The American dining experience is vastly different state to state and restaurant to restaurant, but still wildly different from other countries’ expectations. American restaurant sales reached nearly $US800 billion in 2017, according to the National Restaurant Association, but with Americans spending about $US55 billion a year on dining out, that’s quite a few tourists dropping serious money on American cuisine.
Here are the things about American restaurants that people from other countries may find strange.
Tipping is not only pretty much mandatory in the US, but is expected to be at 15-20%.
Adding an additional payment to a meal for the hard work and good service of the staff is not required in several countries, such as Brazil, China, Belgium, and Australia.
In the US, restaurant workers are legally allowed to be paid below minimum wage because tips are expected to make up the gap. According to the US Department of Labour, tipped employees are legally allowed to be given as little as under $US5 an hour by their employers.
This contrasts to the fast-food workers in Denmark who make $US20 an hour. Even in countries where tipping is standard, it’s polite to only leave about 5-10% as a tip.
The waiters are more likely to introduce themselves in hopes of a tip.
Partly because your opinion of them contributes to how much money they will make, American waiters are chattier. Because tips aren’t customary in many other countries, the experience tends to differ.
Ben McPartland for The Local France wrote that “the majority of wait[ers] in the US … give you the impression you have made a new best friend for life, as soon as you walk in the establishment.”
You may or may not prefer the alternative, which can be a waiter who you will only see to take your order, deliver your meals, and hand over the check.
Kids can order off their own menu.
There are plenty of think-pieces on the legitimacy of children’s menus in American dining culture because they don’t typically exist elsewhere. Children’s menus in the US are often for people 12 and under and feature items like chicken tenders and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches regardless of the restaurant’s type of food.
In many other countries, children under 12 will order off the adult menu, which some people argue leads them to try and crave different foods.
Free refills are common.
In the US, with soda machines prevalent in most restaurants and bars, free refills for sodas and juices are common because of the huge markup. Abroad, most restaurants stock fridges with bottles, and make consumers pay for each drink individually.
You can go to a diner at 3:30 a.m.
Many 24-hour establishments, especially diners, are common all over the US. In other countries, they tend to only be found in big cities, but this is not the case in America, where you are pretty much always within range of a 24-hour place like your local diner or a Waffle House, Denny’s, or IHOP.
Waiters will look for every opportunity to get you out and get the next table in.
To maximise profit, waiters will be getting pressure from hosts and managers to clear tables as quickly as possible in order to get more diners in. There’s even a trend now for restaurants to cut back on selling dessert items because sweet treats can’t be marked up particularly high and they cause diners to linger longer.
In other countries, lingering over a dessert, coffee, or aperitif is the norm.
Some American treats will never appeal to foreigners.
Grits, fake cheese, and American breakfast foods like thin bacon, sugary cereals, and biscuits and gravy are pretty hated by people outside the US. These items aren’t usually found on a menu abroad.
You may get carded, even if you’ve gone grey.
Many countries have no drinking age; in other countries, the drinking age is 18. The US, along with just six other countries, has a drinking age of 21 with extremely strict consequences for minors.
If an establishment is caught selling alcohol to someone underage, they could lose their liquor licence, which could incur huge fines and be extremely damaging for business. Some travellers note that people in other countries are more likely to let you slip by if you look around the drinking age, especially since wine flows so freely elsewhere, but in the US, they may ask for an ID from someone with a full beard.
Of course, this varies from establishment to establishment, so you should keep your ID handy no matter where you are.
Some say American kitchens have higher health standards.
James Lowe, the chef of Lyle’s in London, England, told Thrillist about the only category where he believes Americans come out on top: “The health regulations, along with the reputation Americans have for suing a lot, probably do make US kitchens a little bit cleaner, a little bit smoother.”
With fairly stringent food safety laws, there’s a system in the kitchen using markers and tape to label foods with their expiration dates.
The portion sizes are way, way bigger.
Portion sizes in the US began to grow in the 1970s, skyrocketed in the 1980s and have continued to expand since. In this study, the sampled foods that were measured “exceeded – sometimes greatly – USDA and FDA standard portions.”
The Guardian also attributes America’s portion size problem to using overly large plate-ware and flatware and offering several different size options when the smallest one is still extra large.
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