re not ordering cereal. Those little prepackaged boxes of Frosted Flakes you see up on the shelves are just for kids. And no, we don’t see any irony in that, even as we’re shoving stacks of pancakes the size of bus tires down our gullets. If you order the oatmeal, we’re going to point at you and laugh. Don’t order cereal, just don’t.

Coffee in NY diners is one price for all-you-can-drink refills. And invariably, it sucks. You require a good cup of coffee at breakfast you sniveling little prima donna? Go spend your holiday in Rome. Or Seattle. If you come to NY you’ll drink our tepid, watery brew and like it. Or at least manage to suck it down without visibly cringing. Remember, you want to look like you fit in here. If you’re lucky, that first cup might actually not be unbearably awful. Prepare yourself for a rapid decline with the first refill. That second refill will require an oodle of cream and an extra-long swirl from the sugar jar to be even remotely palatable. But it’s not a true NY diner experience if you don’t sit and linger over coffee.

Paying Your Bill
You might have noticed that cash register when you walked in. It’s not for show, you do actually pay your check there. Don’t make a jackass of yourself and hand your money to the waitress, expecting her to bring your change.

And this is the most important advice of all:

The minimum acceptable tip for breakfast in a NY diner is $2. Per person.

I know you want street cred with the backpackers on Khao San Road, you want to brag about how little you paid for breakfast in Manhattan! And I know we say 20% is a good tip in NY, in most situations it’s plenty. But here you don’t tip the waitress less than $2 no matter how small your check is. She kept your water glass full, freshened up your coffee as many times as you asked, and had to bring out your toasts on separate plates from your eggs. She had to hunt down a bottle of Tabasco sauce after you failed to ask for it in the first place.

That elderly gentleman who was sitting next to you, the one who left a few coins and the waitress still wished him goodbye with a warm smile? Well he just got gentrified out of his old apartment. His new rent is double his social security check. He’s allowed to leave that tip. Youaren’t. You don’t want to tip $2? Go grab an Egg McMuffin.

Two dollars is adequate for almost any breakfast, unless you manage to nudge the check above the $9-$10 range. Not that there’s anything wrong with leaving a bit more if your heart so desires.

So now you’re prepared to comport yourself in a New York City diner. NY is a fine place for boundless exploration and you’re going to need plenty of energy to tackle the day. Make sure you start it with a hearty, filling breakfast.

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One response

16 11 2007

“The minimum acceptable tip for breakfast in a NY diner is $2. Per person.”

Sorry, but that depends SOLEY on the “SERVICE.” I don’t care if the breakfast is $6, if the service sucks, sorry, but the tip will suck. What goes around, COMES AROUND FAIRLY. If you aren’t there and I have to wait 10 or more minutes to get my check without a REASONABLE explanation and apology your tip will NOT be anything. I DO NOT care about the “PRICE”, I care about if my server is doing their job to serve me the normal way. If they suck, what kind of tip do they expect? Give me the wrong food and expect a tip if they do not tell me manager about it? As if, they’ve got to be kidding me. If a server cannot tell the difference between sausage and bacon, well forgetTHEIR TIP. They are just STUPID and LAZY. BRING ME THE CORRECT FOOD OUT AND I WILL TIP ACCORDINGLY, but DO NOT EXPECT a $10 meal tip for a $6 meal, because unless you are extremely attentive and serve me well, you WILL NOT GET THAT. $2 for a cheap meal is for servers that do well. If you overcharge me, don’t expect more than 10%, because you were TOO LAZY to make sure you cared about MY MONEY FIRST, cause if you don’t, WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT YOUR MONEY LATER. GET MY DRIFT? CARE ABOUT IF MY FOOD, CHECK, ETC. IS CORRECT, AND YOU WILL GET YOUR TIP AS YOU DESERVED, but that has to be ***EARNED***, it’s NOT a RIGHT!

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