Ask the Editor: What’s the Best Way to Order a Group Meal?
Ordering for the table sucks. Here's one way to make it easier.
Welcome to Ask the Editor, a new weekly column by yours truly where I answer all of your Philly food and drink questions. Have some burning ones already? Email me here.
So many restaurants offer “sharable small plates” even though small plates are difficult to share. What’s the best way to place an order for the table?
— Toni in Germantown
We’ve been hearing the phrase “small plates meant to be shared” for a long time now. It’s the last, undying vestige of the early ‘00s, when tapas reigned supreme. And it’s got staying power, I assume, because sharing small plates gets you the same variety as a 15-course prix fixe, but without any of the stodginess or commitment. For groups who want an eclectic meal and not an Experience, ordering a bunch of small plates is the way to go.
At the same time, too many choices can be paralyzing to a big group. Too many palates to please and diets to consider. When a meal is designed to be shared but doesn’t come out family-style (in which I mean big, heaping plates of food), the group needs to make decisions as a cohesive unit — as a team. Keto diets and gluten aversions don’t make team-building easy.
Your best bet is to elect a captain — a point person to do all the bidding; a single voice to communicate the wants and needs of the entire table. This person should be experienced — someone who’s been to the restaurant before or has done extensive research on the restaurant beforehand. Someone who can comfortably order a bottle of wine for the table. Someone the group can trust — trust to keep their individual best interests in mind and trust to relay the correct information to the server.
Once the captain is appointed (and is made aware of any allergies or dietary restrictions that might exist) and the server finishes his or her spiel about the menu, then the table can start casting their votes. Really, any voting method works, but my favorite is a simple tally system: Everyone in the group chooses the three dishes they want most. The dishes with the most votes get ordered. Easy.
Once the order is placed, everyone can start worrying about splitting the bill! Isn’t group dining fun?