Service 101: So You Think You’re a Foodie

F, the new scarlet letter (for Foodie)

Nowadays, it seems like everyone is obsessed with food.  But just because you own a micro planer, have eaten at Momofuku, sip cult Cabernets, vacationed in Paris and Tuscany one summer, and stock three kinds of salt in your larder, doesn’t mean you’re an expert. According to Bruni in the New York Times yesterday one commenting critic* on Grub Street NY , self-titled foodies wear a badge “of unsophisticated douchery.”

So what if you like being a foodie? Does that mean you have to put up with being called douche bag?

Not if you learn a few basic rules. It’s when self-proclaimed Foodies throw around their new found knowledge at the restaurants, bars, and gourmet stores they visit, that problems come up. Amateur gourmets just shouldn’t play in the same sandbox with professional chefs without knowing a few rules. Whether you like it or not, you’ll end up looking like a sand-throwing toddler next to the big kids in chefs whites.

  • Rule #1: Amateurs shouldn’t be dictators. Feed the well of knowledge by experiencing new things.

Some Foodies approach restaurants defensively in order to maintain a tight perimeter of comfort in their small sphere of knowledge. Rather than put themselves in the hands of professionals, these amateur gourmets proclaim their expertise to friends and family and then, moments later, demand substitutions and variations to a restaurant dish’s preparation. In order to truly learn, the diner must go beyond their comfort zone and try new things. Even the most devoted connoisseur and dutiful scholar will tell you that they are but a student of their beloved subject.

Foodie Trap Alert: Self-proclaimed foodies are the last people in the world that should insist on dictating their will onto restaurants.

  • Rule # 2 : Be open minded.

Every chef has their own individual perspective on the dishes they create. Traditional food may plated simply; deconstructed into textures, foams and purees; or recreated with an entirely foreign ingredients list. Food lovers may think they know lots of styles of food, but they should be open minded when approaching a new dining experience.

Take for example the diner that loves his Bolognese meat sauce with lots of tomatoes, dried pasta, and scrambled beef. Though the diner may have very much enjoyed this preparation, this does not mean they are an expert on meat sauces. Since Bolognese, a traditional meat sauce from Bologna, Italy, is a complicated sauce that frequently has varying ingredients like onion, carrot, celery, beef, pork, tomato—and sometimes milk, cream, wine, and chicken, depending on the chef’s origins—it’s important for the Bolognese-lover to be open minded to a chef’s variation on a theme. No two chefs will create the same dish the same way.

Foodie Trap Alert: The person that demands a chef prepare a dish “the right way” (i.e. their way) will be disappointed with their meal. What’s worse, they won’t learn anything or have any new experiences.

  • Rule #3: Be flexible.

Though it’s not a bad thing to do your homework on restaurant you’re visiting, many Foodies hold so firmly onto recommended dishes from online chat rooms, reviews, or magazine articles they just about lose their minds when said dishes aren’t available to them. Like a captain of a rudderless boat, the Foodie feels out of control and without any means to get back on course. Just because a dish comes highly recommended doesn’t mean the rest of the restaurant’s dishes aren’t worth eating. Many restaurants have dishes that are seasonal and are based on availability of ingredients. Other equally wonderful menu items are available and ready to become the next must-have dish.

Foodie Trap Alert: If a must-have dish isn’t available, please refrain from getting upset. Dinner will not be ruined because a the missing item.  The meal, however, will be ruined by the disappointed foodie and their irrational temper tantrum.

  • Rule #4: Be here now.

As the number of self-proclaimed foodies increase, many people become transfixed by their own fledgling knowledge. Rather than appreciate a new experience, these foodites obsess over recreating revelatory morsels and bask in the opportunity to show off what they’ve learned.

Though that “cream cheese sushi roll” you had in Philadelphia might have rocked your world last year, do not expect to find that same specialty item at another restaurant half way across the globe. Conversely, though you may be excited about learning about Northern California’s wines, don’t lose out on the opportunity to learn something new about wine if you are in restaurant that has international influences. Though it’s easy to rely on old standbys, skip the Napa Cab and try a new varietal or little known producer from a region specific to the restaurant’s cultural influences.

