Critic’s Notebook: Dining Crimes: Menu Stalking

When I’m reviewing a restaurant, I pore over an eatery’s website and online menu before my visit, strategizing my meals so that I make sure to sample as much of the menu’s diversity as possible. It’s an all-business process. So when I notice that a regular diner has clearly engaged in this pre-meal research, I can’t help but wonder if it spoils the fun. Last week at Vietnam restaurant, the party of four seated next to me definitely lost out thanks to the pre-planning of one of their group. We’ll call him Mr. Menu Preview.

Here’s what happened: Mr. Menu Preview barely glanced at the pages-long bill of fare while actually at the restaurant, gabbing with his companions while they were trying to decide. The result: It took the server three tries to get the table’s order. Then, because the party was divided between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, he had to nix the meaty appetizers he was planning to share. Finally, someone else in the party wanted the same entrée he had been planning to order. (Ordering the same dish as someone else at your table? Now, that’s just bad form.) I didn’t catch who won rights to the entrée, because by then I was enjoying Vietnam’s awesome barbecue platter, but I do know when I go out with friends for fun, I check my obsessive pre-planning at the door. It’s more fun to go with the flow.