Foodie Trap Alert: If you’re in a restaurant with an unfamiliar menu, try not to search the menu for “tried and true” dishes or regional dishes you recognize. Try the old standards and you’ll miss out on an opportunity to find a new favorite dish.

  • Rule #5: LISTEN to your server or bartender.

Though you may disagree with some of the opinions of your server, bartender, or floor manager, it does behoove you to listen to what they have to say. Professional service staff know the food on the menu and work hard to support diners in having a great dining experience. A diner that asks questions about the menu and ignores the answer gives the staff the clear message: I am not interested in learning. I am looking to bolster my ego.

Foodie Trap Alert: Don’t ask a question to prove you know something about an item on the menu.

  • Rule #6: When meeting a chef, don’t show off by telling them what (little) you know

Nothing turns a chef’s stomach faster than a person that thinks they know food better than they do. Just because you’ve eaten a great chef’s food does not make you more chef-like. It just means you’ve had more opportunities to eat out.

Since there are so many kinds of food to be discovered on this planet—with all its inhabitants, living things, microclimates, and cultures—it’s impossible to acquire a complete understanding of the subject. Surely, bravado and the insistence of mastery is a clear indicator that someone an amateur.

  • Rule #7: Maybe you should reconsider calling yourself a Foodie

Just because you’ve eaten out at the top ten restaurants in your city doesn’t mean you’re worldly. Think out of the box, eat something new, and don’t be afraid to try an unfamiliar cuisine. Eat out, cook at home, and read as much as possible. Don’t be a foodie lemming that follows only the hot new trends. Otherwise, according to Bruni this Grub Street Reader “Saying you’re proud to be a foodie is like saying the only books you read are the ones Oprah tells you to.”

Point taken.

Other Service 101 Posts:

Service 101: Why Servers Don’t Get Any Respect

Service 101: Restaurants Are Not Picnic Tables

Service 101: Waiting Tables is An Honorable Profession

Service 101: Why You Shouldn’t Eat Out on Valentine’s Day

*PhilipKAnderson, commenter

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Brooke Burton nominated for best food writing

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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

18 Comments

  1. Great tips Brooke, very well thoughtout and well stated. I think I want to change my website name now…. 😉

  2. February 17
    Reply

    I’ve been raging against the foodie title for a while. I think the badge of unsophisticated douchery is well deserved by most “foodies” I know. Hey just cause you can put 11 creative adjectives in the title of your recipe does NOT make your food tasted better either, just sayin’.

    Great post!

  3. February 17
    Reply

    Great thoughts. Agree that foodie is in general an inadequate term for what might be better defined as “food lover.” I do wish there were something in between “foodie” and the more lofty terms such as gourmand, gastronome, epicure, etc. Those latter terms seem too arcane and lofty for general use, though I think it could used in legitimate cases (Curnonsky).

    I do think that a genuine lover of food is defined by some of the things you mentioned, mostly that they be open, flexible, curious, and willing to learn. No one will ever truly grasp the whole of food culture in this world, so it truly is a lifetime pursuit.

  4. Lucy Lean
    February 17
    Reply

    I agree with Matt – there has to be a better term than Foodie – aren’t we all foodies on some level from birth to death – we have to eat to live – it’s just how and what we choose to eat. And surely the most important aspect of any meal is to ENJOY?!

  5. Very astute observations! As someone who has worked in foodservice–on the operator, consumer and sales sides–I can back up much of what you say.

    I think a good rule of thumb is always keep in mind that you are never done learning. Be humble and ready to try something new. Does that apply to all of life? :)

    (And I cringe at the term “foodie”. I would say I’m an “avid home cook” and a really enthusiastic eater.)

  6. Mia
    February 18
    Reply

    Thankfully, I don’t know any self proclaimed foodies. I’m certainly not one. I do love food, don’t get me wrong. But foodie? No. I know many people who know so much more than me about food that calling myself a foodie would be laughable.

    But the points you’ve brought up here are bang on. I can only imagine how much people like this would get under my skin. I shiver just thinking about it.

  7. February 19
    Reply

    Great post Brooke. I’m with mattatouille–I wish there was a term that adequately described those of us who are food lovers.

  8. February 20
    Reply

    I consider myself a food ethusist at best. While I have had say multiple classes in wine tasting, produced mine own for a while, I really think I only know about a couple of regions and enjoy those wines. I feel food is often the same way, there are so many demensions and different cuisines that it is really impossible to know everything. It is fun learning though!

  9. February 21
    Reply

    the term “foodie” sends shivers down my spine (in a bad way). cooking at home is best for me!

  10. February 24
    Reply

    Thank you! Back when I could stomach reading them, I was constantly amazed by the unabashed arrogance of the online reviews that self-proclaimed foodies would post on sites like Yelp and City Search. Anyone who’s spent time in a kitchen (microwaving doesn’t count) will attest that watching someone prepare food, and then attempting to prepare it yourself are entirely different things. Barring the truly extreme culinary experience, I’d say that most douche ba-,er, foodies, could stand a modicum of humility before subjecting humanity to the inner workings of their sensitive taste buds.

  11. February 26
    Reply

    great write-up, i don’t like to be call a foodie as i always believe nobody can know everything, and there’s just so much about food that we possibly know it all. thanks for sharing yr thoughts on this :)

  12. March 1
    Reply

    Great article! I’m a food writer and blogger (brand-new to the blogosphere just last month – delightfulrepast.blogspot.com) and I resist the term “foodie.” I call myself a “cook.” Perhaps too many people are watching too much reality TV and too many celebrity chefs?

  13. I don’t love the word foodie, but I think people get too hung up on labels. I know folks who would describe themselves as “foodies”, who would never indulge in the ignorant behavior you describe above! I have been called a foodie by others (e.g. at a party, someone introducing me and saying, “she’s a real foodie, you two should get along!”) and I don’t ever take offense.

    There seems to be a reverse snobbery among the online food community in regards to this word (much more so than in the real world!)- I’ve come across multiple blog posts and comments professing hatred of the term. The suggestions and observations you offer are valid ones, but if I were the first commenter (ActiveFoodie) I would probably feel a bit uncomfortable and unwelcome. Let people call themselves whatever they want, it’s the behavior that’s obnoxious, not the label in and of itself.

  14. March 17
    Reply

    I’m with Sonja….maybe I need to change my blog title! But, no, I won’t. I never used the word “foodie” with any arrogance or airs of knowledge, just that I love to cook and I love to eat. I also love to learn and absorb what all there is to know about food. So, I agree with this entire article. I admit to knowing nothing, even being a culinary student in training under some awesome chefs.

    Maybe we are getting too hung up on the word. To me, it means little more than one who studies, likes, and eats food.

  15. March 28
    Reply

    Well said. I’m glad I don’t hang with many dictators, my friends and I tend to surrender and allow the Chef to do what they do best. I especially enjoy Rule #4: Be here now. Very Ram Dass.

    Rule #5 should work in fancy joints but what drives me nuts is that there are so many servers who don’t know how to sell their food. My biggest peeve is when I ask for a suggestion and I get nothing.

    Lie to me then. They should pick one dish and recommend it every time if that’s what they need to do – don’t act like a deer in headlights if I ask you to choose for me.

  16. March 28
    Reply

    I joke that in my city, there’s an elitist subculture of “foodies”. Self-proclaimed “foodies” no less. I get it, you know food. You photograph food. You style food. I just don’t care. To me the word “foodie” is synonomous with “douchebag”….at least for the people who so self-assuredly refer to themselves as one.

  17. April 8
    Reply

    Loved the article. The name calling has to stop – there is a place for everyone on the web – and if nothing more than it allows people to express themselves – when it crosses into elitism and name calling then – for me its when it crosses the line. Thanks for putting a voice to it. Bravo.

  18. These are great tips. I don’t consider myself a foodie, but I don’t think it’s a bad title to hold, either. I like to eat and try new recipes, but I’m no expert. The most important thing an eater can bring to a restaurant or any new eating experience is the openness you recommend again and again. Too often our friends and colleagues here in Japan turn up their noses at the unknown or the odd looking dish. It’s a shame, I think, because one of the easiest cultural in-roads is via a bowl of ramen or just asking what something is and how it was made. I’ve learned so much that way – how to prepare a previously unknown vegetable or how a food is important to a celebration – and made some new friends, too.

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